2012 1st Ave N.
Birmingham, Al 35203

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Bham Design: Modern Charm at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe


There’s a lot to love about Woodlawn Cycle Cafe — its coffee, for instance — but one of our favorites is its design. The cafe manages to be sleek and modern but full of crafted details that suggest historic charm. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, necessarily, so we’ve spent some time thinking about how they did it, why it works, and what would translate well into our clients’ living spaces.

The biggest statement is the high-contrast color palette, which combines the bright whites and moody charcoals that have held strong for the last few years. The combo works especially well here to juxtapose a dark, intimate bar space against a wider, brighter dining area. It’s reminiscent of distinct rooms without throwing out a modern open plan. It’s also a play on the way shadows and light would normally fill the space, as though you’d run its natural look through a punchy Instagram filter.

Beyond the color difference, there’s also a subtle styling variation between the bar and the cafe spaces. The area where the coffee magic happens is lined entirely in beadboard, with symmetrical — but not entirely identical — built-in shelves and a mounted library ladder. The result is an old school space, in keeping with the handcrafted coffee drinks produced there.

The bright white cafe blends classic materials like shiplap wall cladding and white hex floor tiles with large orb lights and squared-off built-ins for a cool spin on transitional style. Like this newfangled Victorian example in Houzz, the cycle cafe doesn’t try to bridge the modern/traditional divide in each piece. Instead, both spaces blend elements from each camp for an overall transitional balance. Or, as Houzz puts it, “a cohesive union.”

To achieve a similar tone, here’s what we recommend:

  • Opt for one wall color throughout a space. Houzz recommends monochromatic walls as a way to modernize period architecture and emphasize its depth.
  • Blend bar stools into the woodwork for an easy flow between dining and prep areas.
  • Dress up simple built-in shelving with a library ladder. It’s a fancy way to make vertical storage more accessible.
  • Don’t limit your idea of character elements to reclaimed wood. Home improvement stores offer traditionalist materials like beadboard, hex tile, and even shiplap that can soften a modern space.

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