Interview With Starbucks Designer Liz Muller, Creator of 15th Avenue E

PSFK got in touch with Liz Muller who is Director of Global Concept Design and interviewed her on the phone about the 15th Avenue E concept store they...

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on July 30, 2009. @piers_fawkes

After publishing the world’s first glimpse of the new Starbucks’ store design yesterday, we got in touch with Liz Muller who is Director of Global Concept Design over there at the big coffee company. We interviewed her on the phone about the 15th Avenue E concept store they had rolled out in Seattle, the reasons behind it, and the company’s plans for the future.

PSFK: What is Starbucks doing with this project?

LM: Our aim is to become a true reflection of the neighborhood. It’s about slow coffee and the food offering is elevated – especially the sandwiches. As part of focus on the neighborhood we’ll be doing things like supporting local bakeries.

PSFK: How would you describe the design?

LM: Organic, raw, mercantile. The design celebrates the neighborhood. We feature local artists and much of the furniture and interior is locally gathered. We looked in old shipyards and other abandoned places: the back yard is designed with a window we found in a nearby old building, the chairs have been refurbished from old Starbucks stores.

PSFK: Where did you get the inspiration from?

LM: From looking back at the core. At Pike Place. And then ask, ‘How do you reinvent that with the future?’ Since that time, Starbucks has expanded into other areas. How can we take some of the original core elements and put it into an experience?

We did this by introducing slow coffee, manual machines, the scooping of beans. You are truly looking at a different approach. Is this for every Starbucks? No. There is a place for this in specific neighborhoods in the US and potentially globally. Each approach will be different to reflect the neighborhood it is in.

PSFK: When we published the photos yesterday, there were some comments who said that the design was unoriginal and that it took from the aesthetic of local businesses. How do you respond?

LM: We have had the same question asked before. The reflection of the organic finishes, lights and colors used are inspired by the first Starbucks store on Pike Place market that was built 38 years ago.

PSFK: How long did it take for Starbucks to create this concept?

LM: We did this in a three month time frame and we were only on site for six weeks in an old Starbucks store.

PSFK: Tell us about the environmental considerations?

LM: Normally we would have pulled out the plumbing to install efficient water consumption but we didn’t have the time. There is a consideration for low energy consumption with our lighting. The repurposed woods and elements are the reflection of our commitment to reuse and falls into our culture of being sustainable. The loose chairs are actually repurposed from our existing Starbucks stores.

PSFK: How does this fit in with Starbucks’ broader strategy?

LM: During this test we’ll put a few more out there. Most will have a different offering which you can do with a different brand. They will all be locally operated – the team recruited from the local neighborhood. They will have different hours to reflect the local residents needs and will offer things like poetry readings plus they will sell beer and wine. Their roots will be connected with the future.

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