Among the plethora of cafes, shops and bars along Crown Street, The Distillery creates an instant impression. The light-filled space immediately draws a second glance. Gazing into its wood-panelled interior, you can see the action that takes place within, cast iron printers buzzing and whirring while designers and printmakers confer on their latest miniature masterpiece.
It’s just an average day at The Distillery, a letterpress and design studio nestled in the heart of Darlinghurst. A brief chat with creative printmaker Jennifer Fontaine provides an insight into the emergence of a unique letterpress and design studio.
Though the studio’s director, Nathan Leong, founded the company back in 2011, it wasn’t until early 2012 that the full vision for a functioning studio space was realised. After a lengthy search, Leong was able to find an appropriate space, and if the wooden floorboards and procession of antique printers tell us anything, it’s that they have channelled a labour of love into the place since.
“We’d been looking for ages,” explains Fontaine. “We were searching everywhere but nothing was quite right, until we came here and it had the right amount of space and light and street frontage and cafes around the corner.”
With four to five fulltime staff and three part-timers, printers and designers work around the clock to develop beautifully crafted invitations, business cards, stationery and packaging designs at The Distillery.
The company’s missive provides an insight into their approach. “We’re inspired by old-fashioned values, heritage and vintage design with soul. We believe that the best ideas live outside a computer screen, and love the unique qualities that tactile design brings to the world,” it reads on the studio’s website.
The most striking feature of their business, however, has to be their printing presses. Lining the entrance of the space – with the 1954 Wolfgang taking pride of place alongside three other presses that date back to the 60s, 70s and 80s – these impressive pieces of machinery prove the impetus for the craft undertaken at The Distillery. The presses are operated manually, ink is mixed by hand and when the machinery breaks, they are often fixed in-house. The studio is also open to public, so people can come in and have a look around.
“It really brings people in and they’re fascinated with how it works,” says Fontaine. “It’s kind of like breaking apart a printer and seeing how it works right in front of you and that’s such a novelty to us [nowadays], being brought up in such a digital age and not knowing how things actually work. [Here we’re] mixing all the inks and doing everything by hand.”
This handmade sensibility is what puts companies such as The Distillery on the top of the pile when choosing ways to create the highest quality printed products.
“I think to begin with it’s just something different. People are so used to having everything digitally printed and don’t even care about it; it’s so disposable. But to have something here that we put some much love into and you can actually feel the impressions [in the paper] and see the rich colours and the foils, people can really appreciate that.”
With a growing number of clients and a sprawling new space, the crew at The Distillery are looking forward to the future, with a foot firmly planted in the past.