Sensory Architecture and Coffee’s Design Influence

We love to explore independent cafés around the world – not just for coffee, but also for the interiors. Today, we take you on a visual tour to Lift Coffee in London.

Lift Coffee provides an unmatched speciality coffee experience in the heart of Kensington. Although passersby may come for the caffeine hit, the minimalist, industrial-style provides an atmosphere so serene, they stay for the tranquility.

The design project’s research-led architecture and design practice Szczepaniak Astridge, are known for their commitment to creating spaces that awaken the senses and offer true value; they are devoted to sensory architecture.

The design was influenced by calming Japanese-style design and the choice to limit the colour palette to shades and hues that can be identified in the coffee-making process allows the experience of coffee-drinking to flow seamlessly into the experience of inhabiting the space.

The face of the building is painted a charcoal grey, strikingly recognisable between the subtle white and cream of the adjacent shopfronts. Upon entering the shop, dwellers are met with a pristine coffee bar, composed from an attractive combination of light greys and subtle greens that instantly calm anyone who enters the space.

Continuing downstairs, the shimmering staircase differentiates Lift from any similar coffee shop, a bold but befitting break from the homogenous colours. Outside, the coffee shop is equipped with a traditional victorian awning made from hardwood timber and steel arms bent manually by hand, so the design provides an outdoor dwelling area for coffee fanatics too.

We talked to architect Simon Astridge for some firsthand insight into the design process – and took notes on why coffee can be considered a fruit.

THE PLUS: What was the research phase of this project like and where did you gain inspiration?
Simon Astridge: All of our project are research led, this period was very intense and enjoyable. We were inspired by films, the industrial process of making coffees, art, fashion and music.

TP: You note that the colour palette of the warm timber and concrete materials complimented by the shimmering feature staircase is inspired by the coffee-making process. How else did coffee inspire the colour scheme and design?

SA: Good question. We were very inspired by coffee! In order to design a coffee shop, you have to understand the entire process. Coffee is a fruit, it is grown in farms around the world, mainly in south America.

Coffee bean suppliers, visit these farms and combine beans and roast them to make their coffee. It is similar to wine making, it all depends on region, weather, soil etc, and how long you roast them for. Darker richer beans are roasted longer.

Then you have to understand how a coffee barista wants to work; what equipment do they need and where, and what a customer wants; places to sit and eat and feel engaged.

TP: The final space boasts the perfect combination of industrial edge and a warmth that makes you feel at home. Was this blend intentional?

SA: Yes, our work is often described as being on the warmer side of minimalism.

TP: What type of atmosphere did you want to create for customers in the coffee shop?

SA: A radically ordinary one. Calming, Japanese inspired.

TP: Is the office space reserved specifically for those who live in the apartment or did another company purchase them?

SA: The office above is for coffee staff and the owner to work. Their owner purchased the whole building so they have their flat upstairs too we renovated.

TP: Did you meet any challenges when using potassium chromate, since it was the first time the material has been used in interior space in the UK?

SA: Yes, it was uncharted territory so always problems and surprises.  There was not a tank big enough in the UK to dip our staircases, so we had to do it in Poland. Once the metal work has been dipped, it cannot be welded or changed because the potassium chromate is damaged, so we had to ensure everything was 100% correct before it was dipped and then it was assembled on site.

TP: Favourite coffee?

SA: Black americano all the way with Red Brick beans. I used to drink latte with milk before I did this job, now only black and filter coffee.
TP: What lessons did you learn from Lift Coffee that you will carry with you to future projects?

SA: I can now design any coffee shop anywhere in the world.

photos by: Nicholas Worley