By Candace Sofianos King | Photos by Coney Timbers

Aged ‘Industrial pine’ reclaims history and uplifts creativity at NATIVE VML’s revitalised Old Castle Brewery HQ.

It all began when award-winning global digital agency VML were acquiring clients at a rapid pace and needed an environment conducive to inspiring their staff and a comfortable space for staff to produce magic.

Woodstock was the place to play in with the commercial and residential environment – a suburb that was sought out by activists and artists during apartheid and one of the few racially mixed suburbs in Cape Town at the time, now after a huge economic drive has regained its perception of creative direction.

Boasting rich heritage, the agency is situated in The Old Castle Brewery Building on Beach Road Woodstock. Ben Wagner, CEO of VML Cape Town, envisioned a distinctive look-and-feel for the project and wanted to maintain the DNA of this historical building and environment.

Enter Coney Timbers, Cape Town-based manufacturers of custom reclaimed, recycled, rustic or refined solid wood furniture. Honed in on sustainable design inspired by nature, Coney Timbers is in the business of repurposing reclaimed timber for their iconic, rustic and timeless furniture. All its materials are sought from the historical catchment areas of Cape Town.

“When Coney Timbers was approached to engage we were in a very lucky position to have an acute understanding of Ben’s vision, but most importantly our studio, staff and material were all from the area. We have a sustainable design philosophy and so lucky our stars aligned!” enthuses Dean Dicks, creative director and founder of Coney Timbers.

Pine pays historical homage to industrialism

For Dicks, timber was a no brainer, based on the history and the space they were working with – a retro industrial design with rustic concrete floors, metal ceilings, exposed red brink, retro metal windows, and so on. “Wood was the only option, not because it’s the only renewable option or because of its acoustic qualities, but most importantly, its ability to soften the space and bring it alive.

“We used recycled Oregon pine and what we refer to as industrial / antique pine – materials that have lived many lives before at trusses, floors, doors, supporting beams in offices, factories and homes in the immediate catchment area. We had just acquired a huge quantity of Oregon pine from a demolished building on Albert Road, Woodstock that is well suited for the sustainable pieces required and had the historical aspects as well,” explains Dicks.

The team used an abundance of charismatic Oregon in the bar and cafe areas to give that warm feeling; a space where staff come together to relax and escape for a moment-in-time. The dark chocolate Oregon was more conducive based on the fact it’s a suitable structural timber, and with the heavy traffic in that specific area, very durable. In the boardrooms, VC rooms and pause areas, they went for a lighter timber in the form of a mix of industrial pine, scaffolding and antique pine to create a less chaotic environment so staff could be completely focused in discussions.

Wood breathes new life

The feature pieces in these environments took a more subtle and understated importance. “We retained some of the original material in the form of the 4.5m metal footrest in the bar area (originally a hand rail) and the original barn doors were used as important backdrops for the agency’s creative storytelling displays,” notes Dicks.

Based on the fact the wood has lived for over 100 years, it has settled well and very little maintenance is required going forward besides wear-and-tear, highlights Dicks. “We apply a product called Wanda Seal Clear to all our products, which is an epic product that retains the natural look-and-feel of the material. The product is UV and water resistant and we refer to it as our second skin – it really protects timber. Every few years the sealer should be re-applied to maintain the original look and preserve the wood,” he highlights.

“We went with a rustic, recycled and sustainable feel to align with the existing office environment, the overall building park and the historical attributes of the area. It is an industrial feel with heavy, chunky and bulky recycled hardwood which looks aesthetically pleasing against other materials, namely concrete, steel and brick,” he notes.

Dicks says changes came in the form of transporting the large feature pieces, such as the 4.5m long bar counter and the 4m boardroom server. “Large Oregon and industrial pine pieces aren’t easy to lift but we were fortunate enough to transport at night and we reside in close proximity. We also produced a 9m long boardroom table which we eventually had to break into 3m x 3m tables and placed them on castors for delivery; most importunately it gave the agency the freedom to re-arrange the configuration depending on meeting requirements.”

The human touch

Dicks says the client is overwhelmed by the material, craftsmanship and the feel that the pieces bring to the environment. All pieces have to be functional but raw and with loads of character and an aged look. Working with this client was Coney Timbers’ first ‘punch the air’ moment – their biggest corporate project and the special one that they use in story-telling during pitches.

“The success of the project was working with an awesome client – namely Ben Wagner and Katharine Price – their vision, input and most importantly their empowerment of Coney Timbers to have some artistic freedom elevates the overall project.

“Based on what we achieved at NATIVE VML, it has allowed us to work with many blue-chip companies as we tell the story over and over about how we built this awesome and unique environment. I also refer to my kids Joshua and Hannah, aged 11 and 13 respectively, for their input around design selection – don’t tell my client!”

Wood you like to know

  • The Castle Brewery, VML’s home, was designed in 1899 and completed in 1901 by SA Breweries.
  • Specific wood was sourced from homes, buildings and old hotels, centuries old, from Albert Road and the Woodstock catchment.
  • The project took six weeks from brief to implementation.
  • The team left the 100- to 150-year-old dusty and splintered Oregon timber unsanded.
  • They used hot water to soften the timber and a wire brush to maintain as much character, preserving its history.
  • Everything was transported in a light truck.