“Heady nights and twinkling lights”. “Long, lazy evenings with overflowing champagne flutes.” “Great Gatsby glamour.” It’s the creative brief imagined by architects at Cusp Design Studios and Rezen Studios for the Heritage-listed site of a new café and events space in the Hay Street Mall. Moana Hall, as it’s called, is the new first-floor resident of Moana Chambers, a grand Federation Free Classical building with high decorated ceilings, arched windows and a long street-facing balcony with original balustrade. Previously home to an array of historic Western Australian entertainment venues, Moana Hall’s Managing Director Cheyne Buczek is keen to restore the building’s social roots.
“I am so excited about bringing back the gorgeous grandeur of the space, “ says Buczek, an architecture graduate and managing director of events company Euphoric Events on the side. “As an architect, my heart races seeing it all come to life in front of me.”
Officially opened in 1908, the venue has been home to glamorous dance venue Club Cabarita, the more conservative lunch spot Marelle Café, and the well-known Moana Café & Dining Rooms. The latter was dubbed by owner Demetrius Angels “the largest and best-appointed café in Australia”, and hosted then-Prime Minister John Curtin’s 1917 marriage to Elsie Needham. After a long time dormant, Post Architecture and the City of Perth reimagined the space for contemporary use in 2010. Café, gallery and co-working space Moana Coffee was the venue’s most recent resident. Now, Buczek’s plan is to bring back some of the building’s historical allure.
The project is being delivered as a Design Stables collaboration. Rezen Studio directors Zenifa and Rhys Bowring are working with interior designer and principal of Cusp Design Studio, Adam Paikos-Coe, to bring Buczek’s vision to life.
“We were inspired to design a space that had both glamour and grit,” says Zenifa. “One which had the feeling of being connected to history without it feeling like a burden.”
“When working on heritage projects everyone involved becomes a custodian. It is important that these places remain part of our daily life and as designers we look for ways to respect the built history while being optimistic about future possibilities. The design outcomes for a project like this are far more dense and layered than a fit-out within a new space.”
This thinking is echoed by Paikos-Coe. “A venue like this has so many unique, original features that only require a light touch,” he says. “It raises the question of, ‘where do you start’, and, most importantly, ‘where do you stop’? There is a beauty to be found in the peeling paint, for instance. We felt it important to reposition this as a design feature rather than something that needed to be stripped back and made to look new.”
Here, even small changes lead to an impressive contemporary look and feel. The light-filled and spacious venue is centred around a dramatic ten metre long iron bar and drinks shelf on one wall, with plush booth seating along the other. Carefully-appointed lighting custom fit by Light Project achieves an ambience that shifts seamlessly between the venue’s day and night use.
Zenifa and Rhys say that the space is organised so as to “differentiate the new work from the existing,” but homage to the building’s history is still evident in Moana Hall’s new outfit.
“The building’s name Moana comes from the Polynesian word for ‘large body of water’ or ‘ocean’ and we thought it would be great to draw on that,” says Rhys. “In response we designed lighting features which use the moving reflections from water to create a shimmering backdrop to the rear of the bar. The main bar front is tiled in a pillowed Japanese mosaic from Artedomus, which creates the impression of a woven surface and is really tactile.”
Moana Hall will open as a café from 7am until 3pm, Monday to Friday. However, the main focus will be on hosting weddings and events, with the venue available for hire seven days. When the venue isn’t booked for events, Buczek is keen to host the venue’s own in the way of wine or spirits tastings and live music performances.
Moana Hall is set to open this week.