A theater is crafted to quite literally hold center stage. From its grand proscenium that frames the performance platform to its scale that signifies its monumentality, a classic theater clearly states its streetscape presence. When Waechter (who designed the Z-Haus, a sustainably designed duplex in Portland, Oregon, featured in our September 2010 issue) was tasked with transforming an existing single-family home into a sales space for J-Tea International, the biggest challenge was that the building was not big at all.
The first of three trasformations, as Waechter calls them, was adding a canopy. Having been used as a home, despite its location in a commercially zoned area, the house shrunk back from the street. The new canopy does just the opposite: "It engages pedestrian and vehicular traffic," Waechter says. And as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown showed us in Learning from Las Vegas, if you want to be noticed at 35 miles an hour, you need to be a duck, a decorated shed. In the case of J-Tea, the white, powder-coated, aluminum louvers create a hanging cloud floating over the entrance.Underneath the awning is a cedar porch designed "to draw one's eye into the tea room by creating an aperture that frames the interior space as if it were a stage set," Waechter says. The four-sided box is made of Port Orford cedar glue laminated beam and cantilevers in front of the building. In addition to setting the stage for the action about to take place inside, the porch functions as a Japanese engawa—a long, outside deck designed for guests to sit and casually enjoy a cup of tea—as well as the steps outside of a concert hall, a protected place to meet a fellow show-goer.Up the concrete steps and inside the former house is the tea room and tasting space, where the performance culminates. Surrounded by built-in shelves displaying the Taiwanese oolong teas and vessels in which to brew and imbibe the beverages is the central tea bar. The blond maple floor surrounded the black island creates a calm space in which the notes of the teas come alive.J-Tea is far from Waechter's swansong, however. The young designer is busy at the drawing boards with several single-family homes and a multi-unit residence. The J-Tea shop, now open for business, is just part of Waechter's opening overture.