John Barnett Design has created the interiors and branding for a new coffee shop and retail concept in Kent, set up by Olympic double gold medal winner Kelly Holmes, which pays homage to the local community of the athlete’s hometown.
Café 1809 is located in the Holmes’ hometown Hildenborough, Kent and is split into three areas: coffee shop, a retail space for local suppliers and artisans to sell their products, and an ever-changing events space.
John Barnett, creative director at the consultancy, says that Holmes undertook the project in aid of supporting and giving back to her local community. “It employs local people, and everyone who has been involved in designing and constructing the design is from the area,” says John, who lives nearby himself.
The idea behind the coffee shop has been to create a new formula for a third space for a local community. Designed and built by local people for local people while providing a previously difficult to access platform for local producers and craftspeople to sell their products.
The cafe was previously a shop, where Kelly used to work as a sales assistant when she was a teenager. “It was her ambition to buy the property when she became successful,” John says. “It’s about giving back to the town she came from and saying thank you for the success she’s had in her career.”
The space itself immediately puts the customer at ease, having a good blend of comfy leather sofas, numerous small and medium sixed table with two, four or more chairs, stools and occasional seats. And when Hospitality Interiors visited, it was very busy indeed with different groups of people: a meeting of mothers with children, pushchairs and all; a 15-strong local interest group holding meeting over coffee, several couples, three family groups enjoying light brunches; a separate meeting room was also engaged, some cyclists had stopped mid-journey no doubt and the sun-loggia to the rear of the property was busy too.
Needless to say, the coffee was excellent and the attitude of place felt more appropriate to the location, more personal, more authentic and far more engaging. This concept fills a void between the corporate giants and an average coffee shop or tea room – it’s a well-executed concept which can easily be adapted to any space and location.
For Kelly Holmes, Café 1809 has been a long-term project and she had been trying to buy the building for many years: “When I was 16, I told the owner then that I was going to buy it some day. When I was injured during my athletics career, I used the time to keep going in and trying to buy it. For 15 years I was doing this and even got a survey done on it. I eventually got it and went through the normal things like planning permission, twice.”
A complaint often heard is that local businesses have suffered because of the growth of national chains that make every high street a clone of each other, but its John’s view that equally local businesses have not tried hard enough to differentiate themselves by creating their own niche and providing products, services and entertainment that are focused towards the customers that they know better than anyone else and this is what the design addresses. And Café 1809 is a prime example of an owner looking to provide exactly that – a premium local experience.
The motif “1809” was chosen for the name and logo as it was Kelly’s entrant number when she famously won two gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Around this moniker are two circular line devices, which reference an athletic track. The brand and environment subtly connects Kelly with the town she clearly loves: “I am really proud of where I am from, and we haven’t got anything like this, so I am bringing a little bit of glamour back to the town,” she says.
The coffee shop employs the best of British design, creating a contemporary, urban space using local materials, such as brick and timber. A double height mini-atrium rises over a raised seating area to create a natural focal point for events, which keeps the interior fresh and new.
During the Wimbledon tennis tournament, for instance, the space will be converted to Henman Hill – and with a host of international sports events on the horizon, the space will be continuously transformed into a fun and engaging destination to keep customers returning to the coffee shop as well as creating a community hub for the town.
“It’s been really manic since we’ve opened, people seem to have heard about it through word of mouth which is exactly what we want,” says Kelly.
Cleverly the design has been crafted with an eye to the future. Modular components and materials mean that from the outset, any future sites can be replicated quickly and cost-effectively creating an opportunity for unusual locations to be converted into trading space for coffee.
Visual installations will also change throughout the year and plans include a gold and silver spray painted installation of the athlete’s running shoes hanging from the ceiling, branded 1809 racing bicycles to connect with an active cycling community who use regularly the cafe combined with media screens showing information about local events.
“It’s feels great to have got to this point,” Kelly said. “It’s been a long journey and we’ve had some bumps along the road but it’s amazing that it’s finally open.”
Leader of the local council Mike Dobson was one of the first customers through the door and has high hopes for Dame Kelly and the future of the venture. “I’ve been keenly following this project for many years and I’m hopeful it can be a real positive for the town,” he said. “It’s beautiful looking and Kelly is so passionate about the community in Hildenborough, I think we’ve all got our fingers crossed that it will prove a huge success.”
“The project proves that great design doesn’t have to exist solely in big city centres,” John says. “There are people queuing outside the door on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s an important statement that design can bring real commercial success to local communities – and it sells great coffee, too.”