HTAP Architects designed a cafe and retail space surrounded by the complete process of artisanal chocolate making within a historic Art Deco building in in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Marou hand-makes their award winning chocolate in the shop beginning with bean roasting and proceeding through cracking, winnowing, grinding and final crafting into chocolate creations available only in the Maison Marou flagship cafe and shop.
Authenticity is at the core of the design, inspired by Marou's artisanal process that begins with cacao pods sourced from a few local farmers in nearby Vietnamese provinces. The cafe design reinforces that authenticity through custom designed locally crafted tables and chairs, hand crafted steel and glass partitions built on-site and custom counters crafted from stacked plywood.
A close collaboration with local branding and graphics company Rice Creative, who created and developed Marou's branding and packaging, yielded an overall design direction. It also produced a map of the cacao origins hand-painted by a local sign painter, a wall-sized graphics system housed in stacked plywood cabinet/tables, a display system for chocolate products and a handcrafted bronze floor medallion produced in a local foundry and set into the exposed concrete floor.
The interior design is the product of an agile but thoughtful process that begins with paying close attention to the situation and details of a site and responding with creative solutions. The original masonry entry details uncovered during construction were repaired and accentuated. The glass walls exposing the cafe to the street are screened at night by upward-folding steel mesh doors, HTAP's on-the-spot response to a situation where replacement of an existing canopy was disallowed halfway through construction. The doors, carefully counterweighted to be manually operable by one person, become framing canopies and a visual urban marker when the store is open.
The roasting area, chocolate kitchen and pastry kitchen are treated as performance spaces that surround and enliven the cafe and shop spaces. A cafe counter faces a restored 1930's roaster discovered by the owners in France and brought to Vietnam. Spot lit and supplied from nearby sacks of cacao beans stacked on bamboo palettes, the roaster anchors the entry area, fragrantly initiating the chocolate making process. The cafe dining counters pass under glass partitions to become bon bon crafting counters or pastry decorating counters.
A painted wainscot recalls factory spaces of the last century while a lighting fixture of upturned mixing buckets redefines an ordinary object from the process area. The overall atmosphere is light and lively, kept fresh by the unceasing activity of chocolate crafting and the ever-changing graphic wall system by Rice Creative. It takes Marou's passion for authenticity in chocolate making and translates it into a playful hand-crafted home in a century-old building in the heart of old Saigon.