Distressed Walls – Melbourne Café Trend of the Month

Posted on February 12, 2010


Melbourne has a reputation for great coffee, largely furnished by Melburnians themselves but not entirely undeserved nonetheless. Besides the usual espresso-style drinks, nowadays we’re seeing new types of coffee with names like Siphon and Clover coming out of complicated equipments that look more like lab apparatus than brewing machines. I’m quite a fan of the coffee culture thing, mainly because it’s a cheap form of entertainment and yes I do enjoy the occasional caffeine shot to my head.

One notable trend in Melbourne’s coffee temples is the Distressed Wall – semi exposed bricks with worn out paint layers, repainted in patches like an unfinished work by disgruntled labourers. It’s part of that shabby chic look so beloved by inner-city Melburnians – trendy and well off, and in spite of that (or because of that), keen to downplay their comfortable lives by appearing scruffy and grungy without the hassle and inconveniences that come with actual poverty.

The distressed walls breathe an effortless whiff of character into the establishment, which I suspect is its main appeal, besides the savings made in interior refurbishment. The exposed bricks allow a casual insight into the building’s history and former life – many of them old warehouses or corner stores before their current rejuvenation into cafes. The picture above was taken at Auction Rooms in rapidly gentrifying North Melbourne, which as its name implies, used to function as auction rooms. Because we are constantly bombarded with an everchanging café scene, History and Character become valuable commodities highly sought after by consumers hungry for the slightest hint of authenticity. It could also be that Melburnians are true adopters of the wabi-sabi aesthetic – a Japanese concept that celebrates beauty in the imperfect – to distinguish themselves from the supposedly superficial Sydneysiders (although this lingering stereotype could just be another anti-Sydney tirade spread by parochial Melburnians).

As much as I like the industrial chic aesthetic, the distressed wall is becoming so synonymous with inner-city cafes – think Seven Seeds, Auction Rooms, Ray, Sugardough, Tre – that it risks being tagged as ‘predictable’. It might not even be long before the distressed wall is referred to as being “very Melbourne” (cringe), an overused expression judiciously employed by city dwellers including hypocrites such as myself.

Posted in: Melbourne