Mike Davies

By Angelique Praat

‘Can you add a bit of architecture to that?’

Mike Davies’ face splits with glee. His smile is infectious. I grin back. ‘People do ask that question!’ he says.

Being an architectural newbie in the hospitality area, I secretly sympathise with that question. But my naiveté is soon stripped away in subsequent conversations with Mike and his clients who have raised café, restaurant and bar development to a high art.

Mike tells me the first question to ask of any hospitality development is: what am I? A café? Beer hall? Fine dining establishment?  This question triggers all other considerations, aesthetic and practical. Your concept, alongside your business plan – the who, how many, where, when and how much – ultimately determines the success of your project.

How easy is it to pin down the concept? ‘Some people come with a strong idea of what they want, right down to the menu,’ says Mike. ‘Others work with us to develop their concept.

Andy Holmes is an experienced hospitality building contractor doing his first hospitality project in his own right. We asked Andy how much influence Mike had in his concept. ‘Ninety-five percent. I’ve learnt that unless you feel strongly, you’re better off listening to them. If I have queries, he’ll explain them and we’ll agree on what to do.’

Contrast Andy with Nick and Gina Mills, owner-operators of Wellington’s Spruce Goose and Hummingbird café and bars. Nick and Gina had strong ideas of what they wanted to create for Spruce Goose and Mike worked with them, adding his own touches.  Nick tells us, ‘Mike is not the kaftan-wearing architect type; he’s a blue- jeans and get it done kind of guy. Mike understands what you are trying to achieve. He works with you.’

But it’s not all about the concept. Looking over the shoulder of any architect-operator team are a host of regulators – local councils and other agencies responsible for fire, health and safety, food security, licensing, employment contracts. From the concept to the detailed drawings to the build, architects need to work with these parameters in mind.

Peter Parkin is a long-time client of Mike. Together their history spans The Backbencher in Molesworth Street, Wellington, to Jack Tar on Auckland’s waterfront. Peter tells us that compliance has become more intense.  ‘Mike deals with that side of things really, really well. It’s the relationship he’s developed with the local bodies, planning people.’

A number of Mike’s projects he’s designed. From left to right (Jack Tar, Backbenchers and Spruce Goose.)

It’s Mike’s ability to listen and get along with people and realise their vision we kept hearing about. And it’s not just the clients or the regulators.

Builders and architects bring different perspectives to a project. It’s a big ask turning that high-concept, hexagonal dining room (complete with back flip), into a workable space. Andy tells us, ‘Mike has a sound construction brain as well. Some get the feel of it right, but they don’t have the nuts and bolts. He can draw how to join a beam to a rafter and make it look good. He’s a frickin clever guy.’

At the end of the day, punters want to eat, drink, be merry or relax in spaces they love. What defines the spark in the relationship?

How long have you got?

Peter Parkin says, ‘This industry is dynamic and fickle and there’s all different equations to it. It’s having the ability to develop the X factor. Mike can visualise and deliver that X factor in the end.’

So a blue-jean, get it done, frickin clever guy, who listens and delivers that X factor for your café or bar or restaurant, in a dynamic and fickle industry. A little more than ‘adding a bit of architecture’ then.

If Mike was standing over my shoulder just now, he’d be blushing. Why? Let’s give him the final word.

‘My aim at the end of the job is for the client to feel that it’s their job. They’ve created it. And I don’t have an ego in that respect. That’s job done. I know that certain projects I’ve been involved with, the client didn’t have any idea what the project would look like – skimpy-as brief. At the end when the client says – that’s exactly what I envisaged – that’s a really rewarding outcome.’



Thanks to Nick Mills, Andy Holmes and Peter Parkin for their help with this article. And Mike Davies from Architecture HDT.


About Architecture and Design NZ

Bringing expert insight and advice on commercial space and building design.  Architecture and Design NZ is co-edited by Mark Bates, Mike Davies and Geoff Glynan, directors at Architecture HDT, specialists in designing and building cafes, bars and restaurants in New Zealand.

Architecture HDT are based in Wellington and the Hawkes Bay.