There’s new thinking around the office environment – a move away from the fluoro lit, intensely practical workplace composed of grey plastic furniture & industrial carpet. Within this more humanistic approach, plants and greenery are welcome, natural materials are creeping back & there are spaces where people can meet informally, chat and do business. Last year I designed The Postmaster for the Macquarie Group: a private in-house cafe at Number 1 Martin Place, with the brief to incorporate these principles.

Located in a modern building accessed through Sydney’s historic General Post Office, I devised the concept of “The Postmaster” – pulling in the history of the grand old building. Going through online files, I came across a photo of the McCredie brothers: the builders who solved the problem of how to engineer the GPO over the Tank Stream. All four of them are clustered on one of the huge columns that would later form the beautiful arcades. The shot became the inspiration for the atmosphere. A kind of theatrical Victoriana: a mix of gravitas with an edgy undercurrent and a sense of humour…

The McCredie Brothers and the GPO

The space itself was plain. In its favour were the high ceilings and spacious floor plan. The light was strange: it had an soupy quality, reflecting off the neighbouring buildings. The proportions of the square arches were good though and I decided to transform them into fake windows, similar to those in the nineteenth century factories. To do this we had to block off the actual windows, and put in artificial lights behind milky perspex “windows” with timber framing painted to look like metal.

In the beginning… the raw material

The walls were painted by a top scenic artist who usually worked in film. Anything that created texture in the space was good: a contrast to the smooth office world. This space was to be more analog than digital.

entering The Postmaster

Leftover elements from the old Commonwealth Bank building also owned by Macquarie were incorporated: heavy brass lights, ice cream swirly green marble and Art Nouveau stools. The former cashiers’ grills were recycled onto a table – which further served as an informal room divider.

Looking through the cashiers grills: the circle could flip from the number to “closed”

I’ve always loved the iconic Australian stamps of kookaburras, emus and koalas – their soft colours & delicate engraving. The Postmaster theme was a great excuse to work them into the design, making a custom wallpaper out of colour photocopies.

One of the best comments on the final design came from a confused barista who thought he was still in the historic GPO, with the windows facing out to Martin Place. I was happy with a certain cosiness, a club like feel and a vibrancy in the way people moved through the space. And the blown up photo of the McCredie Brothers, their watchful gaze greeting you upon entry, a slight suggestion of a smile from under their magnificent great beards.