Ms. Elliot at Hock Bee
Designed by JUJURWORK, the restaurant-cafe Ms. Elliot at Hock Bee is located in Kuantan, Malaysia. The office describes the project as follows:
Nestled along Jalan Besar, the main street of the tranquil town of Kuantan on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, the Hock Bee Brothers Building has stood as a cherished architectural treasure for over five decades. It holds a special place in the collective memory of Kuantan's residents, with its unique design and historical significance interwoven with the town's multicultural tapestry.
This building, comprised of two prewar shop lots, features an impressive 40-foot-wide front facade characterized by five recessed bays separated by vertical fins. Notably, the front-facing windows are designed as geometric prisms, serving both practical purposes of lighting and ventilation and adding an understated aesthetic touch. The enduring appeal of the building's well-thought-out design has made it an integral part of Kuantan's urban heritage.
In 2022, a new chapter began with the opening of Ms. Elliot, a café restaurant occupying the ground and mezzanine floors of the Hock Bee Brothers Building. The aim was to honor the building's history and maintain its original character. Unlike other renovations, the building did not require a flashy "design" as it possessed an abundance of charm. The central focus of the original office, a display cabinet, was replaced with a multi-layered onyx installation that now serves as the café's reception coffee bar.
While exploring a nearby stone yard, we chanced upon a cache of overlooked onyx tiles. The stone yard was on the verge of closing, and these tiles had been hidden away for years. Recognizing their potential, we decided to make them the centerpiece of our coffee bar's design, with a strong commitment to using them responsibly. The onyx tiles are now a testament to our connection with the past and our dedication to sustainability. They've become an integral part of our café's design, reminding us that beauty can emerge from the most unexpected places.
The reception coffee bar pays homage to the rhythmic design cues from the building's front façade, resembling a Russian doll that has been disassembled into a miniature version of the building. A frame is first constructed on-site using RHS members. Onyx tiles rescued from the stone yard are affixed to the steel frame with aluminum French cleats and backlit by an array of LED modules mounted on gypsum boards. The final touch is the cabinetry, fitted into the frame once electrical and plumbing work is complete. The installation is not just sculptural but also spatial, with custom pendant lights drawing inspiration from the prismatic windows on the façade and antique gas streetlights reminiscent of bygone eras.
Preserving the historical integrity of the building, the original mosaic floor from the 1960s remains untouched, and the bright red wooden plaque bearing golden Chinese characters has been carefully cleaned and repositioned on the west wall, following the advice of a fengshui master. The original wood louvers were also restored and now function as dividers between the more public front café and semi-private dining spaces.
To enhance the spatial symmetry, two thick entryway walls have been introduced on either side of the room. These entryways provide access to the ground-floor dining rooms behind the louvered partition and to the mezzanine floor via the stairwell. As visitors pass through the entryway walls, the ceiling height decreases, creating an intimate atmosphere. This transformation has liberated the space that once housed private offices and a vault, now accommodating cozy dining booths overlooking the front café.
Toward the back, two original skylights introduce natural light and air into a double-height dining hall adorned with long walnut dining tables. Hanging light tubes that resemble floating candles are arranged symmetrically, further establishing the central axis of the building. On the mezzanine floor, vintage wood panels have been lovingly restored, creating three independent dining and lounge spaces for more private gatherings. A small balcony extends from the mezzanine, offering a delightful spot to bask in the natural light from the central skylight. An old wooden congratulatory plaque with intricate calligraphy carvings, found on-site, now overlooks the balcony.
The original signage for Hock Bee Bros. has been retained as a tribute on the exterior, while the large glass windows with their original art deco geometrical frames have been gently refurbished. A new double door, set within a prismatic door frame designed to mimic the original windows, draws attention to the vibrant maroon entrance, welcoming guests to the new café inside. Surprisingly, the maroon doors have become the most beloved Instagram-worthy spot for visitors, a delightful revelation.
Beyond the architectural marvel of the Hock Bee Brothers Building, it is essential to appreciate the cultural context of Kuantan. This charming town has a rich and diverse history, influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, and colonial architectural styles. The multicultural tapestry of Kuantan is reflected not only in its architecture but also in its people, traditions, and cuisine. Kuantan's cultural heritage is a source of inspiration and pride for its residents.
Ms. Elliot at Hock Bee aspires to become more than just a café restaurant; it aims to be a cultural hub where locals and visitors can come together to celebrate Kuantan's rich history and vibrant present. This establishment represents a bright future for the Hock Bee Brothers Building, preserving its heritage while evolving into a dynamic space that fosters community, art, and culinary delights. As Kuantan continues to thrive and change, Ms. Elliot stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of this town and its commitment to preserving its unique cultural heritage.