‘It feels cosy and warm’ – the creation of a unique culinary journey at Vini e Capricci 

Sarah Micallef - 5th January 2020

Around this time last year, the sister isle welcomed a unique foodie concept the likes of which Malta and Gozo hadn’t seen before. 

The sleek Vini e Capricci by Abraham’s, a product of owner Abraham Said’s vision and the stellar work by the team at KEIRO Architects, brought together a state-of-the-art wine cellar with a cutting-edge kitchen and suite, combining a whiskey lounge, retail space and vinoteca in a welcoming space where the public can not only purchase but also experience quality food and wine first-hand.

“It started out as a compact shop, which had become outdated and restrictive,” begins Keith Schembri, lead architect and designer of the design team behind Vini e Capricci.

“Our client, who frequently travels around the world to source new products, had lots of ideas of new ways of displaying products but didn’t have the space and the facility in the existing shop to do it,” he maintains, explaining the owner’s vision to take customers on a culinary journey within the shop.

At the time, most of the space within the building itself was used as stores and offices, so the architects began with some minor structural alterations to open the space up and bring more natural light in.

“The client’s offices were transferred to the top floor, also designed by KEIRO Architects, so the space they were occupying was liberated to increase the retail area,” fellow architect Francesca Miceli adds, “while the stores were shifted to another location,” continues architect Rosianne Schembri.

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Having opened up the space, the architects prioritised shelving space while keeping full circulation throughout, creating different connections between the different zones in the retail space and using innovative shelving solutions to subdivide the space into different zones; “In the case of the whiskey lounge, for example, we sectioned it off using open shelving so clients are cocooned in, yet the space is still open,” states Rosianne.

Speaking of the client’s brief, Keith notes that, apart from creating a unique culinary experience in the form of a journey, the idea was to move as far away as possible from the ‘supermarket’ concept, where you’re just there to shop and leave.

“We incorporated warm and calming lighting, and added seating throughout to encourage visitors to stop and relax,” he says, adding that customers can even taste certain delicacies before purchasing, creating a very different experience, or even sit down at the vinoteca and sample the incredible fare prepared by the in-house chef and his team.

The shop includes a ‘live kitchen’ where a chef cooks in front of the clientele using products available at Vini e Capricci, allowing them to taste the products and suggest innovative recipes. This was consciously placed in the central part of the deli and butcher area, forming the heart of the room and inviting clientele to access the vinoteca through one of the links to savour the à la carte menu or request platters, particular cuts of meat, or bottles of wine to enjoy there and then.

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“It’s all linked. If you’re dining at the vinoteca, you can select your own wine from the wine cellar,” Francesca says, adding that there are different entrances to the vinoteca, which make it easier for the adventurous client exploring the outlet to discover it. The architects looked to the products that would be the stars of the show for inspiration when it came to the design of the space.

“We noticed that the majority of the items were fine and premium foods, which needed to be displayed in a particular way, using fitting materials. The emphasis is on quality. We also didn’t want the shelving to overpower the products, so we chose warm coloured woods to add warmth and richness,”

Keith continues, noting that additional detailing went in the whiskey lounge, as they wanted to showcase the whiskey area as a jewel of the space. “It wasn’t just a case of putting items on shelves; we wanted to give the products the importance they deserve.”

Keeping lower levels of lighting, the design team chose pendants for focal points and used flexible lighting solutions that enable the client to add or reduce light as needed. The primary materials used were wood, Carrara marble, glass, paired with leather for the vinoteca seating and metal.

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They also incorporated some traditional elements as a nod to local culture, such as the Maltese gold lion doorknobs located in the whiskey lounge and vinoteca entrances. The result is a contemporary and clean aesthetic that doesn’t compromise on warmth and comfort. “It’s not fussy or overpowering. Everything is subtle and there for a reason,” Keith points out.

“It feels cosy and warm. It’s not somewhere that makes you feel like you’re in a rush to get out,” Francesca adds. The delicate balance between aesthetic appeal and practical usage of space was of utmost importance, given the nature and multiple uses of the space.

“The client wanted to include as much shelving and equipment as possible to make the most of the space, so we needed to cater for that but, at the same time, we needed to create enough space for people to move around in comfort,” Francesca explains.

Indeed, apart from shelving and counter space, the team needed to look at accessibility and functionality. “The shop is completely accessible, due to the fact that most of the retail space was designed on one level and an elevator was added to link the lower level,” Keith affirms.

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Armed with a clear vision and the full support of their client, the KEIRO Architects’ team’s main challenge was timing. “The timeline was a bit tight,” Keith admits, explaining that the project was assigned to them in August of last year, and the race was on to open before Christmas of the same year.

“We designed it in a few weeks and commissioned a foreign company to create all the custom elements, which were produced abroad and assembled locally according to our designs,” he says.

This posed a challenge. “We were designing everything locally, and all the furniture was being produced in a different country,” Keith remarks, adding that technology helped for all parties, located in different countries, to constantly keep in touch.

“Because of the tight timeframe, site works were ongoing while the furniture was being produced, so everything on site had to be exact to the millimetre. If we were opening a doorway, we needed to make sure that all the measurements were exactly as per issued drawings.”

Having not worked with this foreign company before, the team at KEIRO Architects could only hope they would fulfil their vision. “They promised to deliver within the timeframe, and they did. We prepared all drawings, documentation and visuals, and they understood exactly what we were looking for.

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