A few years back I was living in Byron Bay working on a fashion contract and met Ben Musu, a man I instantly wanted to talk with more! Benny at the time was the owner of Bay Leaf, a great little cafe I frequented for my early morning coffee, and a design enthusiast like myself. Our topic of design talk was often in architecture and helped along with enthusiasm by my partner Jacques, himself a design architect. Alongside the architecture we spoke of his love of cars. Being a car lover myself, I would always listen in fascination at his stories, so many and such interesting stories too! Benny has a great eye for design, not just what looks good but the functionality of those designs and the story behind each.
Since then we’ve both moved on from Byron Bay. Nowadays I keep up to date with Benny on Instagram mostly. The perfect place to see his love of design. We did however recently catch up so I could share a little about the man who never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge and appreciation of great design.
THMS: I met you in Byron Bay when you had Bay Leaf in Marvell Street. Since then I have seen some fantastic projects you have been responsible for, including restaurants St Elmo and Targa. Tell me a little of your background that led you to these establishments in Byron Bay and what brought you back to Melbourne?
BM: My wife and business partner Sarah, and I, had worked extensively in hospitality for many years before we had Bay Leaf. It satisfied an urge that we had to become self-employed, but became much more when it became successful and lead to the idea to open a bar in Byron Bay. We are design enthusiasts I suppose, and after a couple of false-starts with a couple of tenancies in the area St Elmo was born. Returning to Melbourne was a decision made on many levels, particularly for our children and for our own satisfaction. Living in Bangalow was fun and a real privilege, but Melbourne holds the aesthetic and social stimulation that I crave, as well as a proper diversity – not a synthetic byword that often seems manifested by temporary stayers in a transient place.
TMHS: You have a brilliant eye for quality design, in particular in architecture and cars which I know we have spoken about before. I’m a big fan of your Instagram for this very reason! What do you look for in architecture or the design of a car that makes you want to share it with others?
BM: Instagram is a nice medium to communicate socially and electronically without having to encounter third-party “interference” and advertising. Because it is 99% visual, you are drawn to follow and be followed by very like-minded people. This is what makes me share the imagery that I encounter around the city with people. It is very textured, and as I’ve said to many people – I regard architecture and car design as a sculptural discipline. In terms of the car and its interaction with the rest of the built environment – they often serve as the most natural time-marking object in a photograph, where as the architecture will more often than not, be there indefinitely. Sadly, I think much of what people of my tastes have come to see is that much of what we love has vanished – making standing around pondering old cars and buildings even more interesting!
TMHS: So as we have mentioned you are a car enthusiast. Fill me in a little on your background with cars.
BM: Been a car nut, in short – all my life. After a life in food and beverage I work for a car company now, and get to engage with people and cars on a daily basis. I’ve always been fascinated with anything mechanical, and have an interest in all types of art. Cars seem to be a means of combining art, science and sport effectively and there’s always a story that goes with so many of them. It’s a legitimate piece of history and many cultures have become defined by their industrial successes. Car-making in many cases plays a huge part in these stories.
TMHS: Do you have a favourite car? If so, what appeals to you about this particular car?
BM: An impossible question to answer. I love all cars, for all different reasons. After a lifetime of answering this question by stating that Italian cars were my thing, I must have matured because my interests lie everywhere. Porsche has captured my attention in the last few years though, and I regard the 911 as probably the single most interesting model that I pursue.
TMHS: You have a link on your Instagram. Tell me some more about Open Journal and how you are involved with this?
BM: Open Journal is a collaboration that was set-up by Neo Metro – the single most forward thinking property development company in Victoria. Due to the strong design and architectural angle that the company has, the site is intended as one-stop-shop for those interested in design and architecture, and contributors like me were invited to offer either words on their own work, or in my case words and images on their passions. I probably carry more useless anecdotal car-related data than the average Joe. So there I am writing about it! I try and make sure that my contributions are inspired by things that I see around Melbourne – in the streets, and my Instagram account was the basis for the idea.
(Here is a piece Benny wrote for Open Journal on the Porsche 911 – http://www.openjournal.com.au/design-porsche-911/)
TMHS: What are some of your other passions?
BM: Since leaving hospitality professionally, I seem to be more interested in cooking! Sarah and I are both very design oriented and want to start renovating and converting spaces as residences when our circumstances allow it. I try to make time to read when I can, and I’ve always loved biographical stuff of almost any nature.
TMHS: Any future projects you want to share?
BM: Any future project in food & beverage has been shelved for the time being. I’ve been told never to say never though, and I can’t rule out the chance that there might be another bar or cafe in the future however, I just don’t think this is the right time. Even in a city like Melbourne, there’s a limit to how many of any type of business should exist – and I think we’re there. I like the idea of moving in to a semi-rural environment that’s close to Melbourne, and if that happens and there’s reason to establish something – perhaps it will take place.
Follow Benny Musu on Instagram @bennymusu – www.instagram.com/bennymusu
Open Journal – www.openjournal.com.au
Open Journal piece by Benny on the Porsche 911 – http://www.openjournal.com.au/design-porsche-911/