When Stonemill Matcha, a matcha-focused café and restaurant, moved into the retail location in San Francisco’s bustling Mission District previously occupied by Bar Tartine the space, to quote designer Bonnie Bridges of Studio BBA, “had an ’east European collector of old world and industrial objects vibe’ that was beyond well-worn – more like worn out.” In addition, a bearing wall in the middle of the space created cramped seating arrangements on both sides. We spoke to Bonnie to learn more about Studio BBA’s transformation of this space.

Where did you begin this project?
We began the project with a two-week trip to Japan – Tokyo and Kyoto. We were inspired to create an authentic space that felt at home in San Francisco while still reflecting the ancient Japanese tradition of tea ceremonies. We wanted to embark on the journey before beginning the project to fully immerse ourselves in the emotional, physical, temporal and visual experience that Stonemill Matcha is centered on. From walking down quaint alleyways of Kyoto, to meditating in temples, relishing in dozens of tea ceremonies, and studying Japanese architecture – these experiences informed all aspects of Stonemill Matcha’s design.

Where there any particular challenges?
Being an American who is tasked with being an interpreter of a centuries old tea ceremony tradition and putting it into a 100-year-old building in the Mission District for a contemporary clientele. I’m not joking as this was a tall order … and every little move had to be considered to make sure it honored the cultural traditions without being faux historic.

Which part of the design transformed most over the development of Stonemill Matcha?
Initially, the food program was minor and took a back seat to the tea. As the project progressed, the food and pastry program became much more robust (lucky for everyone as the food is amazing). As the enhanced food program developed late in the game and there was limited space available for the kitchen, we did a fair amount of rejiggering to help the organization and support the food team. As it stands, the food program has been substantially more successful than anyone imagined and they are already at max capacity so are exploring more ways to meet the demand.

Learn more from Bonnie in the video below and see the final space in the slideshow!