Mixing the usual elements of a La Colombe café, Stokes blended old with new in the historic Manhattan Laundry building in DC. A wood counter, along with the existing brick walls, balances warmth against the colder steel panel walls. The existing structural steel was boxed out, and supplemented with new box beams to create a coherent architectural statement on the ceiling, and to give place to new lighting.
La Colombe’s first suburban location was built in a 90-year-old auto garage on a busy retail corridor. The café was designed to embrace the raw industrial aesthetic of the existing space, as well as the openness, while juxtaposing it with a few inserted classic café design elements. As such, there are large, garage-like gridded windows, and a roll-up vestibule overhead door to fit in naturally with the open, warehouse environment. As does the large super graphic “La Colombe” sign. In contrast, the long bar is dotted with classic globe lights, accented with brass trim, warm wood, and marble.
La Colombe’s flagship store in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia, is the first café of its kind for the renowned coffee roasters. Located in a formerly abandoned warehouse and now housing (along with the café) a rum distillery, a full kitchen, bakery, tasting room, and the company headquarter’s offices, the challenge for Stokes Architecture was to maintain La Colombe’s artisanal café feel while remaining cognizant of the larger scale and additional program that this space required.
Working loosely with the palette of the company’s existing coffee shops and being mindful of the industrial warehouse background, Stokes aimed to create a new composition of materials that felt sleek and traditional at the same time. Using custom built furniture and display units designed by Stokes, the space was divided visually into smaller parts, highlighted by different materials and construction methods (as well as a huge mural by renowned muralist ESPO).
The primary focus of all of La Colombe’s cafes is the customer and their procession through the space; from ordering, to pick-up, to sitting down. This cycle of use determined the layout for the space, with a winding counter top that moves the customers deliberately through the space, and ample seating flanking it on 3 sides. This counter (and its wood grid ceiling) is one of two primary focal points in the space. The other, in the rear of the building, is a glass and steel box showcasing the brass distillery equipment.
The strategy for the La Colombe at Independence Mall was to be as unobtrusive as possible, respecting the beauty of the Pietro Belluschi designed lobby inherited (part of the old Rohm and Haas Building in Philadelphia). The counter sits as an island, wrapping but not actually touching the shaped concrete column. The materials strike a balance between La Colombe and Belluschi, with wood slats to match the existing walls, and the steel panels and marble counters maintaining La Colombe's style. The seating also nods to the existing space, with the design of the original lobby benches modified with a back to create the banquette seating.
Attention was also paid to exterior plaza. Sitting on a 6’ concrete plinth, the Rohm and Haas building was completely cut-off from the sidewalk below at the corner. To facilitate foot traffic to the café, and encourage public interation, a stair matching the existing stair, was cut into the corner of the plinth, opening views and pathways up to the front door of the café. The plaza was then designed with a garden and outdoor seating for the café.
For Stokes’ first café designed in DC, the primary driving force for design was the existing space itself. A small mezzanine, as well as structural columns needed to be integrated seamlessly into the plan, while utilizing the familiar palette of colors and materials typical to Stokes’ La Colombe designs. The wood/brass/steel combination for the bar (inspired by vintage Italian espresso machine designs) slides outward to wrap around an existing column, creating a natural flow to the line of customers that avoids. Behind the bar, the existing mezzanine becomes a seating area, lending a view of the entire café, as well as some street views and natural light to the open, airy space.
La Colombe’s original location in the Rittenhouse area of Philadelphia was in need of a renovation after 20-plus years in business. A new bar was constructed that leads each customer through the front of the café deliberately, and seating is concentrated away from the bar. These moves created less traffic and confusion during busy times, a major problem for the café and its many regular customers. In addition, Stokes designed custom furniture and refinished the space to give it a classic café feel, including a custom designed “coffee belt” mural that defines the seating area.
LOCATION: Philadelphia, PA COMPLETED: Fall 2014 WEBSITE: www.lacolombe.com/cafes
*photo credits: Matt Wargo
La Colombe: Wall St.
The café on Wall Street, steps away from the NYSE, is one of the company’s smallest cafes, and one of its busiest locations. In order to accommodate La Colombe’s ever growing program, along with the outsized demand in this location, Stokes had to get creative with space planning. A sleek linear bar was designed to house all necessary equipment and program, with minimal wasted space. Opposite the bar, a smaller than normal bench was designed, with minimized tables that allow seating and line-flow all within the narrow space. In subtle contrast to the slick, linear nature of the space, Stokes chose soft curves and warm materials to give the space a more inviting and calming quality.
The cafe at Bryant Park, located in Pei Cobb Freed's 7 Bryant Park building, was designed to be a little slicker and more custom than the typical La Colombe. For this design, much of the typical wood finishes were ditched, in favor of steel and tile. A custom pick up counter, designed by Stokes, was built using bent steel rods and powder-coated steel sheets. The typical wood panel bar was slightly subverted, by going with a custom routed wood “curtain” also designed by Stokes. One of two murals by artist ESPO is framed in the front by metal panels.
For Prince Street (the smallest café to date), La Colombe partnered with Chobani to create a dual café experience. To respect the context of the already existing Chobani café, Stokes reinterpreted the typical La Colombe café design. Using the typical palette of materials and colors but reflecting a decidedly more sleek, modern aesthetic similar to that of its neighbor, the café makes the most of every square inch in the extremely limited space. Lines are sharp and angular. A wood ceiling canopy wraps down the wall to become a small bench, leaving just enough room beside itself for a connection to the adjacent cafe. Custom built-in wall cabinets cover much of the rear wall. The counter, which houses all of the typical equipment without a back bar, is wood with inlayed marble. Sharp cut-outs allow for a pastry case, and the espresso machine on display at the front of the bar.
The La Colombe on 27th street is located in the Terminal Warehouse, a former train depot designed in 1890. As part of a revitalization of the building, as well as the larger, well-established revitalization of the Chelsea neighborhood, La Colombe was asked to occupy the raw, industrial corner space within the building. Exposed brick, original hardwood floors, and large heavy timber framing were already in place, and Stokes simply designed around the natural beauty of these elements. The strategy was to create modern elements with natural materials, respecting the context of the space, while avoiding faux authenticity. Custom wood slat benches, designed to evoke the buildings’ former life as a train depot, and a simple wood veneer bar have clean modern lines, separating themselves from the existing wood elements.
Tradestone Café in Conshohocken is the companion café to owner Chip Roman’s Blackfish Restaurant. Roman and his partner Fred Ortega wanted a simple and functional café counter, where he could serve coffee as well as a few ready-made lunch items, and their specialty chocolates, Tradestone Confections. The design of the interior focused on two existing elements of the space. The beautiful existing brick wall, which had been covered, was exposed and sealed. Also, a paneled wood cabinet leftover from the previous tenant, was kept and reused to create mirrored display shelves behind a new banquette.