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There’s No Such Thing As Too Much White (Unless You're Gutsy Enough to Go All Black)

At Trouble Coffee's West Oakland café, white explores its dark side. 


Giulietta Carrelli at Trouble Coffee, West Oakland

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Cushman & Wakefield office, SoMa. Gensler 

Photo: Jasper Sanidad 

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Bathroom, Cow Hollow. Medium Plenty

Photo: Melissa Kaseman 

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Dining room, Pacific Heights. Nicole Hollis 

Photo: Mark Adams

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Trouble Coffee, West Oakland

Photo: Carlos Chavarría

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Muhtayzik Hoffer office, Financial District. Gensler 

Photo: Jasper Sanidad

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Study, Pacific Heights. Nicole Hollis

Photo: Laure Joliet

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Living room, Pacific Heights. KallosTurin

Photo: Richard Powers

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White Noise

“Clean” and “neutral” are buzzwords when designing stark, white spaces. “It’s about making a container that’s invisible,” says Frank Merritt of Jensen Architects. “That clean white aesthetic quiets outside noise.” But when Trouble Coffee owner Giulietta Carrelli envisioned her West Oakland café as a vast white box, she had the opposite effect in mind. “It needed to be loud,” she says. “I insisted on picking out the whitest white possible. Even my painter was like, ‘This is going to look insane.’” The look was inspired by a lifetime of references, Carrelli says, from the Mike Teavee television room in Willy Wonka to the experience of ocean swimming in dense fog. “I tried to pick a white that Yoko Ono would pick,” she says. The café’s concrete floors are coated with white epoxy; the walls, shelves, and bar are a bright white semigloss; and the custom furniture by Conceptual Metalworks is white powder-coated steel. The textural 13-by-8-foot artwork, by Carrelli herself, was painted with six different shades of white acrylic. “It's not really a normal coffee shop; It's more of an installation,” she muses. “It’s not like I’m opening up on Valencia Street.” Even so, the blazingly white café has quickly become a destination for design lovers and Instagrammers alike. Of course, such high-octane white comes with its own set of challenges, including a rigorous twice-daily mopping schedule. “If it’s raining,” Carrelli sighs, “I just don’t even go over there.”

Paint It Black

Companies like Uber and ad agency Muhtayzik Hoffer, as well as a growing number of daring homeowners, are taking the plunge into deep, dark vats of black paint. “It’s all about the contrast,” says Gensler design principal Collin Burry. “Done right, black can be super-dramatic and effective.”

Read more New Rules of Design coverage here.

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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