Meet the Melbourne motorhead whose espresso machine mods are transforming countertops the world over.

BY CARLI PHILIPS

A FURNITURE-MAKER BY trade and a petrolhead by passion, Dan Schonknecht is a tinkerer. With his business, Specht Design, he puts this unique set of skills to work, customising coffee machines for clients around the globe.

Schonknecht admits he didn’t have much interest in coffee when he started playing around with espresso machines. But that changed when his Italian father-in-law made him a black coffee with a French press.

“For some reason, that set me off,” he says. “From then on, I was obsessed.” Schonknecht upgraded and fixed a few machines, but his search for quality timber parts proved futile. “So I made them myself,” he says of the elegant hand-carved portafilter handles he now sells in oak, maple and walnut.

Today, Schonknecht and his lean team of employees will customise just about any espresso machine (though he admits he has a penchant for La Marzocco’s Italian-made gs3 model, which uses professional¬≠grade equipment but is suitable for home use).

The sky’s the limit when it comes to specs. Instead of creating renders or sketches for his clients, Schonknecht asks them to fill in a questionnaire, which he uses to gauge their aesthetic sensibility. “The Q&A gives us a real insight into their coffee journey,” he says. “As for looks, we want to get an idea of what brands and designers they like, and what sort of colours they have in their kitchen or any furniture that’s going to sit near the machine. We like to get an overall feel of the space and how the machine can be incorporated.”

With his extensive mechanical knowledge – gleaned from a lifetime obsession with cars and motorbikes – Schonknecht pulls apart and modifies the machines’ internal mechanisms, re-positions steam knobs and customises the gauges, feeds and drip trays. The process, which requires at least 10 steps, starts with stripping the machine and separating it into components, and includes powder coating, laser cutting, metal polishing and timberwork.

From futuristic looks to vintage aesthetics, some of Schonknecht’s most unique pieces include integrated terrazzo, an upholstered Chanel skirt, translucent panels and gold-plated surfaces. Schonknecht paints the bodies in a gamut of colours, ranging from glossy baby blue to matte black (shades that channel classic cars are always popular).

With people spending more time at home during the pandemic, he says sales have shifted from commercial jobs to private clients. “I love working with domestic customers,” says Schonknecht, who is currently designing a piece bound for Germany that’s based on the look of an old Braun fan.

“There are endless combinations but it all comes down to budget, as it can cost up to $20,000 and counting. We keep clients updated with little snippets as the design progresses, but I really want that final reveal to be a big surprise. They are the builds that work the best: when clients let us go crazy.”