The unveiling of Starbucks in Mumbai evoked a joyful response from its fans – interestingly, as much for the coffee as for the décor! We realised that the same holds true the world over.
Like any loyal Starbucks fan I visited the Mumbai outlet the first chance I got. There is something to be said about the design of Starbucks. This international coffee chain incorporates local décor and yet holds true to its essence. The Mumbai Starbucks and its counter-part that opened recently in Japan are two perfect examples.
By first choosing locations that are representative of the host city’s history, the interiors of the Starbucks outlets are then customised towards validating and reinforcing its connection through design.
Of the two branches of Starbucks in South Mumbai, one is hosted in the Taj Mahal Hotel while the other is situated in a heritage building at Horniman Circle, the zero point of Mumbai.
Both places seem to brim with the history and culture of the city. The Starbucks in Fukuoka, Japan too is housed in an area that is significant for ties to culture and heritage – it stands on the main approach to the Dazaifu Tenmangu, one of the major shrines of Fukuoka that receives about two million visitors a year.
With the locations so specially etched, it is natural to expect the entry to be dramatic as well. Both the Mumbai outlets are housed in iconic heritage buildings. The Fukuoka Starbucks lies on a very special pathway. Along this main path to the shrine, there are traditional Japanese buildings of one or two storeys.
The structure is made using a unique system of weaving thin cedar wood pieces diagonally. The design is striking and it is the green and white logo that gives it away, else, one would not be able to fathom that inside awaits their favourite cup of coffee!
The principal architects and designers of the Mumbai outlets are from the international Starbucks design team. However, Shobhna and Kunal Mehta, the team from ‘Kanchi’ added to the global mix. The Japanese one, on the other hand has been conceptualised and designed by Tokyo based Kengo Kuma and Associates.
As one enters the Horniman Circle Starbucks, the interiors hold you in awe. The architects have taken advantage of the luxuriously high ceiling which is a common feature of the old buildings of the city. A mezzanine floor adds to the seating space.
Even before one enters, the welcoming wafts of coffee tickle your senses. Inside, I am struck by the presence of jute sacks as a decor element. These sacks are actually the original bags in which coffee is stored and transported from various coffee centres like Guatemala, Columbia, Kenya etc. The bags were sent to Kanchi, specifically to be incorporated in the design scheme. “We individually hand painted and designed each one with custom made patchwork and stylised Starbucks logos. Every bag was also lined with lace using leather thread. The principal designer then placed them in spaces around the café to create the desired look and feel,” say the designers.
The jute map was included in the design to enhance the feel of the space. Marked on the map are Seattle, where the first Starbucks opened, and Mumbai where the most recent and iconic café space exists. The base of the map is made from imported jute bags on which velvet is used to mark the Arctic zones, the Equator and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
The Fukuoka outlet again reflects the design culture of the area. The intricate woodwork sets a dramatic tone at the entrance and even inside the coffee house. It is the singular stellar element of the entire design. Hence, understandably, the interiors are kept toned down and simple. The grey walls and flooring and the natural wood give a sombre and elegant look to the cafe. Along the sofa wall runs a simple artwork that merges into the décor.
In a coffee shop, the seating arrangements are also an integral part of the design. In the Mumbai branches, a lot of experimentation has been done with it. The entire space is segregated into different seating areas to break the vastness of the space. These arrangements are comfortable and varied; chairs ranging from simple to elegant throne-like ones, stools and sofas are juxtaposed in a random (yet organised) manner.
In the Fukuoka branch, the area available is smaller. Moreover, the coffee house is in the form of a narrow stretch. On one end a continuous sofa runs through the entire length of the shop. One glance at the way the sofa is structured and it will remind you of origami folds. The opposite stretch has simple wooden tables and chairs.
Communal tables are a common element with outlets of Starbucks all round the world. These encourage a sense of community and immediately add warmth to the environment and encourage the ‘coffee and conversations’ culture.
With an international chain, there is always a careful balance that has to be maintained with respect to design – should it stick to its international design or should it be designed to give it a local flavour? In India, the head honchos from Seattle wanted the design to be unique with an Indian touch, blending with the culture, people and architecture of the space.
The principal designers conceptualised the flooring to create the representation of the very Indian henna design. A lot of space was also allotted for displaying accessories like old trunks, painted pails, carved wooden pillars, frames, milk cans and jaalis. These introduce the Indian element in a subtle manner and also add an old world classic feel to the space.
In the Japanese outlet too, the traditional design and woodworks resonate with local skill. Kengo Kuma and his team have experimented with the weaving of sticks. Here, four sticks are woven together to create a complicated joint. “Piling up of small parts from the ground was highly developed in the traditional architecture of Japan and China. This time the method has been greatly improved upon in combination with state-of-the art technology,” say the architects.
The Starbucks coffee shops revolve around the following ethos: heritage – where elements of the first store in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market are referenced; artisan – a gathering space for culture and arts; regional modern – which incorporates regionally inspired furniture; and concept stores – which are uniquely designed environments supporting interactions, gatherings and coffee and tea cuppings. Both these outlets meet all of these parameters.
Text By Dhanishta Shah
Photographs: Starbucks Coffee Company (Mumbai Starbucks);
Kengo Kuma and Associates (Fukuoka, Japan, Starbucks)