Modern interior of a cafe overlooking a Chicago park

CONTEMPORARY COFFEE BAR IN THE ROUND

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Working with an existing hospitality client, we transformed a bland, concrete box into a warm and tranquil contemporary coffee bar. Inside the newly designed space, visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee framed by an expanse of beautiful green space with unobstructed Chicago skyline views.

The project includes a coffee bar, lounge nook, and an open café dining room where weathered concrete and custom millwork are paired with scalloped ceiling baffles. Simplistic in form, the design of the café exposes just the right amount of industrial elements mixed with earthy hues, the warmth of wood, and a touch of whimsy with a striking graphic mural from Chicago artist Emmy Star Brown.

Interior architecture photo of a coffee house in Chicago, featuring polished concreter floors and custom lighting
Photo cred: Carmen Troesser

FROM A COLD SHELL TO A DREAMY CONTEMPORARY COFFEE BAR

Like many vacant commercial storefronts, the existing space presented as a cold dark box at the base of a newly constructed highrise in the South Loop. For the interior architecture and interior design, we sought to maintain a few concrete elements and fuse them with warm wood and tile accents to create a coffee shop by day – swanky lounge by night atmosphere.

Sitting inside the café, customers are treated to stunning views of the southern edge of Grant Park and the current public art installation Agora. A wavy wooden bar that mirrors the scalloped ceiling baffles, is oriented toward the park for optimal views.

Modern interior of a cafe overlooking a Chicago park
Photo cred: Carmen Troesser

CREATING ATMOSPHERE WITH CEILING BAFFLES

Being a tall ground floor space in a high rise, a maze of exposed pipes, drains, and conduits run along the ceiling, collecting the various infrastructure from above. To conceal these materials, together with additional ductwork, mechanical equipment, and sprinklers, we devised an innovative series of ceiling baffles that defines the area above the coffee bar. In addition, the baffles hide the utilities and provide a place to install ambient LED lighting. The result is a cascading ceiling plane emphasizing the high ceilings without revealing too much.

The main inspiration for the sculptural ceiling panels was derived from nature at nearby Lake Michigan. Crafted to emulate the ripples in the lake water, the panels conjure feelings of being immersed in fluffy white cappuccino foam ribbons while casting a soft glow throughout the interior.

COFFEE BAR IN THE ROUND

The coffee bar follows the same form as the ceiling baffles on the ground plane and is clad with a textured ceramic tile, giving the bar some life while protecting the surface and maximizing resilience. The full kitchen with exhaust hood, was complicated by the fact that the space is surrounded by an adjacent parking structure and residential units above, so we had to find space for a scrubber, which cleans the air before it is exhausted.

DESIGN ELEMENTS, FURNITURE AND MATERIAL DETAILS

Whenever possible, we design free standing furniture to complement our interior design features. The quality and unique design of custom furniture far surpasses ubiquitous, off-the-shelf products.

For the café, we fabricated the ripple wood bar at the front window, the shelving on the north wall that incorporates a grab-and-go cooler and the glass display case built into the coffee bar. We designed all the elements and fabricated each piece right here in Chicago. Collaborating with local Chicago artisans for our one-off furniture designs tells a more interesting story versus ordering furniture that arrives in a crate from Asia.

Walnut wooden coffee bar with chairs inside a coffee shop
Coffee beans in a bag on wooden shelf inside of a coffee shop