Contract: Studio Roslyn Envisions A Modern Sweet-Treat Shop

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 4.37.23 PM.png

Published in Contract, August 2019

Regularly competing in gelato-making competitions in Italy and serving artisanal flavors like Black Sesame, Earl Grey Tea, and Akbar Mashti, Bella Gelateria is anything but an ordinary frozen-treat shop. Yet its existing store at mixed-use development Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, British Columbia, read like a dated and cliched ice-cream parlor, down to its old-fashioned black-and-white checkerboard floor. As its ownership was changing hands in 2017 to 2018, the time seemed ripe for a renovation. The new owner, as well as the Fairmont property developer, turned to local design firm Studio Roslyn to refresh and reinvigorate the store’s 540-square-foot front-of-house space—but with a speedy turnaround of just one month.

Reuse and renew

Studio Roslyn principals Jessica MacDonald and Kate Snyder explored the history and design elements of gelato and gelaterias in Italy, reinterpreting these in a modern vocabulary for the project. Given such a short window of time, the designers retained but updated certain existing built-in features, such as the main serving and transaction counter, which also doubles as a barrier to the back-of-house kitchen. A basic L-shaped construction, the counter had potential with its raised-wainscoting detail running along the front. They elected to keep the paneling and the counter’s hygienic stainless-steel top but painted the wood a satin-finish soft white and covered the toe-kick in a brass tone, resulting in a more polished look.

In contrast, the designers spared original millwork on a backwall behind the counter to present an intriguing juxtaposition of old and new. While they didn’t paint over the warm wood, they added small-yet-impactful touches such as brass hardware and a fresh coat of pastel green paint within the two niches framed by radiused openings. They used this same hue on existing crown molding throughout the space.

An enticing palette

New hues, in fact, played a huge part in refreshing the rest of the cafe. “The client wanted cooler colors so that on a hot summer day, you’d feel inclined to come in and have a scoop of gelato,” MacDonald explains. On the soffit of the dropped ceiling behind the counter, blue stripes abstractly reference awnings one might encounter at an old-school gelateria in Italy. Complementary powder-blue appears in laminate for new tabletops and a bar counter, as well as in vinyl upholstery for the seat of a custom banquette. The latter, constructed of plywood and veneer, features a brass-laminate toe-kick that matches the counter treatment and a light-green vinyl on the seat back to coordinate with the painted niches and molding. White powder-coated dining- and bar-height stools with blue seats mix in perfectly.

Wood-simulating tiles replace the old checkerboard flooring and help brighten and seemingly enlarge the space. Along the same lines, the bulk of the walls—which previously were beige with black-and-white stripes—were repainted a clean matte white.

Topped with whimsy

The walls were also previously used to sport the business’s media coverage and various accolades but mostly created visual clutter. Now, these surfaces display lovely artwork depicting fresh ingredients used in some of the shop’s flavors—chocolate, sprigs of mint, coffee beans, and pomegranate—on a soft pink background. Studio Roslyn composed the ingredients as still life and collaborated with local photographer Lauren Zbarsky to capture the images and silhouette them for this purpose. Echoing the arches of the back-wall millwork, these radiused centerpieces are accentuated by brass framing brackets. (A similar brass-framed detail greets guests in the form of a simple blue panel, sans artwork, on the serving counter section closest to the entrance.) These graphics pop up again in custom-printed pink wallpaper, adding drama and flair to the existing restroom.

MacDonald explains that the gelateria is located in a major business center, amidst chain cafes and coffee shops. “By contrast, Bella Gelateria stands out for how unique, playful, and artful it is,” she says. “And the pale color tones work perfectly with the subdued colors of the store’s gelato flavors.”