The small Alpine town of Klobenstein (Collalbo in Italian) in South Tyrol, Italy, population 1,400, is usually associated with the hiking trails that crisscross the surrounding natural landscape, the beautiful views over the Dolomites mountain range, and Sigmund Freud, who spent his holidays here in the summer of 1919 writing essays and celebrating his silver wedding anniversary. It’s not though by any stretch of the imagination associated with contemporary design, an omission that local practice Messner Architects would like to correct. Their new project, Café Restaurant Zentral is a commendable first step in doing so, welcoming guests to a sharply designed venue of understated sophistication and tactile refinement, harmoniously integrated into the town’s vernacular.
Located on the ground floor of an existing four-storey building, the aging Zentral was in need of a thorough renovation which the architects have boldly tackled by combining a less-is-more aesthetic with the use of natural materials such as walnut, oak, and stone whose tactile richness counterbalances the minimalist sensibility of the décor. The use of such locally sourced materials echoes the region’s landscape while the appropriation of vernacular elements such as arched openings and timber cladding subtly reflects the regional architecture without however imitating it.
A major alteration that the space underwent was the enlargement of the existing south- and west-facing arched windows, which have been extended to the floor, echoing the configuration of the existing arched logia on the north of the building. The larger windows allow increased daylight to enter the premises and offer more expansive views outside, while, by incorporating a wooden door in one of the enlarged arched openings, the restaurant is now connected to a new outdoors space where guests can dine in a verdant garden during the summer months.
Configured at right angles and espousing an open-plan layout, the venue’s café and restaurant areas are visually separated by a free-standing wall in the middle of the space. Clad in black stone on the café side, the wall blends in with the adjacent bar counter, the café’s focal point whose sculptural design is echoed by a prismatic lighting volume extruding from the ceiling above. On the reverse side, the wall has been sumptuously clad in walnut reflecting the restaurant’s table tops and austere banquette sitting.
Connecting the café and restaurant, a slatted timber ceiling running alongside the arched facades is a nod to the local vernacular as are the straw light pendants which have been designed and handcrafted by designer Antoinette Bader. Handily attached to suspended ceiling rails so they can be repositioned in relation to the table configuration, these elegantly quaint light fittings emit a soft, warm glow which along with the concealed lighting further enhance the venue’s intimate yet sophisticated ambience. Were Freud to revisit the town today, we are pretty confident that he would feel right at home at Zentral.