After visiting Sitka‘s Auckland location for the first time, I left thinking that it is a company that knows exactly who its customers are and has gone all out to make the store reflect their interests and lifestyle in an organic and genuine way. One of the reasons Sitka has been successful in designing an interior that reflects its customers and company culture is because the owners and employees of Sitka share the same interests as the people they cater to. With people who just want to get dressed and then forget about what they’re wearing for the rest of the day—even if their day consists of going surfing in the morning, tramping in the afternoon, and out to dinner in the evening—you’d imagine the last thing they would do is waste time trying to find items that fit their needs in a store that trends toward a different clientele. The store also promotes the lifestyle the company was built upon through the inclusion of an espresso bar and a sitting room with Wi-Fi, the organizations it supports, the events it sponsors, such as free concerts, and the Spruce Gallery—a mini showroom for displaying like-minded artists’ work.
Sitka’s interior design also succeeds because of the time, creativity, teamwork, and care for the environment that went into the design. The interior of the store was built entirely by the owners and employees and has evolved (and continues to evolve) over time, as most of the fixtures and decorations are reclaimed items the owners and employees have reworked in creative ways or fixed to make usable again. One of the owners, Andrew Howson, explained that they spent months rummaging through demolition yards and the inorganic rubbish collection and searching internet websites to collect the materials they used to build the interior, fixtures, and furniture. Some of the fixtures are a hodgepodge of rubbish treasures, such as the display table constructed from the deconstructed parts of three different tables and old pool cues. Some of the other items, including a vintage skateboard and a painting, were donated by people inspired by Sitka’s vision.
While the decision to use this method of construction was primarily born out of a desire to build with environmental awareness, it also allows for creativity and design originality. Andrew described it as “finding gold in a pile of rubbish.” I asked Andrew what tips he might give people interested in using reclaimed items for building or interior design. He said “start with a plan, have loads of time, and when you are evaluating a piece, think carefully about what it will take to clean it, fix it, or rework it into something else.”
Some skeptics believe this type of design to be the bottom-line dressed up in tree hugger clothing. However, Sitka’s commitment to the environment extends beyond their interior design. They also provide discounted coffee for people who bring in their own mugs, sell clothing made from recycled materials, use plant-based cups for their events (the cups eventually end up in the Sitka compost), and ship their clothing in compostable corn starch packaging. The fact that Sitka actually does right by the environment when no one knows or is looking says a great deal more about their priorities than the opinion of skeptics.
I have yet to have a meal at Tyler St. Garage. However, I can vouch for the architecture and interior design, which were designed by Tim Dorrington and Kirsty Mitchell respectively, in collaboration with Lucian Law of Shine. One of the things which I appreciate most is how they paid homage to the building’s past, and did so without the usual kitschiness or obviousness that often accompany the initial vision of this type of project. There are references to its grease monkey days in the design, but you have to be paying attention to notice them, which is so much better than decor that requires little inquisitiveness and few surprises.
The first time I saw Miller’s Espresso Bar and Roastery, I had been wandering somewhat aimlessly down Auckland City’s K Road. Somewhere along the way, I had made a right turn to find myself on a shadowy, quiet, and narrow street—almost more of an alleyway—that ran parallel to the bustling road from which I had arrived. It was as if I was somewhere else entirely. I quickly noticed Miller’s because of its unusual entrance—tall, barn-like doors that, when folded, created a large enough entrance for a car to pass through. Not wanting to grab the attention of the girl sweeping the floor, I peered in from across the street and became slightly confused. It was one large room with lovely exposed brick and high ceilings hung with two large, vintage, crystal chandeliers. However, in contrast, there was also a full coffee roastery towards the back, complete with a large roaster, multiple scales, and 20-pound bags of coffee beans lining both walls. In the front, there were a few tables, a vintage espresso machine, and a small but sturdy wooden counter with carved angles that made it look important, as if it had come from a courtroom judge’s bench. Whatever this place was, it was clear they made coffee. They were also obviously closed though it was only 2 in the afternoon, so I decided to return the next time I was in the area. I revisited Miller’s on a Saturday morning—this time, the doors were closed and no one was in sight. On my third attempt, I found the establishment open for business and I curiously stepped through the open doors. Being my third attempt, there was one thing I needed to know, and I quickly came to know it: The coffee was brilliant.
On this visit, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Craig Miller, and we began a casual conversation. I told him the story about my random discovery of the shop and previous attempt at having a cup of Miller’s coffee. He smiled in response and quietly explained this was exactly how his customer base had been built—by curious people willing to come during their short hours (7:30-noon, Mon-Fri) because they appreciated what Miller’s offered, as well as what it did not. His lack of concern about competing with more than a dozen coffee shops just around the corner was obvious and refreshing.
We also talked about the work I had just been doing in Guatemala, where I had taken photos of a coffee farm, as well as of the homegrown, more rustic, processing techniques and roasting process which took place at the farmer’s home (this was really interesting and fun, and I will do a post on it in the near future). By the time our conversation had come to a close, I was scheduled to come in early the following morning to shoot the Miller’s roasting process and talk with him a bit more about Miller’s business ideology and history. Luckily for me, I learned even more than I could have anticipated.
Craig explained how espresso did not really become a part of New Zealand’s food culture until the late 1970s and 80s, mostly due to the lack of an Italian presence in New Zealand, which, at a practical level, left no one to work on the machines. He also discussed how the rise of the cafe culture in New Zealand, which began with a few individuals whose love of food and cooking had inspired them to open cafes and eventually to add espresso to their menus, and early coffee companies such as Miller’s, which began roasting in 1988, were at the forefront of the coffee movement in New Zealand. The Italian influence on Miller’s seems to expand beyond how they make espresso. The concept of family run businesses and knowing your customers and how they drink their coffee is also central to the Miller’s ideology. On more than one occasion, Craig has mentored interested parties on how to start their own coffee businesses and roast their own beans, even when they had originally approached him about selling Miller’s Coffee.
A reoccurring theme throughout my conversation with Craig was his passion for the process, which in this context means that each step is done the way he believes is best, even if it takes longer and costs him more. This is apparent in his careful restoration of the 1920s warehouse that houses Miller’s, including how he kept the design within the era in which it was built by using vintage art deco lighting fixtures, even in the loo, and his use and promotion of semiautomatic versus automatic machinery. Along these same lines, Craig’s aim is to have each individual leave his shop with a coffee they feel was made for them with care and consideration, rather than served to them as if they were on an assembly line. The stream of customers that continuously flow into Miller’s from opening to closing are confirmation that Miller’s has hit its mark. (More text follows below the following images)…
Miller’s 1960s Italian coffee roaster. Craig uses this restored roaster versus a newer one because the parts were cast rather than fabricated, which falls perfectly in line with being process- minded.
Craig putting the green beans into the waiting chamber while the roaster heats up.
In the small round window you can see the green beans swirling around while being roasted.
The sampler is used to check the color of the beans to determine when they are done roasting.
The perfectly roasted beans pouring out of the roasting chamber into the cooling tray.
Roasted beans spinning in the cooling tray.
Freshly roasted beans spilling into their weighing container.
The fresh beans being weighed before being packed for delivery to venders.
The fresh beans being packed for delivery.
The shop coffee grinder.
The rear window of the shop, which was designed according to the golden ratio.
The very kind and expert barista at the front of the house.
Miller’s also has a coffee cart at the Friday night market at Wynyard Quarter at the Viaduct, which is held, surprisingly, every Friday night from 5:30 on. Each week they feature a movie which is projected on the side of one of the silos, and they provide bean bags for the viewers. The movie generally starts around 8 pm.
Their cart also has a friendly expert barista, and the same great coffee….
But very different views.
You can find Miller’s Coffee Espresso Bar and Roastery at -
31 Cross St.
And the Miller’s Coffee Cart at -
Silo Park on the corner of Jellicoe and Beaumont Street, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland
As mentioned in a previous post, a fortress-like wall with a single door which surrounds a residence and its gardens or courtyards is a common characteristic of the Spanish colonial architecture found in Mexico. If you have ever seen this architecture, or even if you just visualize what it may look like by the description, you can imagine the first consideration in the design was keeping people out. When you design to keep people out, however, there is really no discriminating between a friend or a foe. You can imagine the challenge this design posed for the welcomed visitors who needed to make their presence known. Short of having a voice that carried or a guard at the front door, which was plausible for some in the 18th and 19th centuries when many of these buildings were built, a door knocker was a more polite and economical solution. The door knockers are generally made of iron or brass and have animal or human motifs, the most common being a woman’s hand. The use of these materials and motifs for door knockers dates back to medieval times.
I saved the best for last. The knockers in the last two images are my favorite.
Matters of importance
A family home in the village of Pachay
Coffee berries waiting to have their seeds(beans) removed
The school washroom, Santa Rosa
Classroom, Santa Rosa
Inside a villager’s home, Pachay
The laundry room/kitchen sink, Pachay
A Pachay villager making and cooking tortillas
Bicycling cowboy, San Martin Jilotepeque
Cemetery, San Martin Jilotepeque
6 am, San Martin Jilotepeque (one of my favorite shots from the Guatemala trip)
Museum building at the Mixco Viejo Mayan ruins
A local resting before his walk down the mountainside
Mixco Viejo Mayan ruins
Historic architecture, Antigua (I know that a building this old and lovely deserves to be properly named, but my generic caption can be explained by the fact that I only had an hour and a half of shooting time in Antigua. I am just glad I stopped running long enough to get a decent shot).
A stairway in the La Merced church, Antigua
A view of a volcano from Antigua
Antigua cafe interior
Evening descends on Antigua
Needless to say, Pachay’s developing bottle school was in an earlier stage of the building process than the one in Santa Rosa (see previous post). Participating in the build at Pachay provided the bottle school volunteers an opportunity to learn different skills through helping to construct the school from the ground up. They also had a chance to work and play with the local villagers.
The volunteers received instruction on how to bend and cut rebar and metal wire into the sizes and shapes to be used by local builders in the construction of the school’s internal wall structure.
A group of Pachay boys look on as two volunteers cut rebar.
A local builder collects the wire squares made by volunteers.
Other volunteers were assigned to stuffing the used plastic soda bottles with plastic rubbish, including old grocery bags. The bottles would later become the insulation for the walls.
As in Santa Rosa, the people of Pachay, including these very young children, were keen and hard-working volunteers.
Volunteers and villagers enjoying a game of basketball at the end of the work day.
When we returned to Pachay several days later, the volunteers were able to see their rebar and wire squares in the construction of the frame for the four walls of the school.
On a very sunny, Spring afternoon I drove from San Miguel de Allende to La Cieneguita, Mexico to visit the awe-inspiring, psychedelic world of artist Anado McLauchlin. Whether his work appeals to your tastes or not, it is easy to respect and even admire his uncompromising commitment to his aesthetic and the patience and tenacity to see his vision realized. His creative use of discarded materials and his installation of a rain water collection tank and composting toilet, although not as romantic, are just as admirable in my book. Anado has turned the 2.5 acres he shares with his partner into a work of art – one which includes a meeting house, a chapel/gallery, several outdoor spaces, vegetable gardens, numerous rescued burros, cats, and dogs, and, last but certainly far from least, his home. Anado is as sweet and kind as he is industrious, and an enjoyable afternoon of shooting effortlessly led to us sharing a dinner table.
See the photograph captions for more detailed information about the structures and pieces featured.
The artist and his archway.
The blue bottles used in this archway and railing are empty Tequila bottles – an item easy to collect in mass in Mexico.
These four rescued burros were full of character and hard not to love.
A small sampling of his wine, Tequila, and anonymous bottle collection in the raw.
While from a photography standpoint the lighting during this shoot, especially in this shot, was less than ideal, how could I not show you the composting toilet?
The Chapel of Jimmy Ray, which houses Anado’s gallery.
A fountain made from an old sink at the entrance to the chapel.
A close-up of the bottle work at the chapel’s corner.
The rain water collection tank for the Chapel. Not even the water tank escapes becoming a piece of artwork.
An art piece hanging in the chapel gallery.
The meeting room…
One of the meeting room’s outdoor spaces…
The meeting room’s front porch…
Inside the meeting room…
I am obviously partial to the meeting room.
One of the gardens and the pathway there from the house.
The front patio of Anado’s house.
A beautiful organic structure, which I forgot to ask more about.
The same bottles, a different use.
And the tour comes to a close at the front entrance to the house.