Gong Fu Tea

Des Moines, Iowa
3,000 SF

Mike Feller

Project Team
Tim Hickman

Gong Fu Tea – Substance Architecture
Gong Fu Tea – Substance Architecture

Gong Fu Tea

The owners of Gong Fu Tea wanted to transform an existing restaurant into a calming alternative to the familiar coffee house—creating an oasis where they could educate their customers on the culture and benefits of tea. Located at the edge of Des Moines, IA's East Village, the building did not benefit from the traditional turn-of-the-century character of many of the area’s structures. This project demanded a complete transformation while only minimally touching the exterior.

Inside, shelving screens create a series of distinct retail and dining spaces including a private tea room. Two linear display walls were developed along the depth of the space, one a wooden grid to hold a hundred steel canisters of tea, the other to display products and small tea samples. A combination of slate and bamboo flooring further defines the spaces. The green color and mixture of direct lighting and Akari paper lamps contribute to the calming mood.

On the exterior, local preservation codes presented a challenge. Despite being poorly remodeled into a false stone finish in the early 1970s, modifications were now restricted. To avoid disruption to the existing plaster but draw attention to the new business, a new facade treatment “floats” in front of the existing elevation similar to a folded origami sign panel.

Because the owners completed much of the construction themselves, the materials selected needed to be simple, while also durable, functional, and cost-effective due to the nature of the space and a very limited project budget. The result is a skillfully executed and inviting space in which to celebrate the unique aspects of tea.

Gong Fu Tea – Substance Architecture

Gong Fu Tea - before


2007 Excellence in Design Award
American Institute of Architects - Central States Region


07:262 Iowa Architect

Photography by Farshid Assassi / Assassi Productions