September 4, 2014

Jensen Architects Converts Automobile Showroom Into Blue Bottle Coffee

Just over a year ago, Michelle Ott, production artist for Blue Bottle Coffee, was biking through the East Bay area of Oakland, California. Passing by the historic W. C. Morse building, she was awed by its architecture and snapped a picture to send over to company headquarters. Constructed by architect James Placheck in 1920 for the notorious car salesman, the building had long served as a showroom for automobiles, and later as a mattress store. As Ott passed it, the storefront lacked the luster of years passed, with inventory cleared out and windows in need of cleaning—but the ceramic tile and marble façade had the distinct sheen of potential.

Blue Bottle brought in Mark Jensen, principal of Jensen Architects—with whom the brand had already teamed for a pavilion at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—to bring a shot of life back into the old space. Jensen partially gutted the 2,500 square-foot space, but he left much of the historical characteristics intact, including ceramic hexagonal floor tiles and crown moldings. To turn an auto showroom into a café, “The key,” as Jensen says, “was to intervene without taking away the patina of the space.”

Jensen turned to Josh Tomlinson of Dialogue Design Build to fabricate an eclectic mix of custom furnishings, most making use of sustainable materials. The 30-foot-long espresso bar was crafted from steel with 70 percent recycled content while wood for the customer table is FSC-certified fumed oak. Of course, the project is not devoid of some recognizable classics. Thonet chairs line the communal table, gathered under light fixtures by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec and Raimond Puts.

The space’s biggest eye-catcher lies behind a curtain of vinyl. The coffee company moved its tech department to this location. Round the clock, mechanics make repairs to machines, give demos, and train customers in coffee matters. “The space is meant to have a workshop feel to it,” according to Jensen. At a quick glance, one might even think it’s still that old auto shop in the 20s. You can even hear the clamor of metal as the employees tinker with the gears.

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