By Greg Hernandez
Since Jake Harkey lives just two blocks away from the Liberation Coffee House, he finds himself dropping by the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s retail café most weekdays.
And he doesn’t keep returning just for the coffee.
“The décor is definitely one of the reasons why I always come here,” Harkey says. “I love the vibe, I love the look, and I want my place to look like this. I also love the historical pictures, the colors, the mix of textures, and play with shape.”
Judges of Architect Magazine’s inaugural Architecture & Interiors Awards clearly agree. They have selected the café as one of 16 winners (from a field of 338 international submissions) of the awards honoring outstanding and innovative projects in the fields of commercial architecture and interior design.
Liberation Coffee House was honored in the category of hospitality.
“I can’t help but smile and be happy when I see this coffee shop,” commented juror Verda Alexander. “The way the colors, inspired by the pride flag, are layered to make the space feel ethereal and bright, just like a multicolored sunset.”
The space was brought to life by a team of architects and designers from Los Angeles-based ORA who, inspired by the pride flag, chose an interior palette of red, orange, yellow, and green to signify life, healing, sunlight, and nature. The bold colors hint at the vibrant spirit of the LGBTQ+ community and celebrate its history.
Judges praised ORA for embodying “the Center’s fluid nature, one that is welcoming to all, through softly curved architectural elements, while mitigating the intense southern light with a series of colorful, sheer fabric panels, evoking a California sunset.”
Also impressing the judges was the café’s artwork which consists of black-and-white historical photographs chronicling the Center’s history, including the first “Liberation House” which opened in 1971.
Known then as the Gay Community Services Center, the Center provided room and board for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults at these Liberation Houses—a piece of history which inspired the café’s name.
“It’s nice to see the history and to see how far the LGBT movement has come,” customer Mike Roark said as he enjoyed coffee with a friend this week. “It’s a very inviting, all-inclusive environment.”
Each winning project, according to judges, maintains a sensitivity to mission, to community, and to sustainability that underscores the full impact—and potential—of commercial design.
“The ORA team of architects did a terrific job with the design,” says Stephen Burn, the Center’s General Manager of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus project. “They worked in a way that complements the existing look and feel of the main campus while also giving the coffee shop its own distinctive style.”
Burn points out that it was important that the space appeal to regular customers and the local community as well as Center clients and staff.
“I think the architects have provided a warm and welcoming environment and we look forward to seeing colleagues, clients, and locals now that the pandemic restrictions have been lifted,” he says.
Located at the Center’s flagship Anita May Rosenstein Campus, the 1,600-square-foot retail café opened in August 2020. It serves Verve Coffee, Rishi Tea, and pastries from locally-owned Bakers Kneaded. The menu of hot and cold sandwiches, flatbreads, salads, breakfast burritos, various bowls, and other gourmet grab-and-go food items are made entirely by students of the Center’s intergenerational Culinary Arts program, a three-month training program to prepare the Center’s LGBTQ youth and seniors for employment in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Culinary program graduates staff the café and proceeds from all purchases are reinvested into the Center’s programs and services.
“We’re excited to have such a vibrant and welcoming space for the LGBTQ community,” says Nick Panepinto, the Center’s Director of Culinary Training and Operations. “I think the customers react as soon as they walk into the space, we just see them smile. Being on hectic Santa Monica Boulevard where it’s really fast-paced, we actually see people’s demeanor calm down a bit. They often have a smile on their face and know that they’re in a warm, welcoming place.”
Liberation Coffee House is located at 6725 Santa Monica Boulevard. Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.– 3 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m.–2 p.m., and is closed on Sundays.
For more information, visit liberationcoffee.org