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 Overstuffed lounge chairs; tile floors and worn wood; exposed steel beams; masonry walls and brown paper coffee-bean packages tied up with strings. These, with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, are a few of the coffee-shop designer’s favourite things. 

But you won’t find these visual clichés at the 1,280-square-foot Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters in Calgary’s 4th Street district (also known as Restaurant Row). As the warm cappuccino tones suggest, architect Mark Burkart, a partner in Calgary’s McKinley Burkart, and Diane Cassidy, the firm’s lead interior designer, had something else in mind.

“We had a kneejerk reaction to the Northwest hipster coffee culture vibe of the Edison bulb and the painted brick and distressed wood that is ubiquitous to these enterprises,” says Burkart. “Phil & Sebastian is very conscious about fighting against that and not wanting to be like everyone else.” Phil & Sebastian is known for its specialty, slow-brewed coffee. The challenge for the designers was to express this in the store design. Says Phil & Sebastian co-founder Sebastian Sztabzyb, “We have pushed McKinley Burkart to think outside the traditional café service model and help us invent new interesting flows and customer experiences.”

For its part, McKinley Burkart, a full-service architectural and interior-design firm with 25 staff members, can take on a wide range of projects, from small retail to mixed-use development to master planning. “Clients come to us when they want design as opposed to a building typology,” Burkart says. (The firm designed this project’s setting, the Maxwell Bates Block, a mixed-use development.) 

Sizing up his (existing) client, Burkart says of Phil & Sebastian, “They take their time making your coffee. They are incredibly detail-oriented. They will research every little piece of the process to the nth degree, like an engineer would. And they challenged themselves by doing away with the menu board with the lattes and cappuccinos on it, which is a risky thing to do in a coffee shop. It’s all about making the personal connection with the barista, which is a little ‘out there’ in the coffee world.”

Unlike most hospitality chains, which impose a uniform corporate identity on each and every space, Phil & Sebastian likes each outlet to look different. “We wanted something that was classical and referenced early Italian modernism,” Burkart says. “So we went back to quiet, refined teak walls and industrial-looking chairs in chartreuse and aqua.” He also cites Italian postwar movies as project muse. Indeed, one can envision Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg stepping out of their Lancia to sip espresso here between takes of La Dolce Vita.

What is Burkart most pleased about? “This doesn’t feel like most coffee shops you see everywhere,” he says. “There’s not a lot of detail. Instead, there is a lot of quiet, punctuated by nice pieces.” The most memorable of those pieces, perhaps, is the teak dining table with the articulated, ’50s-retro superstructure, designed by Cassidy, who was in turn inspired by the work of ’50s Italian designer Ico Parisi. It and several other custom furnishings were supplied through McKinley Burkart’s sister company, Tableaux. 

Phil & Sebastian’s owners are so pleased with the new location that they commissioned McKinley Burkart to create yet another coffee shop, slated for Calgary’s historical Simmons building in the up-and-coming East Village.  cI