2012 Sydney Design Awards

Key Dates

Image Credit : Photographer: Michael Wee


Project Overview

Located in an old pie factory from the early 1900’s, The Grounds of Alexandria is the flagship venue for its specialty coffee. The site hosts a coffee research and testing facility alongside a café, opening onto a luscious garden of heirloom vegetables and fragrant herbs. Very much a family enterprise; this inner city sanctuary was conceived by Ramzey Choker with his long-standing business partner Jack Hanna and sister; Interior Designer, Caroline Choker.
The Grounds offers a holistic approach to food and design.
With a 12 month design and construction time line the team collaborated on all aspects of the design to ensure the soul of the existing 1800 square meter shell was the design hero; beautiful bare brickwork, concrete floors and exposed beams. The existing car park was the perfect platform to create a garden sanctuary and today highlights the seamless use of recycled materials, found objects and sustainable practices.

Project Commissioner

Choking Ham

Project Creator

Caroline Choker



Project Brief

The heritage listed industrial warehouse was transformed into an urban sanctuary comprised of a thriving coffee roasting facility, artisan bakery, rustic café and organic kitchen garden in the heart of Sydney city.
The objective was to educate the customers on the seed to cup analogy by engaging them in a holistic dining and coffee experience where they can touch, smell and even eat the ingredients from The Grounds.
The concept was infused into every element of the design from the interior to the exterior garden and branding elements such as the menu, signage, bespoke coffee cups and coffee roasting machines.
The interior was designed and detailed to showcase all aspects of the coffee and dining process with the utmost transparency; encouraging customer and staff interaction and education.
The journey and experience between the interior and the garden was incredibly important, as was maintaining the integrity of the industrial and rustic aesthetic. Function and circulation were imperative whilst designing the take away area, various dining zones, gallery bakery and open plan kitchen. In addition to this, the cafe and gardens have been carefully detailed to allow for varying events to be held.

Project Innovation / Need

The philosophy is based on the seed to the cup, and this is the journey the design takes customers on.The interior explodes with various experiences - a coffee research facility forms the heart of the cafe, artisan bakery, intimate dining zones, a crumbling brick wall covered with creeping vines surrounds the garden sanctuary, and a children’s play area sits by clucking chooks. The customer truly experiences the nature of both the bean and seed.

A key factor of the design brief was the education focus. A focal point and first for Sydney was the addition of a research facility and coffee gallery, dedicated to experimenting with coffee blends and roasting processes. An illustrated coffee blackboard hangs in the Brew bar, and coffee diagrams support the menus to reinforce this education and interactive focus.

Abundance, sustainability and interaction form the pulse that beat through this inner city sanctuary.

Design Challenge

Transforming the industrial building and carpark into an urban sanctuary was not without its challenges. From its conception dealing with council approval,selling the concept to banks for funding and then dealing with an expensive construction.

The client was passionate about this project as they saw opportunity to offer the market an innovative coffee destination and inner city garden where individuals and families can enjoy a wholesome and rustic food offer.


The clients primary focus was to implement sustainable practices in this adaptive reuse project. The holistic approach extended from the construction through to food and coffee offering.
The Warehouse
The integrity of the former warehouse was retained by exposing its rustic and industrial aesthetic. Bare brickwork, raw concrete, exposed structural steel and timber beams formed the rich palette of materials. Sympathetic additions inserted within the structure were either locally sourced or formed with recycled materials.
Demolition of existing materials were reused on site wherever possible, eg.brickwork reused as paving in the garden courtyard.
The Garden
The project transformed the existing 1200m.sq bitumen carpark into a urban sanctuary. It increases the permeable surface avoiding stormwater runoff into the catchment and allows for deep soil planting. Therefore a sustainable permaculture approach was implemented to form organic garden beds and an eco culture.

This award recognises building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes and aesthetic presentation. Consideration given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.
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