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19 / September / 2022

Does it come in black? A cellar door embraces its dark heart.

If we consider that the buildings we create are a reflection of who we are, then this project takes personal expression to the next level. Designed for Lisa McGuigan, whose family name is synonymous with winemaking in Australia, the cellar door experience at Vamp by Lisa McGuigan invites you into the world of this fourth-generation viticulturist - and pours you a glass of wine to boot.

Architect Dominic Warland from Newcastle-based EJE Architecture was tasked with realising Lisa’s vision to create an immersive wine tasting experience that would surprise and intrigue guests in equal measure. Given Lisa’s penchant for black in her own wardrobe, the palette for this project was never in any doubt.

“This building was never going to be anything but black,” says Dominic. “Lisa is a character with some very strong ideas and a very deliberate marketing strategy but she’s also a pleasure to work with.”

Although a DA for a barn-like building on the Pokolbin site had already been approved, the design was not hitting the brief. So Dominic, together with colleague and senior interior designer at EJE Architecture, Jodie Duddington, created wine-tasting spaces that captured Lisa’s love of all things dark and dramatic, with a good dose of playfulness thrown in.

Central to the design is a cathedral height tasting room, with a large circular bar in the middle designed to welcome groups small or large. To the western side of the main room, there’s a private area large enough to host 20 guests, as well as two more separate tasting booths, while the eastern side offers a view to the courtyard garden and bushland through dramatic floor-to-ceiling height windows.

Entry is via a smaller, darker portal at the front of the building, deliberately designed to add to the drama of entering the main tasting area.

“One of my colleagues said from the street it looked like this little cute cottage in the woods in a mysterious colour,” says Dominic. “Usually, it would be white, so it draws you in with its more mysterious doorway. Once inside, you emerge from the entry tunnel into this cavernous space.”

A store room, board room, washrooms and kitchen for a seasonal oyster and champagne offerings complete the building to the rear.

Aside from the striking black and white tiles on the terrace, everything, including the exterior, with LYSAGHT WALLCLAD® cladding and roofing in LYSAGHT CUSTOM ORB® corrugated steel, is black or charcoal grey, in keeping with Lisa’s aesthetic. Achieving this was not as easy as it looks.

Dominic says choosing Lysaght products solved more than one dilemma facing this project.

“It’s a black building in Pokolbin where it can get up to 45C in summer so I was concerned that it would not be very thermally efficient,” he says. “I thought ‘how will we make the building more environmentally friendly?’.”

The solution was a reverse brick veneer construction, with CUSTOM ORB® on the outside and brick on the inside. The resulting air pocket between the inner and outer ‘skins’ improves thermal comfort. “CUSTOM ORB® gave us texture and the colour the client wanted, as well as the thermal performance we were striving for,” says Dominic.

Working with a single, dark tone like black meant texture and lighting played key roles in this design. From the snake skin-like feel of the bar countertop and the chain mail style curtains for the booths to the matt black bathroom tiles and beautifully detailed joinery, materials have been selected to engage the senses, as well as their ability to catch or absorb the light. Dominic says Lisa understood immediately the importance of a sophisticated lighting plan to draw the beauty from dark spaces.

“We spent a lot of time on lighting,” he says. “The daytime light was special but the night time light was really special. The main drawcard is the chandelier by (Melbourne-based lighting designer) Christopher Boots, which was custom designed.

“Lisa was willing to put money into things that go ‘wow’. It was really exciting to have a client who understood that.”

Local builder, PDA Building, started working on the building even before the design was complete.

“We had a condensed building program over about nine months so we hadn’t finished the designing stage when we started building,” says Dominic. “It was good working with a builder that we trusted.”

The result is a cellar door experience like no other. Viewed from the road, the ‘cute cottage in the woods’ is tantalising and a little mysterious that sits surprisingly well in its bushland setting.

It’s an invitation to indulge the dark side, for those who dare.