Charcoal Lane

How might we share something of this nation’s proud Indigenous heritage without dipping into design cliché?


Mission Australia


Tandem design studio


Sonia Mangiapane



dining area restaurant design of Charcoal Lane

In Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street, a part of Melbourne historically home to Indigenous-led and focused institutions, Charcoal Lane was an award-winning social enterprise providing exemplary food and hospitality training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people.

restaurant interior in Melbourne by Megan Hounslow

Run by Mission Australia, the intent behind this project was to appeal to the trendy diners of the inner north, and engage meaningfully with First Nations’ culture, creating a contemporary space in celebration of food and heritage. In view of this, we wanted to steer clear of the typical ochres and earth tones commonly associated with Aboriginal spaces – this was no themed restaurant, or relic of a long past, but rather a modern dining experience to rival any venue in town, where Indigenous cuisine and culinary talent are foregrounded.

Charcoal Lane's bar counter with a contemporary space
Restaurant interior, clear white walls enlivened by the ceiling overhead with bold black strokes

Keeping the white walls of the space largely clear, we commissioned Indigenous artist Gayle Madigan to enliven the ceiling overhead with bold black strokes. Other Aboriginal artworks included a long, handwoven eel trap, suspended over a dining table as a ceiling feature – produced by one of the only remaining eel trap makers in Wurundjeri country, Victoria. Volker Haug feature lights accent the room, on herringbone timber floors emulating zig zag symbolic to Indigenous art. From the streetscape, red and yellow walls on the upper floor are visible behind black blinds, a subtle wink to the previous facade on site, originally painted in red, black, and yellow, the iconic colours of the Aboriginal flag.

A lot of love went into this project, and we were saddened to learn of Charcoal Lane’s recent closure during the challenges of 2021 lockdown.

Charcoal Lane facade