La Vita Dolce! Cafe Redesign

All projects are one-of-a-kind here in our studio, but every so often we get the opportunity to do something truly dynamic- and La Vita Dolce is exactly that. This local cafe and coffee house redesign is one that we can’t WAIT to share with you. There’s so much to talk about with this project that we’ll be posting it across a few weeks to give you all the insider details and a front-row view to how it all came together in the makings of this much-loved Chapel Hill spot.

Kindred Spirits

La Vita Dolce is owned and operated by Chapel Hill local (and businesswoman extraordinaire!) Annie Johnston. We first met Annie right after we moved the CFD studio to Southern Village. For our readers who aren’t as familiar with these parts, Southern Village is an urban village in the heart of Chapel Hill that houses an awesome community of businesses. Annie is a young, extremely savvy local entrepreneur and we immediately loved her energy, passion, and commitment to creating meaningful spaces that bring joy to the Chapel Hill community. When she approached us about the redesign of her independent coffee shop and cafe, we were thrilled to say yes! You may also recognize her name from our posts about her soon-to-open sister restaurant here in Southern Village (which we are also designing!), the much-anticipated Market and Moss!

Order of Operations

So let’s get into all the good design details, y’all! We’re going to take you through how the magic happened from start to finish. This project combined so many parts of full-service and commercial design, and with a unique timeline in order to accommodate for Annie’s business and patrons. Often when we launch commercial projects, we would start with what we call “back of house” – meaning we would work on construction and larger structural components, and then move into other finishes and details. But for this project, Annie had some specific challenge areas that were high on her priority list- the first of which was looking at increasing the seating inside of the cafe.

An interior “before” picture!

All About that Booth

At that time, most of the interior seating consisted of 2-top tables, as well as a couple of larger chairs. The design challenge was to increase seating capacity while ALSO giving the cafe an uncluttered, streamlined look. Annie had always wanted an Old European vibe for the cafe, and this was the aesthetic and feel that we wove into each piece and part of her custom design. Rather than just bringing in new tables and adding more chairs, we got busy creating a new vision and redesigned the entire seating concept from the ground up. One of the best parts? Bringing in brand new, custom-made booths. We worked closely with the amazing folks at Carolina Custom Booth to create these specifically for La Vita Dolce, and they are so gorgeous, y’all! We won’t say they steal the show (because there’s too many other stunning parts of this space!) but their look and quality bring in some unbeatable design polish. New custom tabletops and a radical change in chair style and aesthetic completed the seating vision, bringing in an old world + modern dynamic that patrons love.

Sit and Sip

Great design is always about creativity, but it can be equal parts problem solving. Just like most spaces, there were some tricky nooks and crannies in the cafe that needed an out-of-the-box solution. For these areas, getting inventive was the path to building the perfect places that would make folks want to sit and sip awhile. You can see in the image below this small area underneath the window and adjacent to a large wall. Rather than leaving it as an unused empty zone, we extended the booth bench seating and gave this space some purpose and presence. Fully outfitting this spot with some strategically chosen vibrant custom pillows as well as a playful piece of large art capitalizes on the gorgeous natural light and transforms it into an attractive, inviting spot to chat with a friend or catch a few moments of quiet with your cup. It’s one of our favorite examples of how intentional design vision can create not just beauty but function, and we love how this spot came together.

The before!

Small Space, Big Impact

And this may be our favorite spot- remember this little nook from before with two black chairs? Oh my, did we have a makeover in mind for this corner! Some focused design attention gave it a whole new life. By adding a custom booth piece, bringing in new table and chair concept, and placing the perfect mirror, lots of design-love took it from a dark corner to the best seat in the house. We were also able to more than double the seating here, while creating a feature that draws your eye and attention. We love this amazing before and after:

Coffee and Community

Annie is invested and active in the Chapel Hill community, and (during pre-COVID times) La Vita Dolce is host to so many events- the very popular Wine Down Wednesdays, and a weekly book club to name a couple. And, it’s more than just coffee, y’all! Her Gelato is legendary (it won Best of Chapel Hill!), and with rotating seasonal flavors it’s a treat that’s loved by many a Southern Village patron. Creating a place where people could connect and build relationships was important to Annie, and we made sure that this was reflected throughout the conceptualization and expression of this design. Our goal was to curate a space that was both relaxing and energizing, beautiful and truly authentic to Annie’s dream. This is one of the things that led us to create a dedicated group seating area, including that glorious green friend you see there. Annie and Cat share a love of the plant life and it was so much fun to enhance the space with this gorgeous tree.

There’s So Much More!

Oh my, there’s so much more to tell you! After we finished the first round of improvements, Annie was thrilled with the outcome (and so were we!). She wanted to keep moving forward, and we were on ready on deck with more design vision in tow. The next phase was SO exciting, and involved even more big-impact transformations, construction, and over-arching design elements. We truly had a dream team of professionals on this project, and we can’t wait to tell you more about the amazing talent and hard work that Collins Design Build, Thompson Millwork, Certapro Painters, and Traditions in Tile brought to this design. Look out for more next week, and in the meantime check us out on the ‘gram @Catfrenchdesign for more images from this beautiful Chapel Hill space!