La Bottega Milanese: Ekho Studio elevate Milanese culture in Leeds

La Bottega Milanese is a 15-year-old, Leeds-based brand with a pronounced Milanese cultural dedication (#bemilanese) and a cult following for its fiercely-independent, hip and buzzing coffee bars. Customers come to the brand’s two outlets in the city to enjoy the best specialty coffee around and to sample a range of continental Milanese snack food, patisserie and other refreshments. The own-brand coffee on offer – also available wholesale – is 100% specialty grade Arabica, ethically-sourced and roasted in Yorkshire every Tuesday, with the selection ranging from exclusive single origin micro-lots to the brand’s bedrock Classica blend.

La Bottega Milanese, Bond Court, Leeds

Both the brand’s outlets have both been an instant success since opening, thanks in part to the simplicity of the La Bottega Milanese offer, along with its dedication to quality and the great atmosphere and feel of its cafés. When the business was taken over in 2022 by Katia Pereira, the new owner looked to breathe fresh air into the brand, starting with an aesthetic uplift of the brand’s original flagship in Bond Court, on the southern edge of Leeds city centre, whilst also preparing La Bottega Milanese for possible future expansion in the region.

External seating area

Katia chose as her design partner Ekho Studio, named Breakthrough Talent of the Year at the end of 2023 at the FX International Interior Design Awards.

“The client’s vision was to elevate the interior design, whilst maintaining the existing dynamic vibe and overall monochrome aesthetic” Ekho Studio Founding Partner Sarah Dodsworth explained. “We were asked to focus on material quality, improve the product display and layout and enhance the overall customer experience.”

Improving product display was a major element of the brief

With footfall high and many customers in a hurry, it was important the coffee bar’s layout remained open, simple and easy to navigate, whilst at the same time increasing the offer’s design sophistication for those running the store, with behind-the-counter functionality and services a priority too. When it came to its colour palette, Ekho Studio kept to the brand’s original monochrome look but softened the palette slightly with the introduction of planting and the use of neutral colours and touches of sage green. Ekho Studio also looked to utilise existing finishes where possible and to be considerate of the ongoing maintenance and upkeep in their specifications of anything new.

The brief asked for an open layout that was simple and easy to navigate

“Overall, the site now boasts a clean and modern aesthetic with matt black metals and concrete-effect finishes combining with a neutral colour palette and natural textures” Ekho Studio Designer Kath Brookes added. “Sculptural live and preserved foliage displays sit alongside raw textured concrete and monolithic black forms, punctuated by warm white pendant lighting, whilst the new dedicated display area and bespoke, angled fridge display has enabled the expansion of merchandised products and goods, making the overall merchandising offer much sleeker.”

Monolithic forms are punctuated by warm white pendant lighting

The new, streamlined layout now includes 40 covers inside and 42 outside, allowing for up to 82 seated customers at any one time – an increase of 12 over the earlier layout. “Even with the new seating arrangement, it’s sometimes hard for customers to get a seat, as the venue is so popular!” Sarah Dodsworth commented.

The service counter, located to the right of the space, features a new black solid surface with a flecked pattern by Durat. Ekho Studio had already used this product at their Globe Point project, also in Leeds, which is where the La Bottega Milanese owner had seen and loved it, going on to request it for this project. New vinyl sheet concrete-effect flooring wraps up the vertical face of the counter for a seamless, minimalist finish.

The counter features a new black solid surface with a flecked pattern

The counter area was definitely the main challenge of this project” Sarah Dodsworth added. “Excellence in the display of products was a major part of the brief. Ensuring this was implemented in a cohesive way within a monolithic, streamlined, glass display meant several parties working together to achieve the right look.”

A flecked finish is also used for the rear wall in this area, with the behind-the-counter food prep area also completely re-worked to be more practical operationally for staff. A separate coffee pick-up point and barista station is located at a separate counter just beyond the pay station to separate any build-up of queues.

New furniture includes Pedrali Stylus black tables, the Platform Chair by Workstories and a bespoke joinery banquette

A new high table, seating up to 8 people, is located to the rear, catching the customer’s eye on entry and providing an alternate group setting with upholstered Platform stools by MAD with a backrest for ensured comfort to one side and Mater bar stools to the other. Directly behind the high table is an existing light installation, originally created by Lights On Design, and retained as highly effective, a favourite of the client’s and it worked well with the new scheme, drawing the customer’s eye through to the back of the space.

A new high table to the rear of the space sits in front of a lighting installation by Lights On Design

New upholstered seating in the main central areas is the Platform Chair from Workstories, featuring a sage green/grey seating pad, with black ash veneer backs in keeping with the new square black tables used in the space – the Pedrali Stylus. The identical tables allow for easy reconfiguration, whilst the incorporation of pieces by Italian brand Pedrali in the scheme is also a nod to the Milanese feel of the café. Furniture was sourced in consultation with the design team and client by The Furniture Practice, with the overall aim of installing much more robust and durable items to respond to the very busy environment.

“We’ve had a good response over the decision to use commercial-grade quality and styling of furniture in a hospitality setting” Sarah Dodsworth commented. “We really wanted to avoid the flimsy furniture feel often featured in café and hospitality projects.”

The cafe serves own-brand coffee and a range of continental Milanese snack foods and pattiserie

A new bespoke joinery banquette runs along the entire left-side window elevation of the space, upholstered in sage green. Bespoke planters for the dried grass feature run parallel to it, adding a soft visual backdrop for people looking in from the windows and streetscape beyond. The raw concrete columns in the space and the warm pendant lighting between the window bays add to the layering of textures and tones. External furniture includes flip-top Ypsilon 3star base tables from Pedrali and stackable chairs – both the Pedrali Tribeca and the armchair-style Tribeca 3669 – offering easy removal and security overnight.

“The space has been elevated to create an amazing social and warm place for customers and employees to enjoy” Katia Pereira, Director of La Bottega Milanese commented, adding that the new interiors “symbolise the mix of traditional Italian coffee with modern and industrial architecture.”

Photography: Copyright Ekho Studio


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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