If Tim Hansford worked in clay, he’d be known as a sculptor. His handmade pieces are touchstones for globally recognised restaurant design, and he regularly collaborates with top studios and builders. But concrete isn’t the most glamorous of mediums (despite being a top trend in modern decor) so his artistry often goes unsung.
Previously working out of a small space in Kent Town – shared by Tell Henry – he and wife Pippy Mount have just moved their company Love Concrete into a long-vacant building on Pulteney Street. The new showroom was designed with long-time collaborator Kate Harry of Fabrikate, with finishing touches by Emma Sadie-Thompson and glassworker and Hansford’s father-in-law Nick Mount.
The space is filled with concrete – as you might expect – but what’s unexpected is the scope of what’s on offer. Hansford works in both traditional, solid concrete and glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC) – a versatile, flexible material that provides the appearance of concrete without the weight.
The centrepiece for the display room is a huge circular table, cast in smooth, cool, grey GFRC. “Two people could easily carry this,” Hansford says. There’s also a four-metre-long stone bench that’s as solid and immovable as it looks.
Concrete has a reputation for being cumbersome and prohibitively unalterable. So why is it suddenly so popular? In a scene where immediacy, freshness and experimentation are often championed, concrete brings a sense of longevity to a venue. It’s a commitment and, “It doesn’t look like a pop-up,” Hansford suggests. The stunning, seamless bar top at Osteria Oggi is a standout feature of the design by Studio -Gram, and was undoubtedly a factor in the studio winning Best Restaurant Interior at the 2016 World Interiors News Awards. It’s a source of pride for Hansford and venue owner Simon Kardachi. “Oggi will be there for the next 25 years,” Hansford says, confidently.
On the flipside, one of Hansford’s earliest gigs – for Larry and Ladd – is 100 per cent mobile. “You could literally unplug the plumbing and wheel it down the mall,” he says. Hansford and then-owner Josh Baker built everything themselves, with the idea to make it moveable in case the location didn’t work out.
That build inspired a concept Hansford is still toying with. “I’ve got an idea to design a modular cafe fit-out,” he says, describing a range of building-block-style components that can be configured and reconfigured to suit any space. GFRC is the perfect material for this – sculptable and strong – and can be produced in almost any hue.
Presently, Love Concrete is only using one half of its Pulteney Street premises, and Hansford has been talking with friends in the design and food industries about the possibilities. “I’m thinking about launching a furniture range with a pop-up restaurant, for a month or so,” he says. It’s just an idea for now – one of many – but he certainly has the contacts to make it happen.
Hansford studied building design and worked ripping-up carpet tiles during holidays. His mother was a sales rep for a flooring company, and there was always some job that needed doing. When he and wife Pippy returned from travelling abroad – in debt and jobless – he quickly picked up subcontracted work. A makeshift benchtop, which Hansford made while renovating his house, caught the eye of Red Door Bakery’s Gareth and Emma Grierson, who engaged him to build their new business. From there the work kept coming. “We don't have to hunt jobs,” says Hansford. “If someone doesn't understand the process, or hasn't thought it through, we’ll let it go.”
Almost half of Love Concrete’s projects are residential. The “MasterChef effect” is influencing how people approach their entertaining areas; many want to emulate a restaurant dining experience in their homes. They appropriate more and more details, including dishes (cooked and eaten) to dishes (for serving), cutlery, finishes and furniture. “It’s an emotional choice,” says Hansford. “People like how a restaurant feels, and they want to bring it into their home.”
“I take the time to explain the process to people,” Hansford says. “I want absolute transparency to ensure the customer understands the process.” For all its cool lines and durability, concrete construction is inherently unpredictable. Every benchtop, floor and fixture is cast once, and cut and polished to reveal its character. There’s no guarantee that what you see in the showroom is what you’ll get at home. But that’s all part of the charm.
“It's a recipe,” explains Hansford. “It’s made up of the people involved (the contractors, the concrete suppliers, etc.), the materials, what the environment is doing (and the weather), and the moment in time when it all comes together.”
274 Pulteney Street, Adelaide
Mon to Sat 10am–4pm