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North Country General

North Country General is a quaint, multi-function establishment located in historic Jamaica, Vermont.  The owners were in the process of opening this new business when they approached us, hoping to combine a taproom, wine bar, coffee shop, and retail store into a single space with a cohesive aesthetic. The wanted to create an atmosphere that catered to two vastly different groups of individuals: locals, who would be frequenting the space consistently throughout the year, and tourists, who would be arriving intermittently during the ever-changing Vermont seasons. We connected to their story, and even with a small budget saw the potential to do something impactful in the space.

We started with inexpensive materials that, with enough creativity, could be manipulated into pieces that were refined and interesting. The entire front of the bar was built using reclaimed pallet wood, but not the parts typically used in reclaimed furniture design. Instead of using the top deck boards, we refashioned the pieces of wood that are placed between the two decks of the pallet.  We staggered them to create depth, but the piece felt too rough and heavy with the texture of the natural wood, so we applied a Japanese technique known as Shou Sugi Ban. We use a torch to char the wood, which preserves it and give it a matte black color. We used zinc for the bar top and finished it with a patina to add some aging and character. The treatments elevate the ordinary materials and transforms them into a piece that looks expensive, but not overworked. We also were able to use the deck boards from the wood pallets as well.  We cut the wood into diamond shapes and arranged them in a repeating pattern to create a mural over the coffee station, creating an unexpected 3D effect.

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The final challenge was seating, and here we tried to foster the sense of community that North Country desired. We didn’t want to clutter the small space with tables and chairs that would force customers to navigate around one another. Instead, we designed a single standing bar that brings people together, including those who might not otherwise connect.  We fabricated a custom steel base that could be bolted to the floor, or moved for events. To offset the heavy and industrial feel of the base, we poured a white concrete top that extends almost 12 feet to maximize counter space for customers to enjoy the artisan food and drink that North Country provides.

For this project, the approach we took was necessary due to the minimal budget, and as a result, the design was driven primarily by materials.  But we apply this mindset to larger jobs as well, and we’ve found that our experience in building guides our design in such a way that we’re able to maximize whatever we’re given to create something new and interesting. In transforming ordinary materials into high-end elements, we are making good design more accessible. Our success in this, however, rests largely in the creative freedom our clients allow us. North Country presented us a difficult challenge, but once we took the job on, they trusted that we would make decisions that would address their concerns and make a significant impact in that space.  After the purchase by the owners of an old inn and restaurant, North Country General has closed. But stay tuned for a collaboration on their upcoming expansion! ∆

Olivia Tubio