INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

Katherine Kemp is a Principle of Australian interior design and architectural practice, Zwei, which she founded with co-principal, Hanna Richardson 7 years ago. Normally based in sunny Melbourne, Katherine was over in a somewhat colder London at the Saatchi Gallery for this year's World Interiors News Awards 2013 Gala Dinner at the end of November.

It was certainly worth the long flight and the jet lag because Zwei, with its diminutive team of just seven people, pipped the big players to the post, winning the coveted "Restaurant Interiors" prize for their outstanding work on the new Code Black Coffee outlet in Melbourne.

Set in an inner-city warehouse shell, Code Black Coffee now doubles as roastery and headquarters of owner, Cafenatics. Zwei's award entry describes it as "a stripped back, masculine, almost reverential ode to the coffee bean". We spoke to Katherine about Zwei's award success, and about the project that so impressed the eminent judging panel, which included Sir Terence Conran.

Katherine, firstly, many congratulations on scooping "Best Restaurant" for Code Black Coffee at the World Interiors News Awards recently. What did winning mean to you and the ZWEI team?

The win was an amazing experience for both Hanna and I and the rest of the Zwei team. We have never won an international competition before so it was especially sweet. It feels incredible that a coffee roastery located in the industrial back blocks of Melbourne could be recognised in London.

What was it that made you enter?

We decided to enter the awards to enable the practice to explore international competitions. We are keen to work beyond Australia, love to travel, and find much inspiration working beyond the immediate confines of Melbourne. It might be something to do with working in hospitality design, but Hanna and I are both inspired by different cultures and people.

Having entered, what do think made the project stand out from the judges' point of view?

Perhaps Code Black stood out because it is a very singular vision, and the space communicates this very clearly. We intentionally didn't specify high-end materials, we wanted the space to have an honesty and rawness to it. The client really got this, and we worked together so that every detail communicated this.

What were the biggest challenges for ZWEI on the Code Black Coffee project?

The most difficult part of the project was defining the brief from the client. Joseph Haddad, owner of The Cafenatics Group, knew what he wanted but it was difficult to define in words. But then sometimes the most challenging projects have the most interesting results!

What were the most enjoyable aspects or moments for you?

Both Hanna and l knew that we had created something really special when the project was almost complete. Something was being installed that was not quite right, and we were both so passionate about how it should be done. We invested so much of ourselves into the project it was almost like it was talking back to us, telling us what to do.

What was being installed that didn't feel right to you?

During construction of the project our client decided not to install air-conditioning. This decision was revised two weeks before opening during the summer period (Melbourne summer can get to the early 40s in degrees Celsius). The client wanted a system installed immediately and what the builder put in was what was available at the time - with no consideration of how it would fit in with the overall design. Our intuitive solution was to paint the ductwork out dark to match the ceiling and wall colour - so the system effectively disappeared.

Can you tell us a bit about why you chose a Josef Frank coffee bean illustration as the pattern for the seating fabric?

We had discovered Josef Frank's textiles a while ago, and had both completely fallen in love with his work. Code Black was so tonal it was lovely to specify something that had so much colour and texture within a small part of the design. We loved that customers would sit on this, it is so bright and exuberant against the deep tones of the space.

And what are the three things you personally like best about the finished design of Code Black Coffee overall?

I love walking into the space, seeing customers inside enjoying a great coffee, and creating their own experiences within Code Black. It is almost like we have told a story and people are now enjoying reading the book.

Have you worked with the client, Cafenatics, before, and if so, on what projects?

We have worked with Joseph Haddad and the Cafenatics team over a number of years, primarily working on inner city Melbourne cafés. We have developed a great working relationship over the years and we have been part of the growth of Cafenatics in the Melbourne coffee scene. Joseph is a client who never rests, he is always looking and searching for new ideas and ways of doing things in the endless pursuit of perfection. It is great to be challenged and to work with someone with vision.

Do you think winning will help raise your profile outside Australia? And would ZWEI consider taking on overseas projects, or are you more niche to Oz?

We definitely hope winning will raise our profile outside Australia. Hanna is from Germany and my husband is English, we are both avid travellers and are excited about the thought of working beyond Melbourne.

What was the World Interiors News Awards Dinner like at the Saatchi Gallery in London? Apart from winning, what were your own favourite moments?

The WIN awards were a very exciting experience, it was grand and formal but so much fun to meet people in the industry outside of Australia. I think they thought we were crazy to attend!

Looking at your website, it seems that the ZWEI team seem to share a mutual appreciation of great coffee. Is the 'sacred bean' a specialisation of yours as a practice, and have you designed other coffee shops?

ZWEI has designed many hospitality spaces including restaurants, pizzerias, cupcake shops and takeaway food outlets however we have done quite a few coffee shops and cafés such as Little Bean Blue, Coffee Hit, Creatures of Habit and the Veneziano Roastery to name check just some of them. This is probably a result of Melbourne's love affair with coffee as well as our own! Coffee is entrenched in Melbourne's identity as both a product and contributor to its cosmopolitan culture.

What other types of company or sector do you design for?

We have designed numerous retail spaces as well as other types of commercial spaces, including office refits. We've also worked on a number of residential projects.

And how did you arrive at your name, ZWEI?

ZWEI was formed by Hanna and myself, and means 'two' in German. We started out together with just the two of us and quickly developed a very collaborative way of working together. Although our team is much bigger now, we still take very much the same approach. It seems like we almost have our own language sometimes!

What does the future hold for ZWEI? Are there any new avenues you'd particularly like to explore?

I think in the future we would love to continue to work in hospitality but perhaps branch into restaurants and other food experiences. We simply hope to continue to enjoy good coffee and food.

On a personal note, according to your biog, you are a qualified architect as well as an interior designer. Does your architectural background help?

Hanna came to study in Melbourne, met her husband and stayed. We met working in an office together and seemed to understand each other's design philosophy straight from the start. Hanna's father is an architect, with the whole family involved in design, and I also come from an architectural background, with my father, grandfather and great uncle all architects. We both grew up discussing design around the dinner table. I initially studied interior design but was never really happy until I completed architecture studies as well. I've really returned to interior design now, but still very much draw on my architectural knowledge. Hanna is a qualified interior architect in Germany, which bridges both design streams and contributes greatly to Zwei's work across both disciplines.

And when you're not working, where can you be found and what do you enjoy doing (apart from drinking coffee and travelling the world)?

I'm a voracious reader and have been a long-term patron of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Hanna can often be spotted cruising the streets of Melbourne on her Vespa, and is actively involved in her local community. When we're not busy designing, we also relish spending time with our respective families.

Gail Tailor