Walk down any street in nearly any modern city and you’re sure to pass by a coffee shop – or three or four. With so many vying for attention, it takes a little something special to rise to the top. For the recently opened Blue Bottle Coffee café in Shanghai, that “little something special” is a well-executed interior that respectfully nods to the area’s history while feeling completely of the moment.
Located in the Jing’an Kerry Centre complex and a short walk away from the ancient Jing’an Temple, the bespoke coffee shop marks the third collaboration between Japanese lifestyle brand Karimoku, Japanese architect Keiji Ashizawa and the California-based Blue Bottle Coffee, with the three having previously joined forces for two outposts in Japan.
For this downtown Shanghai location, the design team, led by Ashizawa (who has also worked with Karimoku and Norm Architects for a restaurant in Sweden), kept the exterior clean-lined and stark with black-framed floor-to-ceiling glazing and bands of smooth grey concrete panels. In keeping with the coffee brand’s overall restrained aesthetic, a single cerulean-blue bottle is the only pop of colour to be found.
Once one crosses the threshold, however, that austerity shifts to something significantly more “holistic and modern.” With the two-level interior space, Ashizawa wanted to implement the feeling of a “building within [a] building” and so drew inspiration from Shikumen, a traditional Shanghainese architectural style dating back to the 1860s that blends Western and Chinese elements. Once comprising a large portion of the city’s residences, the typically two- or three-storey structures, a type of lilong (or laneway) house, were known for the high brick walls that surrounded and enclosed them.
To achieve a similar ambiance, Ashizawa selected a material more commonly reserved for exterior construction – roofing tiles – as the standout feature that would define the interiors. Celebrating local handcraft traditions, Ashizawa had more than 13,000 custom-designed clay tiles made in the nearby city of Yixing to clad the two central coffee bars (one on each floor) and portions of the walls and floors. Rendered in two styles – flat for the floors, convex for the bars and walls – the rough-finished tiles are a rich charcoal grey that offers tonal contrast to the smooth concrete of the main floors and walls.
On the main floor, blonde wood furniture (another adherence to the Blue Bottle Coffee brand) adds warmth and a natural element to the mainly monotone space. Karimoku’s A-DC01 dining chairs (designed by Ashizawa for Blue Bottle Coffee’s Tokyo location) and N-DC03 stools (designed by Ashizawa and Norm Architects for the Yokohama one) are used throughout this level in formal arrangements for individuals or small groups.
Upstairs, where smoked oak and leather reign supreme, the atmosphere is decidedly more lounge-like. Here, too, are two new chairs designed by Ashizawa specifically for the space (and which will be available through Karimoku later this year): the A-DC02 dining chair, a comfortable seat for both meeting and eating, and the A-LC01 lounge chair, with a slightly tilted seat that supports more leisurely sessions. With leather-upholstered seats, both chairs make a handsome impression that is complemented further by boxy leather sofas.
Modern, tranquil and informed by history, the Blue Bottle Coffee café in Shanghai is, in short, the perfect place for a daily coffee break.
Japanese lifestyle brand Karimoku and architect Keiji Ashizawa deliver a retreat-like space for the California brand’s latest locale.