Key Dates

6 July 2023 - Launch Deadline
5 October 2023 - Standard Deadline
21 December 2023 - Extended Deadline
22 December 2023 - Judging
17 January - Winners Announced

Image Credit : Steven Woodburn Photography steven@stevenwoodburn.com M. 0405 586 509




Project Overview

With its maximalist mash-up of materials and pigment pairings, RAFI revives a sense of playfulness in design, complementing the bold flavour profile of its modern Mediterranean menu. Aperol-toned umbrellas stitch a frill of vibrancy around its façade, attracting spontaneous aperitivo hours from its raised perspective above street-level tenancies, overlooking a verdant terrace in the heart of North Sydney’s business district. Spirited drinking and dining arrangements prioritise innovation and comfort – from sunny terraces and a sheltered glasshouse to internal bar-side drinking, a restaurant and private dining room, plus a Chef’s Table within a separate structure that plays host to private events without disturbing the main entertaining hub.

Project Commissioner

Applejack Hospitality

Project Creator

Luchetti Krelle


Stuart Krelle
Buket Meric
Annabel Hyles
Laura Arango Gi

Project Brief

Conveying the energetic warmth of RAFI’s owners, punchy primary shades mingle with power pastels amongst neutral rendered walls. They requested a layered design that ignited child-like awe and wonder given the inspiration behind RAFI’s namesake (the bar and restaurant was inspired by the initials of its founders’ – Ben Carroll and Hamish Watts – children: Raffaella, Aurora, Frankie and Indio). The venue also had to offer myriad experiences to encourage regular patronage, also tapping into the Monday to Friday office crowd (lunches and post-work drinks, dinner plus work events) and attract weekend patronage.

An open kitchen forms RAFI’s nucleic hub, with the bar directly opposite. Between them, seating fans out offering casual and more formal options, culminating in a private room for groups – its versatile cork doors can part open should bookings require additional seating instead. What results are conjoined spaces retaining their own identity, yet several subliminal themes curiously connect them. A jigsaw of graphic floor patterns ranging from checkered granite and terracotta tile arrangements to timber parquetry and marble mosaics tessellations culminate in a vibrant silk carpet in the Private Dining Room by the indigenous artist, Colleen Ngwarraye Morton (from the collaboration between Willie Weston and Cadrys). Whilst it represents a ceremony performed by women to celebrate bush medicine through dancing and singing, its painterly abstract splatters combined with the scribbled fabric lining the curved Mediterranean blue banquettes and the swirling outlines on the customised JRF dining chair seat pads further tease the theme of child’s-play.

Project Innovation/Need

Building on the playful theme to engage patrons through a sense of visual discovery, complimenting the innovative menu, geometric shapes feature prominently. Layered cork (inspired by Josef Albers’ square paintings) lines the Private Dining Room’s sliding doors and its custom service station (both offering texturally aesthetic sound absorption), to the stained oak bar face with a stepped square grid pattern. Across the courtyard, the walls and ceilings of a private event room are clad in chequered tiles. Even table tops take on square, rectangular, oval and octagonal shapes plus circles with scalloped edges (service stations too). Abstract canvases book-end the main dining expanse, their colours conveying the complimentary clashes of RAFI’S internal palette.

Subtle themes add residential warmth and ignite the imagination. Tuscan farm-house concepts creep into the kitchen where an exaggerated matte-rendered terracotta red mantel surrounds the Josper oven. Customised woven rush dining chairs further thread this rustic theme together, plus the canopy of woven seagrass mats lining the Private Dining Room’s ceiling (providing additional sound absorption). A wine rack adds a Mondrian spin with its woven tangerine cargo belt traps securing vinous drops upon a canvas of galvanised steel that hides distractions from the bar area with its angled floor-to-ceiling gait. A border of painted timber noggins atop adds a pointillist pattern of coloured bottle caps. Feature lighting enhances biophilic references, from the sculptural oak leaf pendants outdoors adding warm Aperol splashes to the Private Dining Room’s branch-like chandelier and sconce featuring delicate petals lining a brass stem.

Design Challenge

Inheriting the existing shell – part of a tenancy upgrade that remained vacant over lockdown – several structural changes were required to enliven the minimalist, angular frame we inherited. We replaced the black aluminium box-frame windows and doors with galvanised steel to both lighten and visually extend the footprint towards the encircling terrace. We also designed a semi-al fresco glasshouse named The Arbor that stands amongst the planted terrace buffering RAFI’s main entrance. Its crisp white arabesque arches replace a four-post structure comprising a jarring angular framework, enabling semi-outdoor seating throughout the year. The outdoor vibe plays on European Med summer themes thanks to the bright striped fabric banquettes, custom tiled tables, festoon lighting, lush greenery, and ultra-comfortable lounges. The Arbor and terrace seating comprises just over half of RAFI’s square meterage, in turn increasing its total capacity to 300 people. From the street below the venue, the bright tangerine umbrellas draw the gaze upward, attracting office workers during lunch breaks and on their commute home.

Galvanised steel surfaces are another non-precious material unifying the spaces with a settled patina, most abundantly incorporated within the open kitchen to conceal the exhaust. Turn a corner and a feature wine rack adds a modern-day Mondrian spin with its woven tangerine cargo belt traps securing vinous drops upon a canvas of steel that hides distractions from the bar area with its angled floor-to-ceiling gait. A border of painted timber noggins atop adds a pointillist pattern of coloured bottle caps.


Whilst North Sydney is a central business district, its hospitality scene is playing catch-up to the CBD’s appeal. Given the area pulses with tech and media workers, we felt confident to push a boldly adventurous interior scheme to socially re-activate the business district and entice patronage in an area renowned for its ‘vacated state’ come weekends. Designing The Arbor and creating outdoor lounge and seating areas with scattered potted plants around the terrace has been key to RAFI’s success, providing arcadian respite from the grey sidewalks beneath the elevated tenancy.
Given RAFI’s lease is for twenty years, the investment in structural changes including The Arbor was warranted, as were decisions to invest in vibrantly patterned, hard-wearing stone bench surfaces, plus the solid timber bar and patterned tiled floors in the heavy traffic areas as they would stand the test of time. In addition to the main double-door entrance, several others open out to the terrace wrapping around the restaurant in a U-shape enabling cross breezes to flow within the restaurant for natural ventilation. Floating a kinetic theme, a canopy of snow grey camo netting cosies the lofty Arbor space, whilst oversized spherical cotton lanterns within that gently sway in cross-breezes.

This award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors where people eat and drink - this includes bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs. Judging consideration is given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.
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