The idea behind Chalawan was to take the theme from a classic Thai folktale about a mythological Crocodile King who kidnapped a princess and kept her captive in his underwater kingdom. Add clever and sympathetic interior design to create a modern Thai Gastro Bar on Melbourne’s iconic Smith Street.
The client, Malaysian based Yong Hospitality Group, commissioned Studio Equator to create a distinctive brand, interior design and fit out for Chalawan, a modern Thai Gastro bar serving Thai tapas that would stand out from the crowd on Smith Street’s highly competitive restaurant and bar scene.
The objective was to use the client’s challenging theme to create a venue that captures the attention of a design conscious clientele whilst still staying faithful to the folktale. This was achieved through the use of a strong design aesthetic, fusing together the hip and fashionable Smith Street bar scene, heritage site restrictions and a tight budget.
The challenges and opportunities came from the narrow, yet deep venue layout and the fact that the exterior façade of the building could not be touched. Studio Equator came up with a design solution and sensory experiential approach customer experience that would work within these constraints by playing to the belly of the beast theme from the Chalawan mythology.
To stand out neon-green signage was used to capture the attention of passers-by whilst playing on the crocodilian theme. The eye is drawn to the alluring interior, the dim lighting creating an air of mystery and referencing the underwater kingdom of the crocodile king.
Entering under the points of Ursa Major (the Crocodile King’s constellation), the bar adorned with expensive handmade turquoise tiles mimicking scales, focus the eye on a stark black and white etching portraying the princess held in the crocodile’s clutches by acclaimed artist, Tarek. Balancing the budget, bare brick walls have been retained, whilst lengths of pine create the illusion of the beast’s ribs.
Despite the limited budget, heritage listing of the building and the highly competitive Smith Street scene, Studio Equator was thrilled at the creative opportunity offered by this project.