The Craft of Café Design: Portrait of a Shared Creative Journey

From a coffee-shop remodel to the development of a thriving multi-store brand, the story of our relationship with Voyager Craft Coffee is one of creative collaboration.

  • The client–architect partnership: translating the conceptual into the concrete

The relationship between brand owner and architect is a personal one. It’s our job to translate the dreams of entrepreneurs and business owners into built narratives that connect with customers. It’s their story, and we’re there to help them tell it.

When we’re dealing with a brand in its infancy, it’s important we spend time to understand the goals and aspirations of the minds behind it. What gets them out of bed in the morning? What makes them unique? Who are they communicating with? And, most importantly, what’s the mission behind their message?

  • The Studio BANAA–Voyager connection: built from a basis of shared understanding

The moment we met Sam and Lauren from Voyager Craft Coffee, we knew we’d stumbled across like-minds.

Studio BANAA: a couple of idealistic, enthusiastic architects with a recent history of freelancing in cafes. Voyager: a startup that was initiated as a coffee cart, run by a couple of entrepreneurial world travelers.

Together: a pair well matched for the journey ahead.

For us, “coffee inspired by our travels” is a concept that’s instantly gettable. We could relate.

Fast-forward a couple of years and we’ve been working with Voyager through the exciting expansion of their café creation journey — from their original Santa Clara store to three thriving coffee shops around the Bay Area. And through the process, our relationship has evolved from one of shared values and aspirations into a mutually beneficial client–architect collaboration.

  • The Santa Clara remodel: an exercise in communication and trust

Lauren and Sam had big ideas. First: a remodel of their existing coffee shop in Santa Clara. And then: opening two new locations — a new coffee kiosk in San Jose and another full-service coffee shop at a second Santa Clara location. Ambitious? Definitely. And they wanted it all done in just two years.

In this architect–client relationship, there would be no honeymoon period. We knew the Voyagers had their fingers on the pulse of what’s fresh in terms of design, and we were about to learn they have very specific tastes. So as we entered into our first challenge together, we did so with an eye for how to balance aesthetics, expectations and the ways their customers actually use the space.

Hitting “refresh” on an existing cafe, with permanent fixtures, comes with a unique set of challenges. As first-time collaborators, we spent a lot of time working through questions — navigating pathways towards the “right” course of action. As we guided the Voyagers through the design and permitting process, and bonded over our mutual appreciation for the existing 90s style curvilinear drop ceiling, we developed an honest, effective language of collaboration. A basis of trust to build upon through the next phases of our partnership.

  • The San Pedro Square Coffee Kiosk: pushing into bold new territory

If the common enemy of the Santa Clara remodel was process, the enemy of the San Jose coffee kiosk was time. On paper, building a coffee kiosk might not seem like that big of a deal. But when your timeframe from design to completion is reduced to 45 days, every minute literally counts.

Let’s put this deadline into perspective. For most projects of this size you’re looking at:

· 2–3 weeks for design

· 2–3 weeks for construction documents + who knows how long for permits

· Several months for construction depending on the job

In this condensed environment, every decision, every backflip, every word spoken is effectively time down the drain. So this is where the communication channels we’d developed on the Santa Clara build really paid off. As we dusted ourselves off, exhausted at the end of this successful project — shout-out to our builder, Ralph Lammers — we realized Voyager had helped us reset our bar for what’s possible.

  • The Alameda: the ultimate manifestation of the Voyager dream

From the beginning, we connected with Voyager’s “coffee inspired by our travels” concept. And in many ways, our third collaboration with Lauren and Sam allowed us to deliver a fully realized embodiment of their already successful brand.

For Voyager’s second Santa Clara coffee shop, The Alameda, we were finally gifted a whole interior space — an empty palette with which we could express the “who, what, why” of the brand. Wall to floor sailboat tiles, shelving that evokes a web of ladders in a ship, a wood service counter carved like the hull of a boat, eclectic “zones” of seating evoking different regions of the world. The Voyagers joined us through several iterations of the design, fine-tuning every detail as we traveled towards our final destination on our two-year journey. At least for now.

  • Collaborative journeys bring shared rewards

Although every architect–client relationship is unique, at Studio BANAA we believe it’s important to enter into every challenge in a spirit of collaboration. As we journeyed with Voyager, we found we were both able to grow alongside each other through the development of these spaces. From a start-point of mutual professional respect, our conversations matured — allowing us to effectively translate Voyager Craft Coffee’s brand identity into the booths, service areas, and bars of their bustling cafes.

Words by
Dane Bunton

Imagery by
Mikiko Kikuyama