Finding potential in the mundane can be difficult, but when necessity dictates the result can be accommodating, as if it were meant to be. Such is the case with this small tea shop in Oregon; a wood portal frames the reconfigured interior of an old house, a window into something special. Atelier Waechter answered some questions about their design for J-Tea.
View of entrance from street (Photo: Sally Schoolmaster)
Can you describe your design process for the building?

J-Tea International is an importer of Taiwanese oolong teas. The task of this project was to transform an existing single family house located in a commercially zoned area into a retail space for tea sales and sampling. With a lean construction budget it was important to do this as efficiently as possible, trying to eliminate the superfluous. In the end, the design was distilled down to 3 primary elements: entry canopy, porch and tea walls.

CANOPY: The purpose of the canopy is to engage pedestrian and vehicular traffic giving the former house a commercial scale. Additionally, the canopy creates an airy and glowing entry court for outdoor seating. The white powder coated aluminum louvers stand out against the more subdued galvanized steel structure. The white louvers are placed below the support structure to give the impression that they are floating in space -- like a cloud.

PORCH: The purpose of the porch is to draw ones eye into the tea room by creating an aperture that frames the interior space as if it were a stage set. The porch walls, floor and roof are made from a relatively thin 5 1/8” x 5’ Port Orford cedar glue laminated beam. The porch is lightly supported by two concrete stem walls and cantilevers at each end to heighten one’s sense of stepping into the porch emphasizing the entry threshold.

TEA WALLS: The purpose of the tea walls is to form a contained ring around a central tea bar creating a calm and quiet room, heightening the senses for the smelling and tasting of tea. The tea walls are composed of a grid of maple plywood that circumscribes the room and incorporates window openings for a continuous appearance. The grid of shelves is filled with richly colored and textured merchandise that creates a variegated pattern.
Tea bar (Photo: Sally Schoolmaster)
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?

The goal for all of our projects is to define the project requirements in a comprehensive way and respond to them with the most concise and distilled solution possible. Developing a strong and clear concept helps us give structure and singularity to our response. This is what is similar in all our work. What is different in each project is the unique character or identity that comes out of the project’s concept or idea.
Canopy (Photo: Sally Schoolmaster)
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?

Building re-use was an interesting aspect of this project. Prior to commencing design work on J-Tea I was somewhat skeptical of the endeavor. The existing building/house was a series of cobbled-together additions with no historic significance, yet the project scope did not justify scraping the building and starting anew. It was an exercise in seeing through the mess and figuring out the most appropriate way to utilize the existing structure. In the end, the simplest solution was to create a clean shell out of the existing house and give it a monochromatic color; dark bronze. This created a background and framework for the new elements; canopy, entry porch and tea walls. For this scale of project it proved to be an economically effective approach.
Plan diagram (Drawing: Atelier Waechter)
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?

It was interesting to work on the Cape Cod house simultaneous to J-Tea. The Cape Cod house was similar to J-Tea in that it was a complete building reconfiguration. Unlike the J-Tea however, The Cape Cod did have historical significance, not in the sense that it was in original condition (which it was far from) but in the sense that the house style has a strong presence in the United States. So unlike J-Tea it was important to maintain a historical thread or some reference to the original style of the house, hence the name, Cape Cod. In each case it was important to define early on to what degree the original structure was to be preserved.

E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill
Concept Image (Rendering: Atelie Waechter)
Canopy detail (Photo: Sally Schoolmaster)

Eugene, OR

J-Tea International

Atelier Waechter

Design Principal
Ben Waechter

Structural Engineer
Munzing Structural Engineering

Piltz Construction

Site Area
5,000 Sq.Ft.

Building Area
1,000 Sq.Ft.