Swings Coffee is located in a renovated warehouse that began as a car dealership, transformed into a bakery, and is now in use as a retail coffee shop, offices, and roasting facility.

Gaver Nichols, AIA, principal of Gaver Nichols Architect, was contacted by the building and business owners to adapt the existing structure. His studio is located several blocks away, in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood, where he has been designing additions, renovations, infill housing, and adaptive reuse projects for 34 years. The Design Build project was delivered in partnership with builder Danny Graumann, bringing in tradespeople to assist with equipment design and relocation.

“If you want to learn how to build a building, take one apart.”

Gaver Nichols

Underused for many years, the building had an Art Deco character that was admired by locals and the design board alike. After the bakery moved out, the site was a 10,000 square-foot open warehouse. The space needed to serve 3 distinct functions, each with its own design considerations. 

Nichols began with the design of the retail space which embraced transparency and an industrial aesthetic. Custom steel and concrete serving bars, salvaged industrial light fixtures and doors, and rough-sawn lumber rafters, convey a sense of energy to passersby through large expanses of exterior glass.

Exposed ductwork, following the curved abstract form of the circular roasting equipment, was incorporated during the adaptation of the HVAC system. Wood flooring was reused as ceiling panels over the sales and service bar, and a cupping room was designed and built using 2-by-6 framing, drywall, and applied steel beams to further the industrial feel.

City zoning rules didn’t permit the neon Swings Coffee sign to be hung on the exterior of the building. Instead, this piece of the organization’s history, preserved by the owner from the original location, was incorporated as an interior feature.

The manufacturing and roasting areas needed to accommodate delivery of the raw coffee beans from large semi-trucks. Because the site has no onsite parking, large glass garage doors were added to facilitate delivery and to allow pedestrians to see activity inside the building from the street. A newly-installed glass wall also allowed patrons to watch the coffee being roasted as they placed their orders — turning the machinery into art.

Offices were incorporated which allow for the observation of the manufacturing, retail, and wholesale operations.

Swings is now a popular gathering space for the Del Ray neighborhood and has been recognized with a design award.