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Intelligentsia Wicker Park

Since its founding in 1995, Intelligentsia has been a coffee roasting pioneer. Their dedication to quality and craft is evident in both their coffee products and their café designs. This attention to quality in all they do has garnered them a cult-like following. Each café and retail location is a reflection of the company’s values and the context and community in which it is located. No two stores are the same. Just like the relationships Intelligentsia nurtures with their coffee growers, the cafes become a part of the neighborhood providing local residents with a better coffee experience, while at the same time creating a space that is a destination for those outside its neighborhood.

The 950 square foot Wicker Park store uses a curated material palette and thoughtful lighting design to differentiate the experience of those serving coffee from those being served. The use of natural wood inside the cafe contrasts with the sleek modern textures of the base building’s façade. The primary material palette is Douglas fir, concrete and white quartz. Douglas fir is used throughout the store and finished in different ways to define space and function. Pickled vertical slats line the café walls creating a soft warm shell while ebonized and oiled wood define the various functions within the space.

The coffee bar is housed in a wooden volume that showcases typically back of house components and highlights the lab-like quality of Intelligentsia’s process. Conceived as a Matryoshka Doll, the coffee bar is nestled inside a Douglas fir volume whose ‘top’ has been lifted. The ‘top’ is set at eight feet high providing a more intimate experience between barista and customer. White quartz counter tops and an illuminated stretch ceiling create the lining inside the nesting doll and further distinguish and define the coffee bar. Located at the rear of the space, the coffee bar’s wooden volume decreases the perceptual depth of the café’s interior, foreshortening the seating space and creating a much more substantial presence at the sidewalk. The seating area is defined by a field of suspended incandescent lighting fixtures that creates a warm tone and intimate environment and hover above a long communal table, a bench which wraps the perimeter and a series of red stools designed specifically for this location. The stools of various shapes and scale are designed to be used as seating, a side table, or a work surface for a computer and is easily reconfigured allowing for a dynamic seating area that changes with the current inhabitants. The stools are rearranged each night by the baristas and become improvised sculpture while the store is closed.

MEP Engineer: Building Engineering Systems, BES
General Contractor: Power Construction
Photographer: Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing