Modern Urban Coffee Shop: Dollop Coffee


Acting as architect and builder, our latest project is a renovated existing corner cafe. Now home to the modern urban coffee shop — Dollop Coffee. Large windows allow sunlight to filter deep into the space, custom seating and a landscaped parkway create warm and inviting spaces to enjoy coffee and made-from-scratch donuts during all four seasons.

The challenge with any existing storefront space is maximizing seating for customers without feeling crowded and peeling back layers of dated materials to expose the building’s bones. One never knows what lurks behind crusty old drywall. The upside of tearing down non-load bearing walls is uncovering hidden architectural features like the exposed masonry we discovered during demolition, much to our client’s thrill.

Along with free-standing tables throughout the space, we installed a custom rift-sawn white oak countertop along the masonry wall creating a juxtaposition of warm wood and industrial exposed brick. Instead of a typical straight edge counter, where people would face a wall, we designed a wavy countertop. The wave design solves the problem of straining your neck to talk to someone alongside you by creating little conversation nooks with ample surface space for laptops, snacks, and espresso. We also designed an aesthetically pleasing solution for trash and recycling receptacles. Typically, trash storage is an afterthought, and containers don’t blend well with the design, so we integrated the trash bins into the custom countertop located at the end of the counter.

From Dank Cafe to Modern Urban Coffee Shop

Glass block had its last heyday back in the ’80s, and although some say glass block windows are making a comeback, we opted to steer clear of the trend. We removed the existing antiquated and inefficient storefront and glass block to make way for an enlarged operable glazing system with raised windows so fresh air and natural light can fill the space.

We also reused an existing masonry opening (converting it into a fun walk-up or cycle-up ordering window) to enjoy a macchiato for takeaway or curbside in the newly landscaped parkway. The redesigned parkway patio will open next summer (sans leftover iron corral). Coffee goers can relax among native grasses and the soon-to-be mighty Elm tree.

Exterior and interior sketches presented during the schematic design phase

Finish Materials And Design Elements

Design elements can evoke emotions. One of our goals with the spaces we design is blending and enhancing the original building architecture with quality materials, efficient lighting, and clever storage solutions. Designing functional and refined spaces creates a sense of order. And with structure comes a sense of calm and having the capacity to enjoy the moment in your surroundings. The soft glow of the lights, a warm honey pallet contrasted with art deco tile, and a pop of color enhance the cafe’s character.

There are several Dollop Coffee shops in Chicago. The only location with a fully equipped kitchen is the Montrose location. And that means fresh donuts! The glass pastry display case features a mix of clear and opaque glass. The opaque glass obstructs the view of equipment while the clear glass tempts the senses with sweets. Opposite the case is a zinc counter and other stainless steel features. These are all within arms reach of a redesigned pass-thru window to the kitchen.

Anti Drive-Up Window For Modern Urban Coffee Shop

The corner location of the modern urban coffee shop allowed for a spacious patio on Paulina Street. We needed to create a connection from the interior of the cafe to the parkway. To do this, we opened a boarded up window and strategically placed it near the expresso bar, fabricating a walk-up (or cycle-up, if you’re so inclined). This involved reworking the masonry a bit, repairing the damaged black iron exhaust duct, installing a new limestone window sill, and sourcing the ideal sliding window assembly. We covered the leftover bits with black brake metal. Followed by mounting a modern, streamlined linear LED light over the window, making it easier for early risers to see when ordering their pre-dawn brew.

Wood Ceiling Beams

#ConstructionLife would be easier if we could completely gut the interior of a space and start fresh with a vanilla box. However, construction budgets don’t typically allow for that, and rather than trashing everything (and adding to the waste cycle), we find solutions to meld with it creatively. Case in point, the ceiling above the espresso bar was already framed with intact ductwork and conduit, and demolishing it would have pushed the project over budget. So we transformed the dreadfully detailed ceiling and cleverly transitioned it to a series of rift-sawn white oak beams. The beams have the multi-pronged effect of nestling the bar seats below, providing a home for new linear LED lighting, and capping an otherwise unsightly ceiling structure.

Custom Designed Furniture

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

At Dollop Coffee, we fabricated custom-designed and blackened cold-rolled steel table bases and solid white oak tops for the small tables near the windows, the wavy countertop, and the communal table. The retail display shelf above the trash area is held afloat by gradually curved steel brackets. 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.

New Storefront For A New Dollop Coffee

Perhaps our biggest move was removing the outdated glass block, inefficient windows, and canvas awning. Those were all replaced with a thermally broken, Low-E3 double glazed aluminum storefront system. Scraping the existing storefront created the opportunity to raise the top of the windows to the ceiling, helping natural light filter deeper into the cafe. Sunlight affects mood, making everyone feel better about their lives and the coffee they are drinking while reducing the need for artificial lighting. The new west side storefront, facing the sidewalk patio, will fold away during warmer months, providing a better connection with the outdoor patio and allowing fresh air to flow through the space.

Completed storefront

All color photos produced by the very talented Carmen Troesser.