Chinese Office AIO has converted a 34 sqm building in Beijing’s Xiang’er Hutong into a tiny coffee bar that also offers a cosy bedroom for its guests. Big Small Coffee + B&B is set within one of Beijing’s hutong districts, which consist of high-density houses set along narrow alleys and around courtyards.
Sun and Kwan – founders of Beijing studio Office AIO have divided the space into two parts, a 19-square-metre coffee bar and a guest room measuring 15 square metres, linked by a courtyard shared with an elderly neighbour.
The spatial function is primarily split into two. Baristas and customers each occupies a side of the bar. This spatial distinction is expressed visually through a crisp change in materiality. The small white butcher tiles scale the space, and is a timeless, versatile, bright backdrop. With a limited width available for baristas to move along the bar, strong magnets customised to the same size as the tiles are devised to provide easy, flexible access to tools, orders and any miscellaneous items.
The cork panels on the other hand is warm and inviting to the touch, it is also a sound absorber, making it an ideal choice of material in the context of a co-shared wall with the neighbouring living space.
Tying the two sides together is the bar. Volga Blue granite is selected for its shimmering black with accents of a spectacular blue colour, secretly celebrates the brand’s visual identity. The slab of granite is afloat by its mirror-clad body, punctures through the transparent glass façade. While providing extra seating on the front patio, the gesture also serves to dissolve the envelop in-between interior and the hutong scenes.
Product display and storage is limited due to the spatial constraints. A custom designed open shelf unit is hung from above the bar bench, efficiently occupies the relatively generous height of the space without interrupting circulation. The transparency provided by the use of acrylic sheet diminishes the weight of the shelving unit visually, allowing focus to be on the displayed items.
A large opening on the southern slope of the pitched roof is introduced to bring in natural lighting as well as allowing the shadows from the trees above to cast onto the interior surfaces throughout the day.
Through the shared courtyard behind Big Small Coffee, the owner also obtained a 15sqm room originally planned for its staff accommodation and storage. “But why not turn it into a guest room instead?”, Office AIO suggested.
The 8sqm room was originally occupied by the landlord and her son until he went off to college. Office AIO made a small extension into the courtyard and tear down the original façade to create an L-shaped entrance leading into the guest room. This entrance is then filled by a set of double-hinged doors that can be opened up to form a small internal courtyard.
The main living space was refreshed with a layer of straw clay over the internal walls, straw mats lining the original pitched ceiling, walnut timber flooring to match the existing tone of the timber rafters, and new timber joinery. The result is a bright yet warm space with reminiscence of a traditional hutong dwelling interior.
The guest room is furnished sparsely to fulfil the basic needs of a B&B: a built-in double bed with drawers to store extra beddings and luggage, a cantilevered cork desk for travellers to get some work done during their visits, and a classic Achille Castiglioni pendent as desk and bedside lamp.
images by Eric Zhang and Yu Cheng