Chai Guys Portobello cafe interior evokes "the colour of spices"

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Counter in Chai Guys cafe

Counter in Chai Guys cafe

Local studio SODA has used warm colours and natural materials to create the first store for tea brand Chai Guys on Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill neighbourhood.

The studio drew on the “informal nature” of drinking masala chai tea when designing the interior for the cafe – the first one for the Chai Guys brand, which has previously operated from market stalls.

Chai Guys cafe in Notting Hill
The Chai Guys cafe is located on Portobello Road in London

“We wanted to keep true to the informal nature of drinking chai by creating a grounded space with low-level seating where there is always room for one more by pulling up a stool,” SODA interior designer Matilde Menezes told Dezeen.

“The counter was kept quite low, too, to showcase the act of serving chai, which is quite theatrical.”

Front of Chai Guys cafe
The interior has plaster walls and boucle seats

The Chai Guys Portobello cafe comprises a seating area and a front-of-house desk where the tea is prepared, as well as a bakery at the back that sells pastries.

As many of the visitors will be getting takeaway drinks, Menezes says she wanted to provide “an impactful impression that was simple and subtle at the same time”.

Timber panelling in London cafe
Timber panelling clads part of the walls

The studio also aimed for the 55-square-metre space to be a peaceful refuge from hectic Portobello Road and to reference the Chai Guys branding.

“The brand is a modern take on chai with its black dynamic typography layered over clean and minimal design,” Menezes explained.

“We wanted the colour palette to sit back and let the branding and product be the main event in moments such as the counter, the shopfront, and the retail shelving,” she added.

“In areas where the branding wasn’t present, we wanted the palette to evoke the colours of the spices and standalone as a direct but understated reference to chai.”

Seating in Chai Guys cafe
SODA used natural materials like leather and wood for the cafe

The studio chose to work mainly with natural materials for the interior, which features walls in Clayworks plaster.

“Clayworks is non-toxic, has low embodied energy and carbon, is breathable, passively regulates humidity and is produced in the UK,” Menezes said.

“On top of this, the handmade quality of each stroke and lived-in quality complemented the aesthetic we were trying to achieve.”

View of cafe by SODA
A counter serves Chai tea and pastries

SODA also clad the walls in timber panelling and chose boucle and leather for the seating, adding to the store’s tactile feel.

“Timber has its innate grain and richness, leather ages and provides sheen and the boucle appeals to the touch and is quite striking in the Masala tone,”  Menezes said.

“All these tactile touchpoints were selected to be resilient in a high-traffic commercial space.”

Other recent projects by SODA, which was founded by Laura Sanjuan and Russell Potter in 2012, include a colourful interior for The Office Group and a theatre with a revolving auditorium.

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