I can’t imagine it would be easy to fill the figurative shoes of a cafe that had worked to establish itself for 20 years previously, but that’s exactly what Emma Lyell and Tane Williams did when they opened Auckland, New Zealand’s Bestie Cafe two and a half years ago. With a certain sensitivity to the 100+ year-old building, they wanted to create an inviting and cozy aesthetic while still being highly functional in the large space they had to work with. “This space is one that I had dreamed of having one day,” Emma begins, “but never ever thought it would actually happen! It’s got one of the most incredible views in the city, as well as being in the most amazingly designed arcade from the 1920s (it has been a cafe or tea room the whole time). When we heard from friends that the space was up for grabs, Tane drew up a little pitch about why we would love the cafe and what we planned to do there — and to our surprise and delight we got the lease. The neighborhood is one of the most diverse and creative spots in the city and somewhere we already had worked in and loved. So it was a perfect fit.”
Tane has a background in illustration and Emma has hospitality experience. Before opening Bestie Cafe, they lived and traveled throughout Europe together and lived in Napier, New Zealand. From those travels, they had a lot of time to think about what a cafe would look like and develop their sense of style as they thought about adding the role of cafe owner to their titles. “It was actually so fun — Tane and I are totally on the same page of what we like so it was really exciting talking about every little detail. We realized we really don’t like white, haha! I think for me personally, I LOVE organizing stuff, so it’s probably the most fun bit — planning and researching,” Emma shares.
A lot of changes went into getting the space to where it is today — now a true reflection of Emma and Tane’s styles. “We had to pull everything out, sand back the floors, and open up the space to let in [the] maximum amount of light,” Emma says. Everything was done on a very tight budget, so with lots of late nights of bringing in friends to help, they managed to open on schedule. “One thing that took a while was getting the right shades of pink and green — we ended up creating our own shade of pink in the end, which probably [annoyed] our friend Syrus, who was helping us decorate. We got there in the end, however. We brought in lots of bits and bobs that we had collected over the years while living in Napier, to keep it from feeling brand new (staying inline with the era of the building), and got beautiful artwork from Tane’s cousin, Billie Culy,” Emma notes. Even though it’s a challenging space because it’s divided into two sections (unlike most cafes that operate in one room), Emma and Tate managed to present a charming cafe that’s visually stunning. “It creates a little bit of disconnect, but in some ways that’s cool as well, because it means when you come inside you feel like you are a entering a unique, hidden space,” Tane says.
Image above: The view looking out from the counter to the cafe seating area highlights the beautiful Victorian windows, the natural light, and the collection of shop greenery.