Text description provided by the architects. Office AIO transforms tiny Hutong spaces into a serious coffee bar and B&B
Nestled within Xiang’er Hutong in central Beijing, Big Small Coffee + B&B has a total area of 34 square meters. The project consists of two parts: a coffee bar (19 sqm) and a guest room (15 sqm) linked by a courtyard shared with an elderly neighbour.
Owners of the coffee business wanted to bring serious artesian coffee to their customers in a small space, emphasising focus on just a good cup of coffee. Hence the brand “Big Small Coffee” - being small in size but big on intention.
Sun and Kwan - founders of Beijing studio Office AIO :“We imagined Big Small Coffee to have a fresh, and professional identity and we wanted to bring attentiveness to the design specific for its function and context. Making the most out of these two tiny spaces by turning constraints into design features.”
The spatial function is primarily split into two. Baristas and customers each occupies a side of the bar. This spatial distinction is expressed visually through a crisp change in materiality.
The small white butcher tiles scale the space, and is a timeless, versatile, bright backdrop. With a limited width available for baristas to move along the bar, strong magnets customised to the same size as the tiles are devised to provide easy, flexible access to tools, orders and any miscellaneous items.
The cork panels on the other hand is warm and inviting to the touch, it is also a sound absorber, making it an ideal choice of material in the context of a co-shared wall with the neighbouring living space.
Elongated bar concept
Tying the two sides together is the bar. Volga Blue granite is selected for its shimmering black with accents of a spectacular blue colour, secretly celebrates the brand’s visual identity.
The slab of granite is afloat by its mirror-clad body, punctures through the transparent glass façade. While providing extra seating on the front patio, the gesture also serves to dissolve the envelop in-between interior and the hutong scenes.
Product display and storage is limited due to the spatial constraints. A custom designed open shelf unit is hung from above the bar bench, efficiently occupies the relatively generous height of the space without interrupting circulation. The transparency provided by the use of acrylic sheet diminishes the weight of the shelving unit visually, allowing focus to be on the displayed items.
On the southern side of the shop is another zoning threshold, marked by a camouflaged set of overhead storage cupboards. This threshold transits to the back of house washing area and a water closet. The washing area is meant to be accessed after hours, a full sized sink is in place but concealed during operating hours, allowing this right of way to remain a pleasant waiting area.
Hung by four hand crafted leather straps is a bold, singular 2.4M customised stroke of light. Floating right in the centre of the spatial volume above the bar, the luminaire catches ones eyes, adds weight to the space, while accentuating width and linearity when encountered front-on facing the bar. It also provides a softer, more delicate details to the threshold between shelf and bench top. Brightness is adjustable for the desired mood and or function.
A large opening on the southern slope of the pitched roof is introduced to bring in natural lighting as well as allowing the shadows from the trees above to cast onto the interior surfaces throughout the day.
With a north facing frontage, a crystal clear acrylic canopy provides protection from rain for customers sitting on the front patio while still allowing all available natural light and views to the foliage above to be preserved.
Stainless steel foldaway plates are custom designed to provide flexibility and interaction for the patrons to intuitively transform its function just by a simple flipping action. At its resting state, the plate serves as a small table for patrons who just want a quick coffee or to stand around and mingle. When folded up, the plates give way to circulation and becomes a series of slender support for picture frames to be displayed.
Through the shared courtyard behind Big Small Coffee, the owner also obtained a 15sqm room originally planned for its staff accommodation and storage.
“But why not turn it into a guest room instead?”, Office AIO suggested.
The room was originally occupied by the landlord and her son until he went off to college. The 8sqm main room was used as a living space cramped with a TV unit / desk and a single bed / sofa, and the overstuffed 800mm wide wing was the son’s ‘bedroom’.
Office AIO made a small extension into the courtyard and tear down the original façade to create an L-shaped entrance leading into the guest room. This entrance is then filled by a set of double-hinged doors that can be opened up to form a small internal courtyard.
The main living space was refreshed with a layer of straw clay over the internal walls, straw mats lining the original pitched ceiling, walnut timber flooring to match the existing tone of the timber rafters, and new timber joinery. The result is a bright yet warm space with reminiscence of a traditional hutong dwelling interior.
The interior is furnished sparsely to fulfil the basic needs of a B&B: a built-in double bed with drawers to store extra beddings and luggage, a cantilevered cork desk for travellers to get some work done during their visits, and a classic Achille Castiglioni pendent as desk and bedside lamp.
The linear bathroom were covered in small white butcher tiles, with the water closet on the short end, and vanity and bathtub on the longer end closer to the window for natural light and ventilation.