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Inside the most important room in Starbucks' HQ?

At Starbucks's global headquarters in Seattle, a designer quietly ushers me down a shadowy hallway, tucked behind a room filled with boxes and photocopiers that it appears no one ever uses. We reach an office with the blinds drawn. She glances around, pulls a key from her pocket, and waves me inside. We shut the door and turn on the light. The room is barely bigger than a closet, finished in drab blue carpet and dull white paint. Every square inch of its walls are covered in photos of fixtures and furniture, fabric swatches, metal fasteners, and samples of wood. There are hundreds of images, possibly a thousand or more, linked together by a carefully plotted string of yarn, like some serial killer map out of a crime drama.

Each string is labeled with adjectives: words you associate with any Starbucks, like “sincere” and “warm,” along with words you probably don’t, like “elegant” and “curious.”

Starbucks builds some of the most architecturally stunning coffee shops in the world. In a historic bank on Rembrandtplein Square in Amsterdam, a ceiling undulates with 1,876 blocks of Dutch oak. On a double-decker train car in Switzerland, a 50-seat Starbucks with table service allows commuters from the Geneva Airport to unwind. On a street in Dazaifu, a small city in western Japan, a latticed shrine pays tribute to the god of learning. Each location is a gorgeous piece of design that makes a strong nod to its context. It just so happens that they also sell coffee.

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