Designing a Coffee Shop

Our “design process” started from day one. Even though we didn’t know what look we were going for, and were truly at an amateur level, we slowly started moving forward to build a vision we were excited about. This is what the process roughly has looked like for us and what we’ve encountered along the way, and though it’s happened in this order, it’s always a combination of going back and forth, learning and refining. We’ll see how we fared once the shop is done, then you can be the judge! Though I’m no expert, I love sharing the raw learning process as we’re experiencing it. So I’ve you’ve been here, or if you’re a designer, do share your insight as well!

Designing a Coffee Shop

1. Study & Observe
I am definitely underqualified with the skills of starting a coffee shop and being a successful business entrepreneur. But you have to start somewhere, starting with what you know. A year ago, I couldn’t pinpoint what I wanted our shop to look like at all, so I just started with the clean slate of a being a learner. I started pinning everything I liked and found inspiring. We visited a ton of shops where we could travel to here in Denver, Portland, and even Northern Europe. I took notes on what I liked, didn’t like, what was cool and unique, what wasn’t, how I felt; really every observation I had. The goal was to create an atmosphere based on building a place we loved and hoped others would too.

2. Build a Vision Board
It wasn’t after I compiled all my thoughts, ideas and notes to figure out what I really liked in a coffee shop that we slowly started to see what we wanted our shop to look like. There was still a lot of envisioning to do, but we started to put our ideas and inspiration pictures that made the cut onto a vision board– see how I put one together in this post. Having all my ideas in one place has been really helpful, and throughout time, we continued to build onto it and make edits. We continued to go back and forth between researching (reading books on what to keep in mind, elements of design, practical coffee-shop musts), studying shops for what we liked and how they made us feel, searching for pictures and gathering inspiration from designs online, and changing our board as our vision got clearer.

Designing a coffee shop


3. Customize the Layout
The vision board is more so to gather inspiration, because when you have your actual space, you don’t want to make an external vision fit your physical space. Rather, you want to build upon your space organically so you can bring out the existing elements and create your own space instead. So things didn’t get real until we found a location. As we were searching for an architect, I went ahead and uploaded our layout that had already been measured into Floorplanner. There are various websites that build a layout like this (I’ve included some in sources below), so I just picked the first one that looked good to me. Knowing it wouldn’t be as professional as architect drawings, we just wanted to consider layout ideas: where we would put the bar, furniture, bathrooms, etc. We input dimensions so everything was to scale, and thought through different scenarios like line flow and seating arrangements to come up with different ways to design our floorplan. Not only was this fun, but it helped sort out what we wanted and didn’t want so we could communicate this to our architect.

4. Hire an architect
Finding our architect was a lifesaver. At one point were having trouble with our bathroom situation and the only way to move forward with our space was to find an architect that could find a solution and present it to the city. After finding Michelle Miller (at Jigsaw Design LLC), we saw the light at the end of the tunnel! She got through to the city for us and came up with a solution for the bathrooms. We then moved forward in drawing up legit plans for our shop, including the bar design, seating arrangements, equipment layout, and various other things to make sure we were compliant with building and health codes. As I said, an architect isn’t always required, more so if your space is already build out. But we were starting from square one, with an empty shell, and since this is our first shop, it’s been so great to have an expert on our team! We got so excited seeing the plans really come together, and decided if we open up any future shops, we’ll still continue to use Michelle or an architect since it helps so much with the whole design and permitting process. The design plans from an architect and MEP will also be a must if you’re having actual contracting work done.

5. Designing in Stages
We now have our layout down, including the bar design, seating plan, and all other MEP plans ready to build out the space. As our ideas and theories collected in research, and our vision board is now meeting reality, it’s time to design in stages to create a look that fits us and our space. My good friend Deb helped so much with consulting in the details and design of SONDER, and is starting her own design & decor business “Home-Spice.” She advised me to start building on our space a little at a time, starting with the foundation of the bar, walls and floor. Since this is the “canvas” of our space, it’s important to design it well, based on our ideas and architect drawings. Then in time, we can build upon the design, continuing with furniture, colors, and finishing with the minor decor details and touches.

As we’re building upon our design, my vision board is still being updated and edited, and pictures of inspiration and ideas are slowly being replaced and supported by pictures of the actual space and of things we are planning to buy (as well as their sources and costs), in order to have a game plan in turning it into reality. Stay tuned as I continue talking about our design process and the contents of my vision board, including the variables I kept in mind in designing a coffee shop.

As our planning and vision are now meeting reality and execution, I’m excited to see what’s to come. We will be ready to build out as soon as we sign the lease and get our permitting approved, after which we’ll continue to post and update you on the progress as you’re learning with us.

Designing a coffee shop

I hardly know what I’m talking about, but love to share what I’m learning as we go along in this process of starting a coffee shop from ground zero. For other sources that have helped up to this point, check out the links below:

The Complete Idiots Guide to Running and Starting a Coffee Bar
Espresso! Starting & running your own speciality coffee business
Start & run a coffee bar
13 Tips to Open a Successful Coffee Shop (BPlans)


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page


  1. Love it!! Inspiration as I am working on my coffee shop

    Post a Reply
    • Julia

      Awesome! Wish you the best, let me know how it comes together!

      Post a Reply

Share your thoughts: