Here is a short list of some of the most recognizable cafes in the Bay Area: Glasses, Ritual, Four barrels, and Ecuador Coffees & Teas. From the outside, it’s easy enough to determine what might be similar about these roasters – they are all good specialty coffee suppliers who have made names for themselves as respectable and skilled artisans, and have helped out. to set the stage for the now vast and fantastic café. scene that the Bay Area hosts. Beyond that, each of these roasters has opened cafes known for the aesthetic and architectural quality of real spaces. You don’t just step into a Four Barrel or Sightglass for a cup of coffee, you come to admire the beautiful surroundings. For this you can thank Seth Boor and Bonnie Bridges, the principal architects of Architecture of Boor’s Bridges and the collaborative geniuses behind some of the Bay Area’s defining cafes.
Starting with Café Ritual in the local gardening mecca Flora Grubb (also a design and concept by Boor Bridges), Boor and Bridges have helped create and refine the aesthetic of modern coffee in San Francisco and beyond. With a continued focus on creating a “pleasant and sustainable space” that showcases elements of the pre-existing space, the duo and their talented team have raised the bar on what it means to be a “café”. I sat down with Seth Boor in their simple and tasteful office in the Tenderloin to talk about their process, their history, and the connection between coffee and architecture.
How did you end up designing cafes?
We kind of fell into it. We were making Flora Grubb Gardens from scratch, and they wanted to have a coffee there. Flora was a good friend of Eileen from Ritual [Hassi]. We met, and she was still Jeremy Tooker’s partner [now Four Barrel’s owner] at the time. Eventually, Jeremy went on his own and did Four Barrel on Valencia. And it started from there.
Where did the idea for the Four Barrel space in Valence come from?
Jeremy approached us after we worked together on the Ritual booth and told us he had a vision: he wanted to treat coffee like a cellar treats wine production. They wanted to showcase the roasting process. They wanted to create and define the space for roasting to drive retail. We called what they did the hunter / gatherer design approach – they were just finding random stuff in the world and like ‘let’s use this’. It has become this collaborative process of them finding waste and integrating it into space.
Why do you think cafes keep turning you on?
Places like Four Barrel and Sightglass are exciting because we’re excited about the people who actually make things. Both had that kind of industrial production nature and you could see it in the technological aspect of coffee roasting. It wasn’t just retail. It was doing stuff. Coffee farmers are like chefs in that they treat their product more like a craft than just a product.
How has your approach changed or evolved as you made more and more coffees?
It’s more that we’ve learned about more possibilities than it’s that we’ve narrowed it down to the way we should. You know, we’ve learned a ton, but we’re trying to forget a bunch.
We learned about the flow and how people, especially in the United States, approach coffee. How they line up, where they want to go after that. Most cafes have similar menus, espresso and drip and all that, and the design aspect is how you move people through that menu.
How did you tell the difference between the Sightglass on 7th Street in South of Market and the newly opened space on 20th?
In all our projects, we try to balance the cozy and giant, heroic spaces with the more human spaces. Sightglass on 7th was going to be their production space and once we took things off we fell in love with the character, scale and industrial aspect of it. We wanted it to be on the roast and less on the retail space. On the 20th, the space we had did not have so much character on its own. We wanted more polishing and finishing to the space, as this was not a production roaster, it was a neighborhood rotisserie. We wanted the ladder to come down to a more human level.
Tell us about the idea behind your space on Market, Mazarine.
Mazarine is a beautiful space inside a building that is a little difficult to like. It was about creating a different environment, where it’s not about roasting, but about the retail experience surrounding the craft of coffee. It was named after the Mazarine Library and that’s what the aesthetic is about. It’s about letting people in and letting them stay.
Do you have a particular connection with a cafe you have worked on?
We’re excited about all of our different customers and all of the different spaces we enter. What brings us to these jobs is that we can see the potential in all places and in all designs. Having said that, the trio of working with Ritual, Four Barrel and Sightglass, well, for me, those were my training plans. They will always have a special place in my heart.
In your opinion, what links coffee and architecture?
Two reasons: first, this idea of craftsmanship and craftsmanship has always been an important driving force. This kind of craftsmanship and level of presentation creates beautiful spaces. Two, simplicity. For the most part, coffees are pretty straightforward: coffee and water and maybe a few different ways of making it. That’s what attracted me: the simplicity and the dedication. And this is the reason why it has become so architectural – simplicity allows you to aesthetically present craftsmanship in a design sense.
Noah Sanders is a San Francisco-based staff writer for Sprudge.com and a contributor to SF Weekly, Side One Track One, and The Bold Italic. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.
All photos provided by Architecture of Boor’s Bridges.