Robot3 Design’s brief for Shan Café was simple enough: to turn a nondescript office space in Beijing’s Jingyuan Art Center into a two-level café selling coffee, simple pasta dishes and pastry. 

The problem was that the ceiling height of the first floor is barely four metres which, as lead designer Pan Fei points out, is high for a single storey, but not high enough for two. The solution was to dig down a meter in the centre of the space and then build a mezzanine over it.

The result is a light airy space that Pan says is meant to evoke the sensation of being in the countryside, particularly apt given that the building is at the foot of Beijing’s ancient Fragrant Hills. The metaphor is amplified by the judicious use of raw brick and unvarnished timber, and the insertion of a faux log cabin that hovers over private nook with banquettes and hides the staircase to the second level. The open plan is demarcated into smaller cozier nooks with hollowed out trellises, and layers of planter boxes that provide alternating flashes of green and natural light.

‘For this project, the owner had two requirements: low cost, and interesting,’ Pan says. “‘To control the budget, we used very simple and natural materials. To be interesting, the cabin beside the stairs is made of pine sticks. We put the sticks in order one by one.'