a granite countertop counter at a coffee shop
The counter is topped with granite from the boys locker room shower.

This School Turned Coffee Shop is an Adaptive Reuse Gem

In 1936, the Public Works Administration completed a beautiful Art Deco building in South Philadelphia to house a vocational school with a range of offerings, from culinary arts to welding and bricklaying. Just shy of a century later, in 2013 the school closed; developer Scout LTD eventually bought the space with the idea of transforming it into a new home for the city’s vibrant community of makers.

All those artists need fuel, of course. So local architecture and design firm Kaminski + Pew carved out a space on the ground floor for independent cafe, Two Persons Coffee. “Our goal was to create a space that intentionally blurs the narrative of place and time,” explain firm cofounders Kevin Kaminski and Alexis Pew. “We wanted to invite a sense of wonder. What is existing? What is new?”

A back wall of tiles from Heath Ceramic define the space.
A back wall of tiles from Heath Ceramic define the space.

As for what’s already on hand, the answer is: Almost everything. To recast some 300 square feet of what once was an auto body tool room into the coffee shop, the team relocated, wire-brushed, cleaned, and painted the school’s existing fencing. Granite panels, removed from walls and resurfaced, is the face and top of Two Persons Coffee’s monumental counter. Classroom furniture takes on a new life as café seating. “The biggest challenge was finding a contractor willing to salvage and repurpose materials from the building,” add Kaminski and Pew. “Conor Roche from ROC buildings was up to the task and a great partner.” The walls and ceiling, they say, “are clear coated to preserve the existing patina and make the space safe for food.”

And as for the design duo’s second question? “The small but mighty coffee shop quickly developed into a destination,” they share. Not just for the tenants of the building—50% of which are women-owned and 80% of which are self-owned—including spaces for furniture makers, tattoo artists, painting studios, designers of all disciplines, and charitable organizations. But also for locals in the area. “Two Persons has become a vital hub,” note Kaminski and Pew, “for both the building and surrounding community.” A good lesson, then, in adaptive reuse.

Transforming an Industrial Building into a Creative Hub

an industrial vibe is found at Two Persons Coffee
Furniture was sourced from various classrooms, keeping pieces out of the landfill.
a bike shop next door to a coffee shop
Neighbors are fellow creatives, including the Firth & Wilson bike shop next door.
a granite countertop counter at a coffee shop
The counter is topped with granite salvaged from the locker room shower.
the countertop at Two Persons Coffee
A Felt + Fat tray made in a local ceramic studio, Finnish Design Shop perforated letterboard, and Heath Ceramics vase rest on the counter.
a former boys locker room
The fencing also was sourced from the locker room.

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