Small Space, Big Style: Inside Colossus Commissary

We sat down with designer Ruthi Daugherty to learn about how she transformed a petit storefront into a beloved neighborhood café.

By GR Chair

Photography by McKeever Photo

Half Hurdle Stools with white frame in restaurant.

Between rent prices soaring to new heights and an increase in to-go orders, it's no surprise that restaurateurs are opening restaurants and cafes with smaller footprints! In fact, we've seen a global trend (especially post-pandemic) toward smaller cafes, restaurants and even fast food chains. Recently we sat down with designer Ruthi Daugherty to learn about how she transformed a petit storefront into a beloved neighborhood café.

The café was designed by Ruthi Daugherty and is a shinning example of how to create an efficient space, without sacrificing great style. Located in Long Beach, CA the café feels effortless, and welcoming. Between the cement floors, bright white walls, and pastel pink tables, the restaurant feels intentional but not too curated.

"We were inspired by the simple and textured aesthetic of Scandinavian design, the handmade and thoughtful elements of Japanese design (specifically the idea of wabi sabi, or beauty in imperfection), and the color and fun of California style," says Daugherty.

When designing the space it was important to the clients to have enough room for both retail and dining. Daugherty kept the floorplan pretty spacious and opted to create an open concept kitchen so that the overall space appeared larger. She also utilized the natural light coming from the floor-to-ceiling windows and white walls to make the front of house brighter.

The space is truly a masterclass in designing for small spaces and here are three key takeaways for how to design cafes and restaurant spaces with smaller footprints.

1. Don't buy bulky furniture

Instead of buying more traditional-style dining chairs, Daugherty opted for a minimal and visually lightweight chair in a neutral color. The chair's design is unique enough on its own to feel special and add interest without feeling heavy or cumbersome. The lower back style not only keeps sightlines clear, but makes the chair easy to move around.

2. Keep a simple color palette

Depending on the vibe you're trying to achieve it's important not to go overboard with too many different colors. At Colossus, Daugherty generously used white to keep the café feeling airy and open and then layered in warm wood tones, pink, and light blue to reinforce the cafes branding.

Close up of Half Hurdle chairs with white gloss base.

3. Focus on the details

When designing small scale coffee shops it's important not to crowd the room with design elements that may interfere with the customer's overall experience (even if they are beautiful). Focus on creating special moments in the room that leave a lasting impression with the customer, whether that's the design of the menu board, the color of your dining chairs and café tables, or branding opportunities like pastry signage and packaging. For example, Daugherty used texture on the walls to add depth to the design and give it a more lived-in feel.

Whether big or small we've always looked toward independent coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants, like Colossus, for design inspiration. We'd love to hear your thoughts on how to design for smaller spaces, so sound off in the comments below and let us know your tips and tricks.

If you're interested in more café designs check out this spacious chain in Florida.