Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

Interior Design, Retail, Third Places

Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place

By Monika Shreves
February 28, 2019

If your first question upon seeing the title of this post is “What the heck is a Third Place?” you need to backtrack and visit my friend Charles Fadem’s blog post explaining what Third Places are. But if you are already familiar with the term and ready to take your Third Place’s design to the next level, then you’ve come to the right place. Always dreamed of quitting your 9-5 job and opening your own coffee shop? Or perhaps looking to spruce up your existing quaint café? Look no further!

Here at Board & Vellum, we have a special place in our hearts for Third Place design, with one of our most beloved and well-recognized being Ada’s Technical Books & Café in Capitol Hill. As a designer and frequent Third Place user myself, it’s fun to try and distill the magical formula of beauty and function a successful Third Place needs. Whether it be a coffee shop, a café, a neighborhood retail store, or some wonderful combination like Ada’s, this is a list of a few awesome design features (in no particular order) that I’ve found many successful Third Places have in common.

  1. A cozy fireplace. Is there anything more appealing than curling up by a fireplace in a comfy lounge chair with a cup of coffee and a good book? I think not.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    People gravitate towards fireplaces, and having a cozy, high-end amenity such as this one in your space would definitely have me flocking there to snag a coveted spot by the fire — and you’d have to fight me to give it up! Everyone needs a little Hygge in their life (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

  2. Different types of work surfaces. Variety is key when it comes to work surface options in Third Places. Table height vs. bar height, long communal tables vs. two-tops vs. cocktail tables in lounge areas… the possibilities are endless.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    Mixing it up is important as you want to give people choice as to the type of environment they’d prefer to be in, or the option to switch it up mid-work session if they want. Different sizes of groups and different types of activities will demand different surfaces, so keep that in mind when laying out your space.

  3. Variety of lighting. Similarly to tables, variety is also important when it comes to lighting. Patrons will be doing a multitude of different activities while they are in your Third Place, whether it be catching up with a friend over coffee, going on a casual job interview, or working on the next great American novel on their laptop. The lighting needs to adjust accordingly.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    People doing focused work will need bright, close task lighting, while those who are there socially will want more decorative, ambient mood lighting. Provide a variety of options in the appropriate areas to accommodate all types kinds of activities.

  4. Hidden power sources. In the same vein, the last thing people want when they come to a Third Place to work is their phone or laptop running out of juice, only to be faced with a dearth of outlets.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    Finding beautiful, clever ways to incorporate hidden outlets and charging stations in custom furniture pieces is a great way to provide the power people want without sacrificing looks. And if custom furniture isn’t in the budget, you can still accomplish a lot with a hole drill and a grommet!

  5. A comfy banquette, and other lounge seating. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t selfishly bum rush the banquette side of the table every time I go out to eat at a restaurant with my fiancé. Beautiful built-in banquettes not only provide endless design possibilities, they are incredibly functional as well as far as comfort is concerned.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    People love cushy seating, especially if they plan on being there a while. Having plush seating in more informal arrangements also reminds people of home, which is never a bad thing… but that’s a topic for another blog post.

  6. Creative storage options. If you want people to sit down and stay a while, providing some type of coat or bag storage is key. Whether it be hooks under the counter-height tables, or built-in cubby storage adjacent to the lounge area, there are many different creative ways to provide storage that is functional, visually appealing, and welcoming.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    In fact, why not take it a step further and provide something secure and lockable at individual tables so guests can use the restroom without worrying about whether some thief is going to make off with their laptop?

  7. Subtle acoustic elements. Obviously, most people would prefer to work or hang out in a beautiful, well-lit space over a dark, unattractive one. But what about the other senses where design comes into play, even if it’s not always obvious at first? Acoustical considerations are an oft-neglected, but very important piece of the puzzle that can make or break a Third Place.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    You want the space to feel active and buzzing: somewhere in the middle of deathly silent and a thunderous roar. Using too many hard surfaces in a space without any type of sound mitigation is one of the most common pitfalls I see in coffeeshop and restaurant design. We’ve all been to those places where you have to shout just to be heard by your neighbor because of all the conversations echoing throughout. The introduction of soft surfaces, such as area rugs, upholstered seating, drapery, and even hidden fabric acoustic panels can help dampen the sound.

  8. Beautiful retail displays. Be it mouth-watering pastries and sandwiches, bespoke handmade ceramics, or coffee grounds imported from exotic locales, if you’re hawking food or merchandise, you want it to look as appealing as possible.

    Laughing Buddha – Tattoo Parlor & Piercing Shop – Retail – Board & Vellum

    Beautiful, well-designed and detailed retail displays not only show off your wares, they instantly elevate the design of your Third Place and make the whole space look more curated and high-end.

  9. A statement art piece or plant wall.Some of you may be familiar with the awesome dimensional mural by Electric Coffin at our Oasis Tea Zone project on Capitol Hill.

    Oasis Tea Zone Capitol Hill – Orange space man installation on concrete wall. – Retail Café Design

    Playful elements like this will help your space stand out from the rest. Bold murals, eye-catching gallery walls, or inviting greenery are great (less expensive) ways to not only spruce up an otherwise simple design, but draw people in off the street.

  10. Indoor/outdoor operable doors or windows. There are numerous scientific studies proving that natural light makes us happier and helps us be more productive. Blurring the lines between your indoor space and the adjacent outdoor area is an idea that most designers swear by (myself included). It’s the perfect way to bring in that sunny weather on those gorgeous Seattle summer afternoons, and will make your customers want to stay all day long. There are many beautiful, creative ways to do this, including folding glass doors, glass garage doors, or large operable windows to name a few. Though this is generally a fairly costly item, it will be worth its weight in gold to your patrons and help set your Third Place apart from otherwise comparable establishments.

    Ten Design Elements to Consider for Your Third Place – Board & Vellum

    And if you are on a budget, putting a built-in laptop bar (see item #2) right by the front window will do just fine. You’re giving customers the chance to mainline views of outside, while also allowing passerby (and potential customers) to be drawn into the industrious activity they see going on inside. It’s a win-win.

And there you have it: my top 10 design elements to consider in your Third Place. We wish you luck in finding that elusive perfect formula for your project and hope this post has been helpful!

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