Online IAD Student Designs illy Café in Canada


illy Café by BerMax Caffé + Bistro. Courtesy of Maxim Berent.


illy Café by BerMax Caffé + Bistro. Courtesy of Maxim Berent.

Recently Stephanie Smith Haenel, an instructor for the School of Interior Architecture & Design at Academy of Art University caught up with online student Maxim Berent, who worked on the creation of the illy Café in Winnipeg, Canada. Berent’s responsibilities on the project included everything from coming up with the design concept, product selection and space planning to collaborating with mechanical and electrical engineers, working with city architects and city inspectors and creating “a space that met the needs for high aesthetics and innovation placed by the world famous Italian coffee company, illy.”

“The illy brand is the most recognized Italian coffee brand around the world and it continues to be the icon of fine Italian espresso around the world,” said Berent. “Following the footsteps of this unique [culture], it was crucial to deliver a concept store that will meet the international standards.” 

Read on to find out more about Berent’s experience in creating the illy Café in Canada. 

How would you describe the illy Café project?

This ambitious project is situated in Winnipeg, Canada, right in the heart of [the] local Italian and Jewish community. The space consists of two major functional entities, both composed of a café main room, full commercial kitchen and bakery. The site area is a total of 2,600 square feet, merged by two units located in a strip mall of four units. 

The designated illy Café by BerMax Caffé + Bistro embodies the true Italian values of beauty, goodness and the constant pursuit of perfection. It is presented by a unique design concept where the traditional authentic Italian café fused with the international contemporary Italian design. 

The concept of the café has a strong emphasis in customer experience that excites all of the senses. Even before they open [the] doors of the café, their experience starts already on the street. They are exposed to the strong outdoor signage, the contemporary Italian music which is playing outside as well, the famous illy red umbrellas and the red Italian chairs with small tables, and of course, the aroma of coffee and fresh baked croissants that excites your senses. 

The first moment the client walks in, they are instantly evoked by uniqueness of Italian culture, and there is a feeling of stepping to a different world, through the experience of design, which is well thought into every detail. 

As I have mentioned before, the concept of the café is to blend the traditional authentic Italian café and the international contemporary Italian design. For me, this is how I see the Italian culture. Today you can visit Rome, where you will be fascinated by the rich history of architecture, art and design, yet when you go to Milan, you [are] blown away by modern fashion, design, contemporary furniture design and you really feel like you are in a design capital. The design concept of the café really speaks of these points. You can see it in the way space is shaped, the very careful material selection, the furniture, the light fixtures, the flooring and colors. 

The laminate plank floors with imitation of grey reclaimed wood floors as we see in old European buildings act as a background to the hot red contemporary chairs designed by Philippe Starck for the iconic Italian design company Kartell. These chairs symbolize Milan’s contemporary and innovative culture as well as add the warm color of red to the palette and stimulate broader harmony within the space. As you look around the room, there are also large wall murals as big as 15 feet wide and full wall height. All images are a selection of photographs that were taken by me in my travel in Italy and showcase Italian architecture and illy Cafés in Italy. The murals are even found in the bathrooms. Some murals have strong perspective effect, which adds dynamic effect where it looks as if you walk into streets of Italy. Such effect brings [a] very unique experience to the visitor. 

The millwork throughout the space uses innovative products such as decorative metal laminates and strong wood textured plastic laminates. The millwork is widely used within the space in forms of wall panels and decorative soffit with sharp contemporary edges that frames the entire space and evolves to a large suspended ceiling above the bar area. The soffit millwork also separates well the walls and the exposed ceiling. 

The main light fixture is located above the bar area and is composed of 60 suspended pendant lamps that look like glass and chrome teardrop that represent the quality espresso coffee drops. These lights can be [seen] even from outside of the building. One of the writers for the paper was driving by one day and she walked in and said that she had to stop by because she saw lights from outside as she was driving by and she said that looks like [outer space]. Later it became her comment in the paper about the design. 

The bathrooms feature the new Dyson Airblade Tap hand dryers, which get a lot of attention from the public about how unique this product is and again how it adds to the overall experience of the space. I [had] never seen a place where people go in groups to tour the bathrooms. A famous food critic was writing a review of the food, and in the end, she made a comment about the design of the bathrooms, “Even if you don’t have to, you must visit the bathrooms. They are fabulous.” It’s amazing, but I have accomplished to create the most exciting bathrooms in the city. As a designer, I saw it as a very important detail in the project. A café is a very social and public space, yet the bathroom [is] the escape from all of it, and it becomes very private space. Often bathrooms are left very ordinary and as designers, we are focused more just on the special code requirements in these rooms, which happen to be very strict. Well, I saw it as another unique design challenge that would add unique design experience to the client.


illy Café by BerMax Caffé + Bistro. Courtesy of Maxim Berent.


illy Café by BerMax Caffé + Bistro. Courtesy of Maxim Berent.

How important was this project to your development as a professional designer?

It has been really an amazing experience, where I was able to take what I have learned at the Academy and really transformed it to a reality and put it into professional practice. Sometimes when you are learning at school for so many years, it feels very academic and doesn’t seem as real life. You’re working towards a degree and you’re working on assignments and reading textbooks and [it’s] kind of a lonely experience. With this project, I was really able to take these tools, which the Academy mentors gave me, and create something so special that led me to really understand what is my goal in life and why I go to school and not just a school, but AAU, because today, I was able to create a project from [the] ground up, that is enjoyed by hundreds of people of all ages every day and it really brings joy and pleasure to them. 

I gained the experience of working in a group of professionals, because a project of this kind takes a large group of people to build, and I was able to learn to be in a leadership position. As an interior architect, you are the mother and the father of the project. You must follow every detail of the project, from the very small detail to the very large. By the end of the day, you are the only one who is responsible for it. You do it as a professional, but you also do [it] because you love it. 


What was an important lesson that you learned? 

First of all, it is crucial to develop very good construction documents and put as [many] details as possible. It really pays back when your CDs shine. I was able to bring out the best that I have learned in class and use it in my work. 

Working as a team is very important and collaborating well with people will bring only success to the project. As a designer, you have to work with the inspectors, the engineers, the different trades and you have to make great relationships with everyone. Each of these people you work with has some responsibility in the project that will influence its way to success. As a leader, you have to bring everyone to the table. 


Any challenges that were not anticipated that your education helped navigate successfully?

Working with the city and trying to follow the code and making sure you don’t miss anything when it comes to code was challenging, but city architects were very open for questions, were very helpful and really helped me to get everything right when it came to code. I spent a lot of time at the permit department reviewing my drawings and getting it right. I know that by the end of the day I was able to get permit very fast and get compliments from the department. 


What was your favorite part of the design or the experience?

My favorite part in this project was the feedback that I have received from the professional community and the feedback later from the actual user. It’s an amazing feeling when you have professionals in your field that [are] much older than you (in my case, these people are even older than my parents) coming to you and giving you compliments on your work and telling you that you really know what you doing. It makes it such a wonderful experience. 

And of course when everything comes to reality and you have people walking to your space and you see how people interact with the space and all the small details that people now use and notice your work and compliment you. It brings joy to me seeing people use it and how it brings joy to them. 

I also enjoyed how I was able to come to my mentors from the Academy and ask questions as I was working. First they help you with school assignments and later they help you with real projects. I think [this] is what makes the Academy special, because my teachers are also professionals that work in that field.