You know you’ve done something pretty special if your renovation prompts Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud to describe it as one of the most fantastic studio spaces he’s ever visited. For digital production agency Managing Director and seasoned renovator, Dave Ellis, it all started with war bunkers. A visit to Point Nepean and its historic shelters inspired his ultra creativity and the path was clear – Chocolate Studios was set to embrace its inner bunker. The result is a far cry from dirty dig-outs – this is a space that oozes underground sophistication and confidence.
In Dave’s words, he was after an outcome that would make clients feel they were in safe hands. Having built and renovated many homes, Dave knew exactly what he wanted from his studio’s renovation, and set about sketching designs that would eventually ‘be kept honest’ by his friend and architect Nicholas Murray.
So what does a German bunker inspired digital agency look like?
The entry certainly harbours a little wartime mystery. Lineal slots of glass replicate a bunker’s peaking holes, and an incredibly solid imposing door appears impenetrable. Video cameras look down at the entrance and hint at things to come…
Into the intimate lobby and the world changes. Things quieten down and darken down. It’s a sleek and handsome area. Instead of chairs concrete style blocks beckon bottoms and prove to be surprisingly comfy. Screens behind the reception desk loop with the most recent agency work.
Behind reception, and Chocolate Studio is an absolute rabbit warren. Some 13 rooms snake their way across two levels and out to the back, where Dave and his team turned a garage into a green room studio. Take a few steps and turn left or right and invariably a whole new space opens up.
The catch-me-if-you-can floor plan is intriguing and a little bit of a tease – as a first-time visitor you have absolutely no idea where you’ll end up next. As a staff member, it’s entirely practical; it avoids any of the 20 employees feel like they’re working over each other and enables each space to be purpose-built, from sound-recording, to digital creative, to private test viewings…
It’s all here, and cloaked in sexy, modern, minimalist décor. Hello, Berlin, baby. Dark rooms (Dulux Nurmungee) are punctured with the most spectacular lighting installations by Richmond agency Mance Design. So spectacular, it’s no wonder they double as pieces of art (thus cancelling out the need for wall hangings).
Intriguingly, life within Chocolate Studios is set on a different scale – literally. Light installations hang low – around chest height – ensuring they’re seen and appreciated. Switches also sit lower than the standard settings – as Dave points out, why bring the hand to the switch if you can bring the switch to the hand? These are subtle but clever features – a sign of someone who’s cut their teeth on many a build and renovation, and who’s had time to think through all the details. Floors are a combination of polished but well-worn concrete and slightly stained timber from Queensland.
There’s a wonderful balance of modern masculine with snippets of delicate detail. Dave was careful to manage this, and flew to his favourite design Mecca, London, for a lot of the interior inspiration. There, he found himself gravitating to women’s high end shoe boutiques because ‘women’s brands pay attention to detail’. Sartorial beauty and war bunkers don’t seem like natural bedfellows, but at Chocolate Studio they work a treat.
A truly incredible space – no wonder Kevin was impressed.
Dave’s renovation advice?
You can have a lot of brilliant ideas along the way, but make sure someone else is on the journey who is not in your head space, and therefore able to bring you back to reality when or if you get carried away!