A (tea) blend of retail and hospitality – Q&A with Puccini's Rob Polacek

MACAU – In the Galaxy Macau resort, Cha Bei offers visitors a unique space where retail mixes with hospitality like a fine tea blend.

Translating to teacup in Standard Chinese, Cha Bei draws heavily from the dainty prettiness of Victorian tea sets in its palette and décor. Rob Polacek, chief creative officer and partner at Puccini Group, talks to us about the multifunctionality of the space which his team designed.

What was your brief from Cha Bei?
The client asked us to create a free-flowing, open space where shopping and dining unite. A 56-seat café, flower shop, tea lounge and bar – as well as a kitchen area for hosting cooking and baking classes – are all wrapped into one 510-sq-m interactive space, where people can stop by to grab some handmade noodles, a quick spot of tea, a sandwich, or accessories for the home.

Did you first approach designing the space from the retail or hospitality aspect? Or from another one entirely?
From the beginning of the design process, we envisioned a space that would function in a few different ways, and we approached the project keeping this flexibility in mind. There’s a storyline of different chapters flowing through the interior. At the entryway, visitors are greeted by tasteful display cases filled with custom-made cakes and ice cream, while a retail area further inside offers a curated mix of books, teas, treats, accessories, and flower arrangements.

The sense of spatial flexibility also comes through in the variety of seating options at Cha Bei. Bespoke banquettes, dining chairs with pops of colour, ‘tulip’ chairs and blush-coloured sofas accommodate a variety of dining needs, whether it’s just a quick bite from the café, a sit-down dining experience in the main room, or a cup of tea or a cocktail in the lounge area.

Tell me about the aesthetic at play here.
Cha Bei’s design is whimsical, with complementing elements that add dimension and energy to the space. A pastel palette of peaches, greens, and blues takes charge, and floral graphics add a playful touch. The teaware is vintage, and brings home the theme of the space.

But it’s the walls that are the show-stoppers: mint-green tiles cover one wall in front of which delectable desserts are sold, vertical paneling adds a sophisticated style, and large graphics like three-dimensional flora actually project from the surface of the wall in the flower shop.

That’s all in the open retail/hospitality area. What about the teaching kitchen area you mentioned? Are classes open to the public?
The kitchen area accommodates about six people, and is designed to teach baking and cake-decorating techniques, how to host a high tea, and some cooking basics. It’s designed as a western-style professional kitchen, with large counters and wall ovens. Cha Bei’s all-encompassing learning environment allows for a great deal of flexibility, both in schedule and content. The programme of this week might focus on food and florals, while next month could be dominated by social gatherings or product demonstrations.

How important was it to allow for this multifunctionality in the design of the space?
The multifunctional aspect of the space was a key driver of the design, but the project also emphasizes other design aspects. Our team created a concept that is airy and high-spirited, as comforting and light as the cuisine and tea served.

The goal was to bring people together in a free-flowing space, with the compartmentalization according to various activities unified by a cohesive visual story. Aesthetics and customer experience had equal priority in the design.

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