Designed by Tokyo and Kyoto-based studio Yusuke Seki, this hole-in-the-wall style espresso bar and mini roastery might feel at home down a Surry Hills alleyway, or tucked into an empty loading dock in the Melbourne CBD. It is, however, located in Kobe – the Japanese city on Osaka Bay best known for its marbled beef, bread, and old-world cafes. Called Voice of Coffee, the new world café and specialty coffee store has been built into a former barber shop, with elements stripped back to reveal its history, and new and subtle details added in to make way for beans, brewing, sipping, and appreciating.

The building’s original façade has been set back and opened up as a glass front. Like a traditional Japanese engawa, the outside-inside threshold space between the street and the shop interior becomes a spot for guests to sit and enjoy their drinks. While the actual amount of interior space is reduced, the setback provides another spatial layer and gives the illusion of more depth, beckoning coffee drinkers inward.

Glass is used as an intriguing detail throughout. A row of glass bricks held together by building concrete alone helps to divide the space, while the front door handle is made of two panes of glass, glued using a special adhesive on both sides of the glass door – making the doorway entirely transparent. Inside, cupboards are framed in silvery steel with glass panels and a special gull-wing mechanism developed especially by Yuseke Seki for Voice of Coffee.

Almost all structural elements were left as they were found during the demolition process. The timber screen below the ceiling is the original frame that held up the suspended ceiling during the shop’s former life. Walls have also been left as they were once the barber’s finish was removed. To heighten the sense of time passing, a thin layer of silver leaf was applied to the back wall. Over time, the wall will oxidise and glow as a hue of warm, golden espresso.


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[Images courtesy of Yusuke Seki. Photography by Takumi Ota.]


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