Readings in Carlton Closes for Its First Renovation in 20 Years

Originally written for Broadsheet.

There are Readings bookstores throughout Melbourne, but there’s something special about the one in Carlton. It feels lived in – like a library – and you can easily get lost in there for hours.

Now the Lygon Street store has closed for its first renovation since opening in the former Commonwealth Bank building on Lygon Street in 1998.

That year the growing business moved from a smaller Lygon Street location it had occupied since 1983 to where it stands today. The current space, according to Readings managing director Mark Rubbo, is three times the size of the original.

Now, though, the store once again needs more space. The renovation also means Rubbo can finally remove a large concrete vault – located at the back of the store – that he has wanted to knock down since the move two decades ago.

“At the time I thought, because we were moving into such a big space and we were spending a lot of money, I’ll leave it there, but it’s always bugged me.”

The renovations fall on the 20-year anniversary of the shop’s relocation purely by coincidence – the re-design has been in the planning stages for more than four years.

Emilio Fuscaldo, the director of Nest Architects, has been enlisted for the redesign, which Rubbo says has, “taken a long time to get … right.”

They’ve landed on a revamp that will be “more contemporary and set it up for another 20 years”, he adds, describing a new look that will be sophisticated and timeless.

Fuscaldo also designed the open-plan Readings store in Doncaster, but the new look of the Lygon Street location will have a decidedly different feel that pays “homage to Carlton being [Melbourne’s] Little Italy.

“This design is capitalising more on the high ceilings of the bank, trying to have a slightly Italian feel,” Rubbo explains. “We’ll have a terrazzo floor and a lot of little design features that speak to the history of Lygon Street.”

The shopfront will get a wood-enclosed entrance with glass doors to create “a tunnel before you enter into the shop.”

Some architectural features – originally created by architecture firm Edmond and Corrigan – will remain.

“The opposite side of the shop has got these flying owls … which was the idea of Peter Corrigan and his wife Maggie. I wanted to keep them as a tribute to Peter and Maggie and their contribution to Readings,” Rubbo says.

The main reason for the renovation is to “freshen up” and expand the space. The need for more room is obvious every time the store hosts events, which are often over-crowded. The larger space will also give Rubbo and the store team the opportunity to fix previously cramped sections.

“We’ve always been frustrated with the art and design display, so we’ll be giving those books a lot more breathing space and showcase them better”.

In the meantime booklovers won’t be without the pleasure of browsing in person; a Readings pop-up shop will open today across the road in Lygon Court. It will be open throughout the construction period, which is expected to take seven weeks, though no specific finishing date has been announced.

To accommodate the smaller space the store has been running stock down for three months and had a big sale last week. Rubbo says the pop-up will have fewer books but customers can still order in books as normal on the same store phone number.

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