A Historic Masonry Stove Becomes the Hidden Gem of a New Cafe

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By Paige Alexus / Published by Dwell
Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, is a new player on the local scene that has become the hottest spot in town.

Enter Tipico Coffee, a small cafe that promises both locals and visitors a cozy place to relax, work, gather, or just grab a cup of coffee on the run. Opened by first-time business owner Jesse Crouse, the young Chicago-hailing coffee aficionado dove into this venture in the hopes of bringing high-quality coffee and seasonal ingredients to a historic neighborhood—all while keeping it modern and ever-evolving.

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As local design firms are well aware, Buffalo is more known for its historic architecture rather than being a host for modern design. Thus, whenever the chance reveals itself to transform a forgotten old building into a contemporary space, it’s seen as a major victory. So is the case with the team at Davidson Rafailidis, the architectural firm that brought this welcoming space to life. Read on to see how the project came together and the details that make visiting this space an experience in itself.

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When Georg Rafailidis and Stephanie Davidson approached the project, they were faced with a small—880 square feet to be exact—space that had become a neglected corner store years after its creation in 1929. It was a singular addition that had been connected to a three-story brick house that was built in 1880. Most recently, the space had been empty for almost five years and was waiting for its salvation. 

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Working with a tight budget, the team decided to utilize existing architectural elements to their benefit, while finding other low-tech ways of maximizing what they already had. The main goal was to create an energy-efficient space that could be enjoyed throughout all seasons. 

The first substantial thing they did—after stripping it down to expose its rich architectural bones—was install a large amount of nine-feet-high folding and sliding windows to enhance the connection with the outdoors. As a result, the barrier has become a hang-out zone, particularly on sunny days.

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When was the last time you saw an extremely old masonry stove that’s been converted into a modern, efficient heater that extends into a seating option? Well, you’ll find the largest one in North America here. To be exact, it’s in the kachelöfen style, meaning it’s a wood-burning stove that’s covered with ceramic tiles and emits radiant heat throughout the space. Besides the fact that the tiles themselves boost the aesthetic appeal immensely, they also help to retain heat, making the café the warmest, coziest spot to be during the frigid New York winter months. 

 For the updated design, the team planned the space around the heater so that it hugs the corner of the original 1880s house, while hiding the bathroom and extending out into a metal magazine rack wall. The stainless steel chimney extends up in the same parallel line as the old house’s chimney. Most importantly, the stove’s heat extends itself along the low blue tiled bench, creating a heated section for lounging and conversation.

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Rafailidis and Davidson planned an open layout so that the seating arrangements could be easily changed around when desired. Because of the differing height options provided throughout the various seating choices, custom tables were designed that include a stained oak tripod base that’s fully adjustable. The black resin tabletop spins up and down for ultimate adaptability. 

 The hanging string lights are delicately attached to the original tin ceiling by magnets, so that they also can be moved around with seating rearrangements.

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This drawing shows exactly what they were thinking in terms of the adaptability of the space to conform to different seasons. The top drawing shows how they envisioned customers hanging by the operable windows when it’s nice out; and the bottom drawing shows customers keeping warm by the stove and lounging on the heated bench during winter.