Photos by James Jones.
More than a century ago, this 25,000-square-foot timber and brick building in the Old Town district of Victoria was a place to get ’er done. The space once serviced all of Victoria’s electric cable cars, but has since sat run-down and forgotten. That is, until Kwench founder Tessa McLoughlin selected the heritage building as a home for her new, multi-functional culture club—a co-working office, exercise studio, library, kitchen, bar and event space in one. Her partnership with Sarah Donald of Hansenbuilt Design was the first step to getting the former service house back on track.
“There was no floor, just piles of dirt and a crane,” remembers Donald. The pair took that crane up to the attic, where the designer fell in love with the 13 timber truss beams that ran the width of the space. The 114-year-old beams were incorporated into the design, an apt decision given the main goal of the co-working space: inclusion. “We wanted to create a space that could function for everyone,” says Donald.
At the heart of Kwench is the atrium, a reception and a lounge area that stars a custom-made golden velvet sofa. It’s an important community-building spot, both during regular workdays and on special nights when it transitions into a venue for local events. The yellow sofa is the start of a warm welcome that continues throughout the space, including at the walnut reception desk with rounded edges to encourage collaboration. Above the desk is a flowery pergola that provides both a pop of colour and some necessary shade from the skylights. In the communal kitchen, a bespoke tile mural flaunting owls, ferns and kookaburras combines West Coast motifs with McLoughlin’s Australian roots. Bamboo basket lights complement the atrium’s sunny vibes.
It was a renovation focused on preservation. Along with the timber truss beams, Donald took care to keep some of the original steel ties and hand-forged nails that supported the building in its first life. There are more glory days ahead for this historic space serving up a fresh work-life balance: “It’s a place where you can spill a glass of wine and still feel elegant,” says Donald.
“We wanted to use as many local designers as possible,” says designer Sarah Donald. Vancouver-based graphic artist Paula Gonzáles of Phaulet designed the kitchen mural, and the floral pergola and other green details are thanks to local floral designer Botanic Creative.