Specht Design’s nip and tuck
Specht Design is in demand internationally for its ability to turn coffee machines into pieces of art – thanks to a little risk and a lot of creative flair.
Dan Schonknecht is the closest thing to a plastic surgeon the coffee industry has.
Every coffee machine that arrives at his surgery is unique. Each has a history and its own personal traits, but to enhance their external beauty, Dan is quite literally the man for the job.
His surgical tools are laid out on benches, ready for the first patient of the day. Seven exposed machines wait on their own operating tables ready for their procedure. There’s everything from La Marzocco, Slayer to Victoria Arduino machines sitting in the wings ready for their transformation. Some are already stripped to the core, and others await a final touch-up before they’re released back into the working world.
“This is where the magic happens,” Dan says.
Specht Design is a machine customisation business in Melbourne that specialises in timber coffee machine accessories and custom machines.
Dan has three questions he asks each customer when they ask for full customisation. What’s the budget? The colour palette of the café, and what’s the history of the café building? From that, Dan conceptualises a design that will suit the client’s space and needs.
He explains that one machine with copper features and exposed pipes is going to a former fire brigade site. Another is painted black with rough industrial textures to suit the café named Deadman Espresso.
“Some people have a clear vision of what they want, and others don’t, so a lot of my work is experimental, but it’s crazy not to take inspiration from the café. Its past and present help tell a story I can adapt into the machine design,” he says.
Dan has no time for 3D-rendered drawings. Instead, he’s a hand-sketch-kind-of-guy, which he says adds to his artisan approach.
“I used to sit in front of a computer mocking up cabinet designs for a living, and I refuse to do that now. Everything we do at Specht Design is handmade and it starts with a hand-drawn vision,” Dan says.
His vision for machine customisation has only come to fruition since March 2016. Dan grew up building cars and bikes and became a cabinetmaker before taking on a project management role, where for five years he installed cabinet fit-outs for million-dollar homes. But when the job became “too routine” and “predictable”, his mind started to wander.
“I lost touch with my trade. I knew I wanted to work with timber again, and one day I just had an idea. I owned a La Marzocco GS 3 but I hated its plastic side parts on the exterior. It was a secondhand machine with dents and scratches on it so I wanted to try and enhance its appearance. I decided to make timber sides and attended a refresher wood turning course to get up to speed,” he says. “I threw out a lot of timber in the beginning but I loved what I came up with.”
Dan posted an image of his handiwork on the Coffee Snobs forum, and attracted immediate attention from someone impressed with the work. Dan offered to do a small customisation job for the admirer to see if his work would gain any further interest in the coffee industry. He stripped the machine apart, powder coated the body, modified the front panel to fit a custom Linea PB gauge, made a full timber kit, and added a La Marzocco badge to the drip tray, which he believed had never been done before. Dan posted the image of the refurbished sides on Instagram, and just like that, the ‘likes’ took off.
“I never planned on doing this work for anyone else other than myself,” Dan says. “But somehow, my business has grown organically without me thinking about it – thanks to Instagram.”
Dan’s first custom machine was for Marble Coffee and Co in Bali, but his first commercial client was St Ali.
“They sent me the first three-group Slayer ever built and gave me the freedom to create a fresh look,” Dan says. “I upped the contents insurance. The Slayer was completely built on my kitchen bench and sat in our dining room table for months. I wasn’t prepared for a machine like that. It scared me, but once I got going and kept adding to it, I knew I was onto something special.”
Dan did all his timber work from his home garage until he eventually ran out of room.
“At one point we had machines stacked up on top of each other,” he says. “My wife and I decided to sell the block of land we had just bought. We threw it all away and used all our funds to move into this place [at Williamstown North in Victoria] to start a permanent business. We took a massive risk.”
The full article features in the February 2016 edition of BeanScene Magazine.
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