The coffee shop has undergone an evolution. Out are the generic designs of chains like Starbucks and Peet’s, which first introduced designer coffee years back. In is a new type of cafe more rooted in location, authenticity, and—luckily for architects—design. These new shops—even those owned by growing chains like Intelligentsia, Lamill, Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, and Stumptown, some of which are fast expanding to places like New York—celebrate their environs over a corporate formula. Designs are eclectic: Some have a cavernous, raw, modern feel more indicative of an artists’ space than a coffee shop; some use high-quality materials and meticulous lighting to create an ambiance similar to a wine store; and some use DIY and simple details such as vintage tiles and strange brewing apparatuses to create a quirky, bohemian environment. Many, keeping up with our current obsession with craft, present a tactile character that includes rough finishes, open storefront spaces (including communal tables), and exposed brick, steel, and wood. The new Intelligentsia in Venice rethinks the experience of buying coffee altogether, removing separation between barista and customer.
Old is new again, as the latest coffee shops become community magnets, drawing tightly-packed crowds that rival any retail establishment. Perhaps the need to congregate is a natural reaction to the social distance imposed by technology. To keep up with the shift in zeitgeist, even Starbucks is trying to recast its shopworn image with two new stores in Seattle—15th Avenue Coffee & Tea and Roy Street Coffee & Tea—employing reused materials and a raw aesthetic in a bid to recapture the just-us-devotees spirit their own early coffee houses once embodied. A most welcome objective will be achieved should customers become as addicted to the pleasures of interesting design as they already are to coffee highs.
Four Barrel Coffee
Boor Bridges Architecture
With boars’ heads mounted on the wall and a glittering chandelier in the bathroom, Four Barrel has a vibe all its own. Owner Jeremy Tooker (formerly of SF’s Ritual Roasters, a major coffee cult in town) brought various found objects for the architects to incorporate into the design. A road trip yielded immense glue-lam beams from a salvage yard, which were turned into coffee tables. The Mission District space also showcases the building’s original wood trusses. “We were thinking in terms of the Industrial Revolution, a time when new materials like steel were being introduced, and using them in a primal way,” said Seth Boor. It’s also never too late to revive the glam of the past: The bathroom is covered in baroque wallpaper. In back sits the actual roaster, making the line between the production of coffee and its consumption excitingly thin.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Sagan Piechota Architecture
Coffee-lovers in San Francisco have James Freeman of Blue Bottle to thank in part for kicking off the artisanal coffee movement in the Bay Area, but also for pioneering the garage coffee stand. Back in 2004, Freeman and architect Loring Sagan of Sagan Piechota came up with the idea of setting up a coffee stand in the firm’s garage. Soon there were lines down Linden Alley, leading up to a DIY kiosk of scrap Polygal and lumber. Last fall, Blue Bottle opened up a fancier kiosk in the SF Ferry Building, also designed by Sagan Piechota. To match the grandeur of the monumental terminal, this upgrade has walnut cabinetry and a bar clad in stainless steel and topped with black marble. But it’s still mobile—on wheels, it can roll out six feet beyond the official storefront and engage with the public, but then be tucked away for the night. Meanwhile, a host of other garage stands—which as kiosks can circumvent a morass of building permits—have sprung up to bring good coffee to more byways of San Francisco. And Blue Bottle has gone bi-coastal, with a new branch in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.
Ben King / Stem Architecture
Barista architect Ben King is arguably the king of Portland coffee design (no small feat in this coffee-crazed town), putting together over 12 shops in the city, most of them in Portland’s hip northwest. To hone his craft, he even trained as a barista. One of his latest projects, called (of course) Barista, is located in the lobby of a former warehouse in the Pearl District. He incorporated the giant hemlock beams that were part of the space and used mild steel for the gritty countertops, both “industrial and capable of rusting.” Wisely, he focused attention on the unusual glass brewing devices, which resemble a mad scientist’s lab more than a coffee brewery. King has taught himself as well how to “hot-rod” the store’s espresso machines for quick fixes. “I never have to pay for coffee,” he noted, one of the many perks of undertaking coffee shop design.
Silver Lake, California
Rubbish Studio and BKarc
When gourmet roasters Lamill decided to open a Silver Lake location, they first assumed it would be sleek and modern. Over time, however, they embraced the area’s vibe: ironic, intricate, and retro—but still modern. The shop, said Rubbish designer Nick Bianco, now resembles what he describes as a midcentury country club with a contemporary edge. The rich and “antique-y” material palette includes crocodile vinyl for chairs, animal skins for upholstery, vinyl red banquettes, faux shagreen bar stools, faux ostrich chairs, Monteverdi-Young vintage swivel chairs, and hand-painted wallpaper that mimics a blue sky in one place and a pastoral Renaissance drawing in another. The large window in front not only exposes coffee drinkers to the street, but shows off the shop to walkers and—perhaps more importantly—drivers along Silver Lake Boulevard.
Silver Lake, California
After opening three successful stores in Chicago, deluxe coffeemakers Intelligentsia have transformed the coffee culture of Los Angeles with two extraordinary locations and another on the way. The first, Barbara Bestor’s cafe in Silver Lake, has become that neighborhood’s unofficial town center, with crowds spilling into the street day and night. The store broke the mold by putting most of its seating outdoors, with a smaller area for sipping inside (a counter keeps drinkers close to baristas) and tables that are both semi-enclosed and completely al fresco. “I wanted it to feel like a living room in the city,” said Bestor, who also focused on creating a space that was at the same time modern, authentic, and irreverent. This eclectic combination, which fits what some have called her “bohemian modern” aesthetic, includes patterned blue tiled floors, plywood ceilings, vinyl “tattoos” on the walls, and porcelain bulbs hanging from strings.
Intelligentsia’s second location is less bohemian and more like “a lab: stark and modern,” said Kyle Glanville, who coordinates all of the company’s California locations. Designed by LA firm MASS, the space is full of stainless steel and a combination of light and dark woods. The biggest experiment here was breaking the barrier between barista and customer, giving each server a sort of working desk where they can walk out to join the fray, rather than be stuck behind a counter. “We didn’t want to have a wall that divided people up,” said MASS principal Ana Henton. The main seating areas are informal: concrete stairs in the back and a new ramped courtyard in front that fits more drinkers than tables would, creating a frenetic, urban atmosphere. Intelligentsia is also opening a store in Pasadena to be designed by MASS this summer. That location’s design is a closely guarded secret, but Glanville did let slip that it would be inside a historic building and that its aesthetic would be “more of a throwback.” This includes a 50-foot-long bar of reclaimed wood and extensive seating to create the impression of a modern-tinged speakeasy.
Jones | Haydu
In a neighborhood of industrial warehouses already in turnaround, Coffee Bar shows how you can put a corner loading dock to good use. The split-level space in San Francisco’s Media Gulch features a warm-hued swath of Douglas fir that first forms the bar, then travels up the wall and forms a shelf, then continues across the room to create the upper-level railing and seating area, where patrons can peer over their laptops to see who’s just come in. “It’s one long ribbon that ties everything together,” said Hulett Jones of Jones | Haydu. “We were intent on seeing how we could unify the space and create a communal feeling, while sticking to a strict budget.” The largish, 1,700-square-foot cafe has been very popular in the community, and the owners have embarked on a new venture—offering sommelier-led wine tastings. And for the connoisseur, there are gourmet dinners created by “nomadic kitchens,” including one of Ryan Farr’s first whole-pig fests.
Starbucks 15th Avenue
Roy Street Coffee & Tea
The Starbucks Team
In an effort to freshen its ubiquitous brand, Starbucks has jumped on the “authenticity” wagon, creating two stores in Seattle that, ironically, draw inspiration from the chain’s original location: a real coffee house built specifically for its own neighborhood. The shops are full of exposed materials, many sourced from existing Starbucks locations. Recycled elements include a bar top, chairs, and doors from a nearby store, a community table whose wood comes from an old ship, and timber cladding from an old barn. Even a chalkboard, which lists coffee in a much friendlier way than usual, came from Starbucks’ corporate “Support Center,” also located in Seattle. The 15th Avenue location has a 20-foot-wide mural created by a local artist, who also fashioned the store’s metalwork. In addition to this intensive re-design, the stores offer more varieties of coffee than the chain’s other venues, and even serve beer and wine.
Café de Leche
Highland Park, California
Creating a neighborhood hub wasn’t just a happy coincidence for architect David Freeland; it was the point. His 1,000-square-foot Café de Leche, located on a pedestrian-heavy portion of Highland Park’s busy York Boulevard, is an architectural tribute to his community. Its most noticeable element is a large mural that he designed, a colorful interpretation of a photo taken from Freeland’s house with “layers of color corresponding to the layering of space in the community’s hills.” The store embraces textures from reddish concrete to exposed brick, adding low-key but fresh touches like bright green Caesar Stone counters, hanging fluorescents, and built-in cabinets. The cafe also includes a kid’s area in back (nicknamed the Kid Corral), with toys hand-designed by the architect.