There are minimal cafés and then there is FatFace 3.0, a compact coffee shop in Shenyang in north-eastern China that takes minimalist design to another level. The third venue, as its name suggests, of hip speciality coffee chain FatFace, it was designed by local practice Baicai Design Office as a sparse, bare-bones space that embodies the brand’s no-nonsense ethos. Underpinned by simplicity and flexibility, the space eschews anything superfluous, including views, colour and décor of any kind except a lanky tree sapling and the brand’s Charlie Brown-inspired logo on the ceiling, welcoming patrons into a monochromatic, monastic space animated in equal measure by the interplay of light and shadow on the bare surfaces and the barista’s coffee making rituals. Minimalism in the service of introspection in other words, but at the same time a conduit for interaction and communication as the bespoke tables and chairs, which can be assembled into a monolithic communal counter, can attest.
Wedged between two non-descript apartment blocks, the one-storey volume offers patrons a calming break from the city’s hustle and bustle akin to a chapel or shrine, a sensation underlined by the interior’s monochromatic colour scheme, clean-cut design language, clerestory window, and modular furniture that can be consolidated into an altar-like volume in the centre of the space. Made out of light-toned wood, the cubic tables, chairs and sideboards that the team designed not only blend in with the room’s elemental geometry and beige colour palette, but can also completely “disappear”, designed as they are to nest around the barista’s station like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle or a gigantic horizontal Jenga. Pieced together, the furniture forms a 6-metre-long counter around which patrons can congregate for workshops, coffee tastings and other events. Regardless of the furniture configuration, FatFace’s barista takes centre stage, their station conceived as the venue’s focal point, just as it should be.