A café environment that stirs up curiosity with its wonderfully clashing mix of design, food and products

With many cafés today becoming too uniform and predictable, The Royal Café in Copenhagen is one of the few that has a noticeable soul. As Rud Christiansen, the owner and creator of the café says, “our interior is almost indefinable. It is a mix of all styles: baroque . . . funkiness . . . feministic . . . humourous . . . a true clash of all styles. It’s like taking a big box with all of these elements and mixing them thoroughly – and as if by magic – throwing them into a vacant room.”

With the mixing of various historical eras leading to a design confusion that is both humorous and chic, Christiansen (and his business partner Lo Østergaard) have created a special atmosphere where some of the Danish minimalism has been broken in a positive way. “There are no borders anymore,” he explains, “and what used to be is not a guideline anymore. Though we really feel we’ve been very faithful to our colourful Danish roots.”

Not only visually stunning, the café is also a sophisticated example of product placement. Famous Danish manufacturers like Royal Copenhagen, Georg Jensen, Fritz Hansen, Bang & Olufsen, Kvadrat and Holmegaard are presented with a café focus that is so appealing in society today. (Royal Copenhagen adapted several serving items to be functional in a café environment, and Holmegaard Glass produced chandeliers according to Christiansen’s design.)

But while the design, environment and history all beautifully play off each other, the food and drink menu is equally attractive. The café is known for its signature double roasted coffee and its focus on traditional Danish foods that have been around for more than 300 years – like the smørrebrød (Danish open-faced sandwiches) – as well as traditional cakes, cookies and historical desserts. All though are created in an artful way with a culinary twist that opens the menu up to a worldwide audience. The café has also invented a new form of cuisine called ‘smushi’ (created by using the two words smørrebrød and sushi). These delicate, bite-sized, open-faced sandwiches are decorated with the best local produce and have become the café’s signature dish.

People have always wanted to meet, socialise, gossip, drink and eat in a relaxed yet buzzing atmosphere. But as the large coffee chains put more emphasis on functionality, and the logistics of executing orders, it’s refreshing to be in a café environment that exudes warmth, and stimulates both the eye and palette. “Customers keep telling us we have created a wonderful pause in their daily routine . . . that we’re constantly stirring up their curiosity with our design, food and products.”

As Christiansen continues to explain, “in cafés you don’t have to drink alcohol. You don’t have to eat a seven-course meal, and you don’t have to spend a lot to please your appetite. You often sit closer, you mingle and you can come as you are. I often think designing a café is like creating a piece of art, a painting, a house, a cake, jewellery, fashion or sculpture. Because if done in this context, the café will contain all of these elements.”

The Royal Café is all about a break in everyday conformity. Time spent in a different world. It’s a short trip to the unexpected. And I’d take this journey over Starbucks any day.

This is a post by David Report contributor Kristina Dryza.

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