Change and the Plush Armchair

Nostalgia is a funny thing. As time goes by, it causes the past to develop a dreamy, soft focus quality that can cause us to forget the pockmarked imperfections of reality. It can also hold us back from embracing change.

This has been on my mind lately as I’ve been spending time considering an item that some find intrinsically linked to Starbucks: the plush armchair.

The plush armchair was a staple in our stores for the better part of a decade. It was comforting and familiar, even in its imperfection (it wasn't the easiest chair to keep looking sharp).  It was beloved: a security blanket you could sit in.

But it also represented a time in Starbucks history when furniture was highly standardized, and the name of the company was at risk of becoming synonymous with cookie-cutter design and ubiquity.

In the last few years, our design philosophy has undergone a major shift. We started examining ways to celebrate our heritage through design that reflects the historical trajectory of coffeehouse culture.

From coffee-based mercantile environments to cool, modern oases for the coffee connoisseur, our goal is to give each location a unique feel befitting ithe local neighborhood’s history, the building’s architecture and the needs of the people who visit the store.

The desire to use eco-conscious materials has also taken center stage. As we focus on using more locally sourced and locally relevant items in our stores, it’s become apparent that a “one-size-fits-all” solution for furniture simply won’t work anymore. We need to embrace new options.

How does this tie back to my plush-armchair-as-nostalgia musings? I guess it’s what I remind myself when I look at something in the past (be it a plush armchair, my senior year of high school or anything else) through my nostalgia goggles: it was great, but not perfect. It was a moment in time -- or something evocative of a moment in time -- but the future is bright and exciting, too.

It’s about learning to embrace change, as an individual, as a consumer and as a part of a culture: the change in times as well as the change in what I see in Starbucks furniture. With the development of the new design concepts comes a need for furniture that reflects our new approach. We’re still working tirelessly to put inviting, functional furniture in stores to support the new store design concepts and meets your needs. It just might look a little different than the purple plush of days gone by.

For some examples of how we’re doing this, check out our new store designs.










Inspired by your ideas:

Sofas and Chairs
posted by Jo Anna 

4/27/2011 1:06 PM

IMHO, the best and most comfortable seats in a commercial environment that is trying to seem warm is a finely craft all-wood chair. A wooden chair with a sculpted and slightly angled seat, supportive slightly angled back, and proper height supportive arms.

4/28/2011 1:01 PM

Will you be accepting local artisan work in stores?

4/29/2011 1:53 PM

Neat take on the design idea for the stores. I remember that purple chair well and even though dark in color man did they get dirty after a while. I always thought you might move toward a little less plush but more durable via good fake leather, more durable fabrics (hotel lobby furniture etc). The localization part I think is key for your brand long term. I was in a store in China that was TOO like my home stores in the DC area for example. But I recently went to a store in Atlanta near the Marriott Suites that felt far more "localized" and fresh/current than even some I see on my travels overseas and around the US. I expect from SBUX more of a local coffee shop with the broad stroke consistency I expect from a brand - not a cookie cutter global empire like McDonalds - hard to do - but possible and even expected from a premium firm.  

4/30/2011 6:21 AM

I'm glad to learn Starbucks is doing this and really like @selcos's idea about featuring local artists.

5/2/2011 4:59 PM

Thanks for all the comments! Designers are constantly learning more about what “locally relevant” means in different markets, and how best to make each store unique and functional. All of your feedback, both to this article and to other ideas on MSI, is beneficial to that learning process.

@selcox: Starbucks’ local artwork program is implemented and maintained on a case-by-case basis by individual store managers. If you think there’s an opportunity to showcase local art at your store, have a conversation with the store manager. The manager will be able to work with you to determine if it’s feasible at that location, and can raise any additional questions to the Starbucks Support Center if necessary. Local art rocks – I wish you the best in your endeavor!

5/6/2011 10:57 AM

I find there are fewer of these chairs in the SB stores. It would be nice to see more of these design friendly and comfortable chairs. Some of the stores have very cramped tables and chairs too close together and you feel like you are sitting on top of the person next to you. Change is nice for sure, but I want to feel welcomed and comfortable when I want to sit for a bit.

5/11/2011 10:24 AM

It's nice to see that Starbucks has realized the value in recognizing the heritage of the community they are located within.

Sadly, it's only window dressing (figuratively, and literally). Some repurposed wood here, a few comfortable chairs there, with or without the confidence to have a Starbucks logo brightly lit, hanging in the window.  However, almost everything else, from beverages, to pastries, will remain of the same 'cookie cutter' ubiquity found in almost every other Starbucks.

It is one thing to embrace a local community, as many other coffee houses have certainly done before Starbucks, and with much success.  (Considering how local coffee houses and chains Starbucks has acquired over the years, only to 'rebrand', and repackage, as Starbucks.  Isn't this just an obvious return to something that already existed? ) It is quite another to become part of a community, with the final leap of faith that the community can also support Starbucks other needs.  As long as Starbucks continues to micro manage the company as it does, these 'concept stores', however beautiful, will be little more than a footnote, a curiosity, and nothing more than an experiment in what could be.

8/9/2014 12:48 PM

Can you let me know where you obtain those leather chairs from? That style of chair is exactly what I am looking for. Thanks!

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