Romance of café design
Admiring the incredible variety of designs born from the partnership between design and hospitality, and at the same time enjoying the importance design is given in this relationship; one might find it hard to believe how everything about café culture started without almost a single thought on designing. Or, more precisely, designing originality, uniqueness, individuality, if we borrow terms so often found in today's vocabulary related to design.
And how did it really start? It started with a social twist of gathering in an almost public space, exposing the pleasures of drinking and smoking and reading and debating, observing and, of course, being observed, while sitting on what used to be a rather standardized chair, accompanied by tables, benches, lights and decoration of similar type. True, often of a genuinely great quality design (like Thonet furniture), carrying a truly important message of a new spirit, but café after café used almost the same selection. And café culture soon became a matter of status. But not design. From today’s perspective, it is impressive how design played a minor role in this invigorating, powerful movement. And, when we follow the development of events further on, we see how design has been getting more and more wind in the sails.
When design took over the pedestal of importance in mostly functional improvements of everyday life, back in mid-20th century modernism, an impressive bunch of optimism laid in its hands. Slowly, everything – and I do mean everything – became a matter of design. Just take for example the café interior, cups, plates, cutlery, tables, chairs and benches, textile and above all this, an overall concept, the idea, branding... Let's not forget the toilets and the wardrobe, oh, just everything! And this everything shall be multiplied by the numerous designed cafés born every year primarily from individual desires and visions. And all of them reflect the variety of today's world being globally accessible and enjoyable.
Interior designers know that some of the significance of the modernist era has gone. From the limited scope of attention that is available on the public side, there are other players that are getting much more attention these days. And in a way, design is fighting for that attention. The IT era hasn't given birth to a new style (yet, maybe), and after the first attempts, design also stopped competing directly by inventing forms that will literally express or define the ”new” era. We could say modern design has passed the teenager phase and, without losing its vitality, has reached a mature youth. It enjoys an opened confrontation or even flirting with traditional motives. It obviously gained self-confidence that provides the sense of freedom to enjoy the varieties without any need to scream out the rules of the big truth, the one and only truth wrapped into manifesto cellophane. Do we dare to say that it enjoys the partnerships with hospitality managers, clients, guests, chefs, baristas, dancers, DJs etc... as they do themselves in the environment of its. What a partnership, even a friendship this could be! How naturally the habits and pleasures of today would find a way into design concepts and how both would intertwine providing one full ”open code“ sensorial experience.
It doesn't really matter that much where or how we start this relation, a small cup of coffee is already a great start; it is of crucial importance where we take that cup, how life’s impulses come in and influence the abstract conceptions of design. And how at the very end, this designed child of theirs lives its own life without support, without additional explanations needed, without instructions. Such a design would be lived in and enjoyed smoothly by the natural logic of life flow.
And seeing all the design varieties worldwide today, from this perspective, it looks so obvious. Admired forms are merely the consequence of design process caught in the moment of physical finalisation, but they are not the final result. They are the messengers of intentions and their materialisation, which are continuously being tested, modified and improved everyday by everyone. Stories behind design that gave birth to these shapes, and life on top of these shapes, equally contribute to the final result, which can only be enjoyed in reality together with sounds, smells, different languages floating in the air, tastes in the cups – all tactile impulses... As it seems today, the senses are sharpening and developing towards multitasking, not necessarily deepening. And interior design plays a vital role in this direction. Hand in hand with all other numerous practises around human pleasures. Because it is about great pleasures, which café interior design is all about. As simple as that.