Inspired by the diverse New York City restaurant culture this new neighbourhood cafe offers chef Zita Steyn’s delicious, healthy and green food as well as cookery classes in a purpose-built creative studio.

When Zita approached us to design her cafe with the brief to center the design around New York we were excited, given that both Emily and Frederik had spent time working there. In fact it turned out Zita had trained as a holistic chef 2 blocks from where Frederik worked on Union Square at the same time.

At the same time this was a daunting task: What does New-York-inspired even mean? There famously are so many different cultures, foods, languages and interest groups in the melting pot of Manhattan that it is impossible to capture all of this.

After extensive research the approach we settled on was the slice New York we all knew – rich in art, somewhat temporary or improvised and as a result vibrant and alive. New Yorkers are great at working with found situations, materials, and turn these into art.

Coffee shop and cafe school in Herne Hill, Dulwich front facade at night, lit up

The project takes an unused corner shop and extends it with two new spaces around a courtyard. Heavy roller shutters were removed and the original ceiling height restored to create a light-filled welcoming space. A papaya-coloured bar offers dishes of the day and fresh coffees. The space features a large mural by artist Stephen Smith (@neasdencontrolcentre) which is based on a colour scheme developed in collaboration with graphics team Hyperkit. From the bar, bleached brick walls and exposed steel frames connect to the restaurant.

Exposed ceiling timber structure detail of a cafe in Herne Hill, Dulwich, with high-level windows behind

A industrial zigzag truss roof spans between the existing building and the old garden wall, creating a side extension to replace the old lean-to garage. Along a long bench flexible seating caters for individuals as well as larger groups while keeping enough space for circulation. A long band of clerestorey windows along the bench and a large roof light flood the space with daylight.

Large windows at the front and back provide a long view all the way from Judith Kerr Primary School opposite the cafe through the restaurant and onwards into the courtyard.

A window into the old building was opened up to give views into and out of the kitchen: Preparing exciting food is at the centre of West 16th.

People sitting in a Herne Hill, Dulwich café with laptops and coffee
New side extension to a café and coffee shop in Herne Hill, Dulwich, featuring large windows offering views of people working inside
Cafe and cookery school in Herne Hill, Dulwich, featuring a workshop area, sink, storage, and ample seating
People sitting in a Herne Hill, Dulwich café with laptops and coffee

At the rear, another extension was added to provide a separate flexible studio space. This space hosts lots of different creative workshops, including cookery, floristry, fine arts, sound therapy, calligraphy and crafting, and is used for many different events such as meetings, private meals, vintage clothes fairs, surprise birthday parties and many more. Visit west16th.co.uk for current programming.

A blue pod around the teaching kitchen creates a separation between the two main areas while connecting them visually.

We often get asked what the concrete panels in the studio are about: They are the old prefabricated elements of the garage that stood behind the building – repurposed as wall paneling to add to the mix of found textures.

Herne Hill café classroom workshop space featuring exposed structure, a large window, and plenty of seating

A papaya-coloured large steel frame opens up towards the side and connects to the courtyard.

In the summer months the long sliding door is open, extending the space seamlessly into the courtyard.

This is where the garden wall is exposed – rebuilt using the same bricks as the old wall which was dangerously leaning over the pavement alongside the side of the plot.

The garden gate serves as a fire escape and a separate entrance for events in the studio.

Large windows in a café, coffee shop, and restaurant in Herne Hill, Dulwich, offering views of planting and plenty of natural light
Herne Hill café classroom workshop space featuring exposed structure, a large window, and plenty of seating

From the side it becomes obvious how the new spaces are nested behind the garden wall. The upper part of the original building were refurbished and fitted with new high-performance windows to enhance this previously neglected street corner.

Coffee shop and cafe school in Herne Hill, Dulwich front facade at night.