As we ramp up for the opening of The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room in Oakland, California, we felt it was appropriate to highlight the professionals, artisans & designers who are bringing our vision to light. Read all about The Crown on our blog here.

Joe Chambers was one of the first people Royal Coffee brought on to execute The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room. In retrospect, it’s funny how things can play out. When we extended the project to Joe, we hadn’t confirmed the architectural layout, hadn’t hired an interior design firm, hadn’t built out the team and didn’t even have a name. When Joe Chambers entered the project we had an idea and a building in Oakland. Instead, we designed a mobile coffee bar first and a building second. In hindsight, it will most likely be the smartest thing we did…or maybe we will kick ourselves for it later. Regardless, take a look at our interview with Joe below.

Group Photo: Studio Terpeluk, Norman Sanchez Architecture, Northern Sun & Chambers Art and Design at The Crown

Hi Joe! Please introduce yourself.

I am the owner of Chambers Art and Design, a bespoke furniture and interiors firm based here in the Bay Area. I have a background in furniture making and sculpture from the California College of the Arts. After graduating, I worked for a company that specialized in architectural metals, learned the trade, and decided to start my own business.

I started Chambers Art and Design in 2010, taking the same approach as architect, but with metal work. We provide design drawings and material samples, and build custom pieces with attention to detail. Our focus is on honesty in design. This approach plays into the materials we use and how they relate to the environment around them. We don’t like to disguise things unless we’re just having fun with it or it’s blatantly obvious. We feel that so much of society wears a mask that we just don’t like to work like that. It’s freedom.

I work with a lot of designers to create complex pieces. Many of the projects aren’t fully flushed out and we co-create a lot of the ideas together. My work requires a good understanding of art, architecture and design. So much of what we do is about the space we are building in. I am constantly speaking with my clients about the concept of their space and how people will interact with objects we create. It’s social sculpture 101 and “happenings” are happening, man! I love this aspect of my work.

Our firm does a lot of commercial projects like coffee bars and restaurants. We design with city regulations in mind to ensure that items are both beautiful, durable and functional.


How did you get involved with The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room?

Through instagram & through friends of friends. I had been creating a series of tiles with different materials, and the CEO of Royal, Max Nicholas-Fulmer, had seen my work and was inspired by the formations I was making. Max & Royal’s Creative Director, Evan Gilman, came to our workshop and starting discussing a serpent-like form found in Indic folklore. After we had a few more concept meetings, I drew up some sketches and proposed a modular serpentine shaped bar that could change forms based on what they wanted to do with the space.


What is your role with the project?

I am a custom designer/builder. Whatever you need—I will make it work. However, the focus of my role at The Crown has been this 25-foot modular coffee bar that is the center point of their coffee service. I am also fabricating a lot of the interior furniture…. I’m a lifestyle designer… a metal lifestyle designer.


How would explain this bar?

It’s a 25-foot long bar, but made up of 5 individual bar carts. If you can imagine a donut cut into 5 pieces, each piece would be a cart. The idea is this is mobile and modular. To modify the shape, there are pie slice/triangles between each cart. Without the triangles the carts form a circle. But with the pie slices/triangles this allows the bar to take different shapes by adding or subtracting them. They also add counter space and storage for items the baristas will need like knock boxes, milk storage, hot water fountains, etc. Each cart is 34” high and weighs about 300lbs before the coffee equipment.

There are five themes the cart can be formed into:

  • Nike Swoosh
  • U Shape
  • Circle
  • Straightline
  • Right Angle

The decorative aspect of the carts are these scale-shaped metal tiles. We cut them from sheets of mild steel and passed them through a roller to create a slight curve in each tile. Finally, we bathe them in a blackening solution to darken and etch the surface. These are then welded in place and become the skin or texture of the bar.

When you look at this bar, it’s going to transport you. Each section becomes a viewpoint of this winding mystical beast. We hope the carts and the coffee served on them will give people a moment of pause and a breather from their daily activities.

When we first started talking about the carts, I imagined the fine scales that make up the belly of a serpent. This sounds kind of dark, but I really feel like there is a moment here to witness nature’s perfect beauty. It is a peaceful moment. Even the application of the blackening patina onto these tiles is reminiscent of Sumi-e ink paintings.

How would you describe The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room

The Crown is really redefining the coffee industry by educating its patrons on the complex process that goes into each cup of coffee. I fondly remember discussing the project with the team and what they hoped it would become when we first began chatting nearly two years ago now. Royal wants The Crown to be the place for everything coffee. It’s the blood, sweat and tears of coffee. If you don’t know Royal, you can feel it from their online presence –  Welcome to the coffee masters program.


Have you ever done a coffee project before? If so, can you share?

I have worked with a lot of coffee companies in the Bay Area. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems seems to be a close-knit community. I am lucky and blessed to have met a lot of folks in this industry. It’s funny, the General Contractor for The Crown & I did Coffee Bar Kearny in San Francisco together, which ended up winning a design award from the American Institute of Architecture in 2015. I’ve also been working with Four Barrel for about 7 years on numerous projects. So yes – I’ve done coffee projects – for whatever reason, coffee people need a lot of custom metal work.


What’s been the biggest challenge of designing & building the coffee carts?

A lot. Coffee bars by definition aren’t designed to be modular, and that’s been the primary objective of the coffee carts since day one. The carts include six individual and interlocking systems that all must be both mobile & stationary. They house 3 group espresso machines, 3 espresso grinders, a milk fridge, a POS system, an undercounter hot water system, an undercounter sparkling & still water system and a brew bar. From an engineering standpoint, the challenge was to be able to move these carts 20 feet and still maintain the same level of operation.

On top of that, they also have to look good and hold their own as an interactive art piece in many different positions. Coming up with a fluid designs and implementing it was no easy task. We made the first bar cart three times to get the design correct and now we will do that 5 times over to ensure the carts meet the needs of The Crown.

What’s been the biggest surprise of designing & building the coffee carts?

The length of time it’s taken and the amount of continual designing that has gone into developing the project and the carts. All concepts sound simple until you get into the details. Additionally, the aesthetics of the cart has been a real surprise. It’s always fun to go from a digital rendering to the physical project and see the piece come together in the end. The Crown coffee carts were born on the back of a napkin and I can’t wait to see them completed and installed.


What is the best way for people to contact you?

For a project, email is the best chambersartdesign@gmail.com

But every means of contact and work samples are on my website: www.chambersartdesign.com

Or they can simply call me: 415 748 9730