Book Review: Built for Caffeine, by Ben Crawford

Built for Caffeine is a book celebrating design in the New Zealand cafe environment. ImageThe author, Ben Crawford is most popularly known for co-winning the reality TV Show The Block in 2012. Following that, he and his sister opened an advertising agency in Auckland. Ben also writes a design column for the New Zealand Herald. The aim of the book is to delve into the design features of cafes, commenting on how they could be applied in the home environment. Ben has an eye for detail and his photos and commentary clearly give a sense of the physical environment. For the cafes I am very familiar with I found Ben’s photos gave me a greater appreciation for the space and detail of the location.

What could have improved this book was a coherent theme or rationale behind the cafes picked. While I found my head nodding at many picks, I couldn’t work out how he came to know about the cafes or why they were chosen above other cafes. Many of the cafes are, still now, only a few months old. How did he know about them? Is it because it is difficult to find out about design direction once time has passed? The cafes are organised North to South but I wonder if organising by design style (e.g. industrial, retro etc) could provided a link between cafes or the application of design advice. That being said, there may not be enough of each style to do that.

ImageBen’s narration is half design speak, half Kiwi casual. I found it distracting at first, but appreciated the enthusiasm behind his approach. Ben clearly gets more out of the cafe experience than just coffee and you get a sense of an engaging personality – one who has very competently interviewed the owners and designers behind each cafe project.  In a very ‘behind the scenes’ style he draws out the stories beneath the design. The city map wall in ‘Little King Cafe’ was inspired by the owner’s childhood town memories – a reminder that sometimes the most memorable design features are those originally inspired. I found a real DIY narrative to Ben’s stories – the Kiwi DIY gene is not limited to houses but also the businesses we run. Many stories detailed the amount of hard labour the owners did, stripping back decades of renovation to find the genuine bones of the building. I really liked that, being a New Zealand design book, all the suggestions about replicating the style should be achievable in New Zealand and look good here.

Coffee addicts will appreciate that every cafe’s brand of brew is given.

There is a surprisingly mixed audience for this book.  I think aficionados of home design magazines will enjoy it, but equally cafe-frequenting hipsters.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Built for Caffeine
by Ben Crawford
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN  9780992249366

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