Located on a quiet, tree-lined neighbourhood in Pechersk, one of the oldest districts in Kyiv, Dubler café takes over the ground floor of a residential building built in the 1970s which interior architects balbek bureau have distinctively refurbished by marrying elements of understated sophistication with urban grit and vintage charm. By deliberatively selecting an age-old venue, as Dubler’s co-owner and balbek bureau founder Slava Balbek explains, the team were able to approach the space as an architectural palimpsest, masterfully interweaving older and newer layers, and mixing restored vintage pieces with modern purpose-built elements, in order to foster a sense of history and community.
Previously housing an office space and a separate apartment, the property was radically reconfigured, dismantling several walls in the process, in order to create two interconnected rooms - a bright, street-facing hall centred on a bar counter and large communal table, and a smaller dining hall in the back. Stripped down to its core, the building fabric was selectively refurbished depending on its state; while the floor was completely reconstructed using poured concrete as the original structure was unfit for use, the existing concrete ceiling was left intact - its cracks, stains and chipped beams comprising a painterly composition conveying the beauty of imperfection - as was the original wall plastering in all its peeling glory. A more nuanced approach was reserved for the decrepit brick walls which were covered with several layers of transparent primer. Coupled with the concrete blocks forming the bathroom area, and the exposed air ducts and cable trays running across the ceiling, the eclectic refurbishment is characterized by an unfinished sensibility and unrefined quality that imbues the café with charisma.
Adding to Dubler’s storied character is a treasure trove of vintage furnishings paired with custom-design pieces that conjure the vibrant ambience of a flea market from the 1970s. In the main hall, the six-metre-long communal table that balbek bureau custom designed is complemented by meticulously refurbished Swedish desk chairs from the 1960s, and a linear light fixture made from three vintage fittings from the 1940s that have been restored and welded together. A blob-shaped mirror, also designed by the team, hangs above a pair of vintage leather sofas, a vintage glass and wood coffee table, and a yellow Lumibär lamp from the 1990s, all purchased at flea markets, while a vintage ceramic dog from Brussels adorns the sleek bar and pastry counter.
In the adjacent dining hall, chairs were also sourced from flea markets, including Thonet-type bentwood pieces, while the tables and banquet seating were made to order. Although this space is more modest, it makes an impact courtesy of an expansive mural by artist graph0man who has brought together Rodin's “The Thinker” with his cubist doppelgänger, the bulky acrobat from Picasso's 1905 painting “The Girl on the Ball”, in between whom, three synchronized swimmers dive into a martini glass. A more discrete artistic gesture awaits in the bathroom where a neon sign spelling “Let the whole world wait" can be seen if you look up at the ceiling. As poetic, a decorative swan-shaped faucet animates the minimalist custom-made concrete washbasin.
Finally, a small terrace at the front of the building provides outdoor seating where austere concrete benches and metal tables are playfully juxtaposed with the restored ornate stucco doorways and grapevine-covered façade. Eventually, grapevines will cover the new metal canopy sheltering a smaller concrete terrace that replaces a building extension. Until then, balbek bureau’s characterful, patina-imbued interiors are destined to find a special place in the heart of the local community.