A London Cafe Pays Tribute to History

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Designer Paul Crofts works a motif of chevrons – like the badges seen on military uniforms – into a bright, modern cafe situated in a former munitions warehouse in East London.

Royal Arsenal Riverside epitomizes what the renewal of an historic neighbourhood should look like. The district’s preserved brick buildings, which served as weapons factories and armouries until the end of the Second World War, are now joined by newly constructed mid-rise flats whose brick facades and steel-beam balconies subtly mimic the military-industrial feel of the area’s original structures.

In the midst of all this, the Cornerstone Cafe occupies a one-storey warehouse dating back to the area’s military-industrial era. Behind the historically designated facade, the firm stripped the interior to its shell. The original bare concrete walls, slatted wood ceiling and iron beams provide a richly textured backdrop to Crofts’ contemporary furniture and interventions. “I took the overall site as inspiration and its former history of a munitions factory,” says Crofts. “There’s a strong industrial heritage reflected in the concept of the interior.”

This heritage is reflected primarily in Crofts’ military-inspired chevron pattern, which unifies all the components, from the natural wood flooring to the bespoke solid oak tables, resembling industrial workbenches, and display boxes. In the case of the tables, the chevrons are screen-printed to the surface in white and grey, while in the display boxes the pattern is routed into the rear surface.

The motif’s most striking application is on the custom paneling that clads the display wall and service counter. Timber chevrons are inserted strategically into CNC-routed Hi-Macs engineered stone panels, transitioning from all-wood at one end to all-white at the other, forming contrasting shapes that evoke a flock of birds in flight. The inset shelving is outlined by a slim frame in brass, another reference to the structure’s military past. Between the display area and the counter, the kitchen wall is lined with sheets of dark unfinished hot-rolled steel – the same material used to make the menus displayed behind the counter.

In the dining area, Crofts’ Nonla pendants in three harmonizing shapes are suspended above Folke Pålsson’s J77 chairs for Hay – all in white. The custom banquettes, which form a continuous line at window height, feature one of Crofts’ few hits of colour: the cushions are upholstered, naturally, in military green.

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