Experimenting With Cloth and Concrete, Tease Me Cafe, Kerala

  • 23 Jul '19
  • 9:30 am by Nuriyah Johar
A cafe in Kottayam designed by Vinu Daniel of Wallmakers, Photograph credit: Prasanth Mohan, Running studios

When waste cloth features as a primary construction and design element in a space, one would hardly imagine it to have the raw sophistication found in this small café in Kottayam, Kerala. In interior design, we often limit fabric to our soft furnishings. Occasionally, it’ll present itself in the form of a wallpaper, or panelling on a wardrobe. Moving past these basics, architect Vinu Daniel of Wallmakers designed ‘Tease Me Cafe’ featuring inch thick partitions made from kora cloth, which have the undulations and folds of falling drapes.  

This unconventional concept was devised to overcome a classic space issue. The area deficit space flanked by shops on both sides required a partition material that was wafer-thin and made optimum utilization of space. The idea for this fabric-based design came to Vinu when he was working on the interior of an apartment. During the construction phase, his team covered fresh concrete with a waste cotton cloth in an attempt to keep it moist. A few days later, he went to inspect the space. “We saw the white cloth fluttering and flowing over the furniture, walls, everything. This inspired me”, says Vinu.

he concept also extended to smaller areas, Photograph credit: Prasanth Mohan, Running studios

The journey to completion was filled with several snags and hiccups. We faced many challenges working with cloth, right from the load calculation.”, says Vinu. “We had a lot of failures before we even started.” After repeated experimentation, the partitions featured kora cloth as the base, finished with a layer of Ferro-cement and grey oxide, and further waxed and polished. Termed ‘Clothcrete’, the partitions are an eye-teasing array of tousled drapes tumbling down to become organic seats for the diners. Further committing to the concept, the ‘Clothcrete’ was also used to finish the washbasin.

The exhaust pipes also serve as light spots over the kitchen counter, Photograph credit: Prasanth Mohan, Running studios

In keeping with the tone of the café, the lighting merged function with innovation. The idea was to have exhaust pipes projecting from the back wall and bending down towards the kitchen counter. These not only serve as exhausts but also as light spots directed towards the counter. Keeping in mind the space constraints and the open kitchen concept, the exhausts solved the problem of excess smoke.

From the fabric to the lighting, the firm made environmentally conscious decisions at every step. Even the tables make use of old press panel boxes skillfully joined with old wooden windows. “Being sustainable is inbuilt in Wallmakers”, says Vinu. “For an organization that had no funds and no means to survive, we luckily found that eco-friendly and waste materials not only save funds but can truly be beautiful.”