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Beans and Beams: Exploring the Design Elements that Make Coffee Shops Unique

Deco Temple, Elixir Bunn Coffee Roasters / AZAZ Architects. Image © Abdulrahman Bayshout Coffee shops have always been beloved gathering spaces for coffee enthusiasts. However, with the rise of remote working, they have also become...

Deco Temple, Elixir Bunn Coffee Roasters / AZAZ Architects. Image © Abdulrahman Bayshout

Coffee shops have always been beloved gathering spaces for coffee enthusiasts. However, with the rise of remote working, they have also become popular hotspots for remote workers and students. It's not just the delicious beverages that draw people in; it's also the well-designed interiors that promote comfort, relaxation, and productivity. Architects and coffee seem to go hand in hand. In this article, we will delve into how different design elements shape the user experience of coffee shops, showcasing 17 incredible examples.

Designing for Success

The success of a coffee business hinges not only on the quality of the drinks but also on the design of the cafe itself. Architects take into account various factors when designing a coffee shop. They consider how each space caters to its users, the flow of movement, the dimensions of the space, and how to comply with health and sanitary regulations. Designing with accessibility, practicality, efficiency, and comfort in mind ensures a positive experience for both customers and employees.

23A Coffee Shop / Ponomarenko Bureau. Image © Ivan Avdeenko

When planning a cafe, architects typically dedicate 60% of the floor plan to the seating area and the remaining 40% to service and storage areas. The space is divided into sub-units based on specific activities, such as back kitchen and storage, drink/food preparation, order and service, main circulation, high table seating area, lounge area, coworking space, and sanitary facilities. The organization of these units facilitates seamless movement for employees and easy navigation for customers.

Coffee Bar & Service Area

Many architects start the design process from the "back of the house," where storage and employee-related facilities are located, and then work their way to the seating area. This approach ensures optimal workflow and allows for the installation of equipment without compromising space. The design of the operational spaces, which make up 40% of the plan, prioritizes cleanliness and compliance with sanitary regulations. Materials and finishes that are safe and easy to clean are chosen, and independent HVAC units are installed.

GROUNDS Coffee / KOGAA. Image © Alex Shoots Buildings Blue Bottle Coffee Kanda Manseibashi Cafe / Schemata Architects. Image © Takumi Ota

Storage Solutions

Coffee shops require ample storage space, particularly in the service and back kitchen areas. In smaller spaces, architects focus on efficient storage solutions that allow employees to move comfortably. Vertical shelving units that extend to the ceiling are often used, along with traditional storage units beneath the counter.

Store and Bistro Erva Santa / Moca Arquitetura. Image © Eduardo Macarios Kettl Tea Flagship / Michael Tower Architecture. Image © Brad Dickson

Streamlined Employee Circulation

For employee zones, a clean and organized workspace is essential for productivity and safety. Employees should not frequently cross paths or make multiple trips to serve customers, as this can disrupt workflow and tire baristas. Designating specific stations allows employees to access tools and products without crossing paths. Proper organization and machine placement streamline workflow and create an efficient work environment.

YAMA Coffee Shop / KSOUL Studio. Image © Valor Studio Newport Coffee House / 34-TEN. Image © Mike Schwartz Photo PAGA Microroastery / Taste Space. Image © Jinnawat Borihankijanan

Seamless Customer Circulation

As customers enter a coffee shop, they should immediately understand how their journey will unfold. The floor plan determines where customers line up, showcases food options, and guides them to seating areas. Proper layout design can also impact the length of the queue line during peak hours and the overall customer experience. Architects often place the queue line away from the seating area in a sequential manner, ensuring a step-by-step process that caters to customers who choose to stay and those who prefer takeaway.

NOC Coffee Co. / Studio Adjective. Image © Dick Liu FabCafe Nagoya / Suppose Design Office. Image © Kenta Hasegawa

Interior Aesthetics & Ambiance

Comfort and coziness are key considerations when designing coffee shop interiors. Architects often incorporate features such as ambient lighting, muted colors, warm palettes, natural materials, and greenery. Some projects even reflect specific architectural movements or convey a particular atmosphere. These design elements enhance the overall experience and create a unique ambiance.

Mustapan Coffee Shop / Estudio Chávarro. Image © Iván Ortiz Thailand Hi Cafe / balbek bureau. Image Courtesy of balbek bureau Cafe Bidam / Design Token. Image © Yongjoon Choi

Thoughtful Furniture Selection

Choosing the right furniture is crucial to accommodate different types of customers simultaneously. Whether visitors are enjoying a cup of coffee, working on the go, studying in groups, or spending time as a couple, the furniture should cater to their needs. Study groups, for instance, prefer large tables and mobile chairs, while solo visitors seek comfortable sofas away from busy communal areas. The type of furniture also affects the overall capacity and turnover of customers. Additionally, materials that are easy to clean and maintain are chosen.

BASAO Tea Lounge / NORM Architects. Image © Jonathan Leijonhufvud INC Coffee / LABOTORY. Image © Yongjoon Choi

Inviting Facades

Just as the interior design is important, the facade of a coffee shop plays a significant role in attracting customers and creating a welcoming atmosphere. First impressions can greatly influence new customers passing by. The facade should reflect the interior space and convey an inviting and comfortable vibe. Architects may opt for see-through facades, vibrant designs, or features that grab pedestrians' attention.

September Cafe / Red5studio + Ben Decor. Image © Phú Đào Colchetes Café / Estúdio Brasileiro de Arquitetura. Image © Manuel Sá Today is Long Cafe / Absence from Island. Image © dypiem


The design elements of coffee shops greatly impact the user experience. Architects consider factors such as space utilization, functionality, comfort, and ambiance to create spaces that cater to both customers and employees. By combining innovative design concepts with practical considerations, coffee shops can provide a welcoming and productive environment for all. Explore more coffee shop projects in this My ArchDaily folder created by the author. We always appreciate suggestions, so feel free to submit any ideas you might have!

This article is part of an ArchDaily series that explores the features of interior architecture. Stay tuned for more insights into how architects and designers are pushing boundaries in interior spaces worldwide.