The feel of a bar, cafe or restaurant either triumphs or falls flat thanks to one essential element – atmosphere.
“It’s about taking customers into a space where they can forget about the rest of the world,” says David Veksler of Guru Projects. Guru Projects is a specialist hospitality design company Veksler founded in 2014 with his partner, Tina Cha, an interior designer. In less than 12 months the company has attracted an impressive list of projects and a workforce of 20 employees.
Atmosphere is something Guru Projects’ fit-outs have in spades, from the beachy vibe of Bondi’s Fish House and hotspot Harry’s Bar & Dining, to the sophisticated subterranean restaurant, nel. – one of their most successful projects to date.
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Nel is hidden from sight at street level, save for a single neon sign spelling out its name. British chef Nelly Robinson’s Surry Hills eatery serves a degustation menu comprising some of Sydney’s most interesting fare.
It was love at first sight when Veksler and Cha visited the “unusable” bunker-like space under Central Hotel Station that houses nel. “We wanted a laid-back atmosphere in this unassuming, underground fine-dining restaurant,” says David.
The layout sets the spotlight firmly on the food and its creation. The white-tiled open kitchen in the centre of the restaurant is surrounded by a slick interior, featuring leather, timber and copper fittings.
“We sourced raw, warm, natural materials and kept the existing walls, ceiling and floor exactly the way it is,” says Veksler. The result is “simple, crafted, minimal and unpretentious”.
Owners of Harry’s Bar & Dining, Chris Karvelas and Harry Lambropoulos, commissioned Guru Projects to design their new expanded venture, incorporating the former Harry’s Espresso site and the adjacent laundromat.
At Harry’s, Cha has created a minimalist coastal vibe which plays out in the exposed brickwork, blonde-timber panelling and furniture, and aquamarine accents from the coffee machine to the ceramic cups.
“You know you’ve done a successful design when you see a full house of hipsters, day after day!” laughs Veksler, who attributes the project’s triumph in part to Karvelas and Lambropoulos’ faith in the design team. “The clients were open to new ideas and trusted us 100 per cent,” he says.
Veksler says a common thread running through the outfit’s portfolio is a commitment to reuse and recycle where possible. The preserved brickwork and copper pipe seen at nel., and the use of recycled timber in the redesign Fish House, all speak to this sustainable approach.
Attention to detail is also part of its philosophy. “Small things matter,” says Veksler. Like the hexagonal motif recalling the molecular form of coffee that is repeated throughout the interior of Ritual in Northbridge, a cafe opened by Sam Gabrielian (Gabriel Coffee, Dose Café) and designed by Guru Projects.
Veksler and Cha, former colleagues at another hospitality design studio, took the plunge and founded Guru Projects when their professional relationship evolved into a romantic one. Now business partners too, the pair has learned to play to each other’s strengths.
“Tina is extremely talented at being able to visualise a space, and visualise what it is the client wants,” says Veksler. “She nails every brief without fail.”
Cha is equally generous in her praise of Veksler. “David is a problem-solving genius. He has a solution for anything.”
Veksler and Cha’s current projects include Café Bondi – “a Bondi icon in dire need of a renovation” – and Charlotte’s Little Sister Cafe in Eveleigh’s Australian Technology Park, “a funky space with lots of custom, bespoke lighting and furniture.”
While their company continues to expand at a healthy rate, the pair doesn’t take Guru Projects’ success for granted. “We feel very lucky to be where we are right now,” says Veksler.