Quiet Design on Pearl: The new Alpine Modern Shop + Coffee Bar
Alpine Modern’s new shop on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, is a momentous milestone in the brand’s vision of promoting modern design and elevated living in the mountains.
Alpine modernists living or visiting Boulder have already been able to experience the brand in person at the Alpine Modern Café, a space to sit and take in our lifestyle ethos, at the Alpine Modern Shop (online and at the Boulder retail store), which offers a considered collection of rare modern goods for elevated living, and though the Editorial, a digital destination for “slow content” about architecture, design, elevated living and journeys in the alpine-modern world.
The new Alpine Modern Shop + Coffee Bar at Pearl West, the new office and retail building that replaced the former premises of the Daily Camera at 1048 Pearl Street and 1023 Walnut Street, represents the first time the Boulder brand is combining two of its elemental experiences in one location.
Shopping on caffeine
As an evolving brand, Alpine Modern is progressively pushing forward the physical shopping experience in Boulder. “We are activating the retail space with coffee—from the smell and the aroma to that everyday habit,” says founder and owner Lon McGowan. “People don’t necessarily just shop, they want to find that unique half-hour experience of browsing and having coffee and being part of our space.”
Alpine Modern’s previous retail location (formerly LON Little Shop) was a very small space, tucked away on 13th Street; a hidden jewel few locals knew about and a destination only the rare tourist stumbled upon. The presence on Pearl finally offers the brand the opportunity to share its offerings with many more people—from here and everywhere. “It really shows a strong commitment to the community and to the retail and restaurant scene of Boulder when you commit to being on the main boulevard, on Pearl Street,” McGowan says.
At the same time, Alpine Modern wanted to create a calm atmosphere in the new 1000-square-foot space, a retreat from the shopping hustle and bustle on Pearl. “When you walk in, the design is quiet,” the owner notes. “The new space finally exemplifies what we mean by alpine modern and gives people that inspiration.”
“It really shows a strong commitment to the community and to the retail and restaurant scene of Boulder when you commit to being on the main boulevard, on Pearl Street.”
Small and efficient—the Alpine Modern culinary experience
Alpine Modern’s culinary consultant on Pearl Street project was Boulder chef Colin Kirby, who has worked at some of the world’s top restaurants, including El Bulli in Spain and The French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Fascinated with efficiency by design, Kirby was intrigued by the task of conceptualizing Alpine Modern’s first café at 904 College Avenue in Boulder and now a coffee bar integrated with the new retail shop. “There are certain models of efficiency inherent in good design,” he says. “Whether it’s a café or a restaurant, the one thing I have always been drawn to is these systems that are inherent in any well-designed space or a well-designed kitchen, and that flow and that ease. There is a quietness and an easiness to that efficiency that people are attracted to.” Kirby expertly translated Alpine Modern’s quiet design ethos and its consequential efficiency into a menu so simple, he says he wants people to have a “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment, which, again, he believes is intrinsic to all good design.
"There are certain models of efficiency inherent in good design... There is a quietness and an easiness to that efficiency that people are attracted to.”
The elegance of less
Alpine Modern consistently carries the “less is more” mantra of modernism through to every detail. The absence of different coffee sizes, for example: “It’s effortless,” McGowan says. At Alpine Modern, a latte is nothing else than a very good latte. Adds Kirby: “When there is nothing more you can take away, that’s when you’ve achieved the perfect design. Everything is essential—in design or with our menu.”
Retreat for retail therapy
“We normally don’t do little projects, little stores like that, but I really like the brand, and I have enjoyed the magazine,” says architect Mike Moore, principal and founder of Tres Birds Workshop, who designed the new space. (A bearded Moore, early adopters may recall, graced the cover of issue 02 of the printed Alpine Modern quarterly.)
Moore appreciates working with an independent, local business emerging on Pearl Street: “When I first moved here twenty-four years ago, Pearl Street was almost all independent restaurants or clothiers, and now, there is very little of that,” he says. “That was exciting to me. That was something on a higher level.”
Moore has internalized the brand’s quest for natural minimalism—as Boulderite, as customer, and as architect—and expressed it through a design that has manifested classic alpine modern. “The Alpine Modern aesthetic is about the essential and about simplicity—but with rigorous detailing, and everything is intentional and exist for more than one reason. There is an absence of decoration. I totally bought into that,” the designer explains. “Translating that into a very small store that has quite a few products and is also serving coffee, we really limited our ingredients, our materials.”
Indeed, Moore used only two key elements for the build-out—stone and wood—reinventing them each time the material was used. The floors are raw slate, laid in large herringbone pattern, directional and intentional in guiding customers’ movement through the store. The stone tiles are practical, too, in preventing customers walking in with snowy boots from slipping.
McGowan’s personal favorite design element is the hidden infinity door to the storage room behind the register. “It’s all wood, and when you push on the door, it opens up. It’s one of those things you don’t notice are there, until somebody actually hits the door. It’s again that minimalist look but clearly very functional.”
The heavy, industrial gate that comes down when the coffee bar is closed, a retrofitted airplane hangar door, repeats the herringbone pattern. When the coffee bar is open for business (Mon–Fri 7–4 / Sat–Sun 10–4), the gate cantilevers up and becomes the awning.
“The Alpine Modern aesthetic is about the essential and about simplicity—but with rigorous detailing, and everything is intentional and exist for more than one reason. There is an absence of decoration. I totally bought into that.”
Bringing the mountains downtown
The design choices distinctly reference Colorado’s outdoors. “That pattern of herringbone is very evident in our landscape here,” describes Moore. “When you look at a mountainside of spruce trees and blur your eyes, all you see is a herringbone pattern.”
At the core of Alpine Modern is the human connection to the mountains, expressed through quiet design and a considered way of life. With Moore at the drawing board, nature and manmade interior architecture along Boulder’s main shopping stretch aren’t juxtapositional. The cabinetry, shelving units, and supporting posts are made of Douglas fir wood, the regional tree. “Marching through the space, you have this feeling of walking among thin tree trunks in the forest, away from the city, on the hillside,” the architect says. Similarly, the 15-foot table at the center of the shop—a thick, vertical slice of maple—brings the outdoors in and combines nature with modern hairpin legs: “We’ve sourced this wood from a gentleman who removes trees that get hit by lightning,” Moore tells. “So we left this probably eighty-year-old tree in its raw state. And rarely do we get to make a table that isn’t for someone to eat on it, but it’s to display product on it, which means it can be really wild, and it can have holes it in, and it can have an open center, and it can be huge.”
McGowan’s wife, Lauren, directs Alpine Modern’s retail business. “Our new location reflects that unity with a more natural feel, bringing in softer woods,” she says. “When you interact with these design elements, there is a mountain side to the whole thing.” In her curation of products for both the new store on Pearl and the online shop, Lauren says integrating the coffee bar into the retail experience has inspired her to also bring in coffee-related items for travel and the home. For the rest of the assortment, she focuses on products that are true to the brand. Gift items for people who love the outdoors are not merely of beautiful form, they are functional and useful.
The goods at the new Alpine Modern Shop + Coffee Bar are not only for people living in the mountains. “Now, customers may take these items home to Chicago or New York... but they are lovers of the mountains,” Lon McGowan says. “All our inspiration is really drawn from the mountains. And we continue to narrow in on that and find the right partners and brands and makers that are able to amplify what we do.”
Advancing modern in Boulder
The new Alpine Modern Shop + Coffee Bar is also about the larger idea of combining good design with a culinary experience and a shopping experience. “The combination of all three is a very unique frontier for us, and it is the first time this has been tried in Boulder,” says Kirby.
The McGowans on their part are interested to see what the “international design review” will reveal from the perspective of tourists who come to Boulder from all corners of the world. “One thing is certain, though,” says Lauren, “a success would be that it works for the community, and that we are well-received in our own community here in Boulder.” The couple, who lives with their two young children in Boulder’s Chautauqua neighborhood just blocks above the Alpine Modern Café, hopes to inspire other local retailers and restaurateurs to think about advancing good design in Boulder, for good design has the power to influence a street and even an entire town. “My mission with the shop and the café and our editorial has always been to give people here in town a sense of pride about what we are doing,” Lon shares. “We are on the forefront of elevated alpine design in Colorado, and that we can have this emanate from right here is awesome, people get excited about that.” △