Vancouver’s Bright, White Tea House

The Pacific Northwest may be known for microbreweries and Microsoft, but the area is also ground zero for coffee. Scads of chains populate the region (Starbucks launched its campaign for world domination from Seattle, after all), but considering the Pacific Northwest’s long history of cultural and economic ties to Asia, it’s surprising that coffee, rather than tea, is the area’s caffeinated beverage of choice.

But that’s starting to change. Seeton Shinkewski Design Group (SSDG) has designed a tea lounge in its hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia that offers a bright respite from dreary coffeehouses. The first retail outlet for specialist tea company Infuze, the lounge swaps Starbucks’ living-room aesthetic—the jumble of overstuffed chairs and low tables—for a calmer, more streamline look. At Infuze, over 50 varieties of tea are displayed in apothecary jars lined up along one of the walls, and store guests sip their tea while resting on black-plywood-and-stainless-steel chairs, grouped around light, white tables.

“It was really important to our clients to emphasize the health benefits of tea and its pureness,” says SSDG’s Julie Campbell, who designed the space in 2002 along with firm principal Keath Seeton and Beth Drever. “So we knew we wanted a white, clean, slick interior.”

The space had been completely gutted before SSDG was hired, so the firm started from scratch. They held visioning sessions with Infuze’s co-owners, Mars Koo and Brian Takeda, in order to see what feelings the pair wanted the space to evoke.

“We sat around a table,” recalls Campbell. “We had a bunch of boards prepared with different images, forms, shapes, and color. We drank tea. [Koo and Takeda] talked to us about their product. It was really important to them that we develop this wall of tea, kind of an educational place for people to see all the different colors of tea, read about them, and pull off the lids and smell them.”

This store, which was recently honored by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) in its Decade of Design Competition, has been so successful that Infuze plans to open a second. SSDG also will design the new outlet, which will be on Denman Street, a more youthful area of town that attracts an evening crowd. (The first Infuze is located on West Cordova Street, in the downtown business district, and caters more to a lunchtime crowd.)

With Infuze, SSDG has created a striking space that allows the store’s owners to teach the virtues of tea and connect with the city’s Asian history. According to Campbell, the form and function of the store were “fairly obvious,” but the trick was “getting a connection between the customer and the space, and the client and the space, and keeping them [all] wanting to come back for more.”

Categories: Cities

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