8 Design Considerations for Cafeteria Renovations

We recently completed a design/build renovation at Blue Ridge Community College. We collaborated with  Holden Building Company and  Young Office. The leadership at Blue Ridge Community College asked us to bring a reluctantly used cafeteria up to date. The overall goal was to design a space that people wanted to use for dining, studying and socializing. There were many design considerations for this cafeteria renovation, and we’ve outlined a few below.

 1. Budget

The budget impacts all of the decisions below, from the type of chair, the style of light fixture and also the overall space plan. Here are a few existing images to show what we were working with.


2. User Feedback

When working with Blue Ridge Community College, they wanted to be sure that their faculty and students would feel invested in the renovated space. We often use renderings and material boards to help communicate our design ideas to clients. In this case, we actually came up with several color palates and the student body voted on their favorite. This worked well because the renovation was essentially contained to one room and the voting was on swappable items, such as paint and furniture colors. We wouldn’t suggest this as a strategy for every project, but it’s a great example of how important it is gain insight on user preference.


3. Circulation & Flow

We evaluated the existing conditions to see what worked well. We kept the service line mostly in place, and did a small bit of adjusting with some of the free standing refrigeration equipment. We also opened up the wall between the main dining area and food line with a wide roll up door. We kept the floor plan gestures simple as a way to keep costs low. Part of that was providing a better tray return system and waste/recycle furniture near the exits. The rest is just smart furniture placement.

4. Ways to Save

The project had to be completed in 6 weeks, and most of the construction occurred between the hours of 2pm and 8am. On top of that, the construction site had to be cleaned and brought back into working condition for students to eat and study in the space each day. As a result, we were very deliberate about what to demolish. The existing floor was terrazzo and in good condition. It remained. Most of the walls were also in good shape so we got away with only removing the old, damaged wall base and outdated wood paneling. We did remove the ceiling tile, but were able to keep the grid.

5. How People Sit

We collaborated with Young Office and they brought some great ideas to help update the space with furniture. The existing furniture defined the cafeteria as just that: a plain cafeteria with one type of chair and one type of table. When talking with Blue Ridge Community College, we heard them say they did not want the room to feel like a high school cafeteria, but rather be a more casual, cafe type space. The design included individual seats as well as upholstered booths. The seat height varied too. As for tables, we selected two heights and a few shapes to provide some variety in the space. We also designed a custom counter that allows individuals to sit and work.  It solves the problem of having one person using a table for four.



6. Noise and Acoustics

The existing cafeteria is one big open space with a bunch of hard surfaces. That means it can be a pretty live, loud room. We knew we were keeping the hard floor, but saw an opportunity to improve theaesthetics and sound control with our ceiling and furniture. We replaced the current ceiling tile with a new one that look great and are made of a better material that will absorb even more noise. We also provided sound absorbers in the upholstered, cushioned benches.

7. Lighting

The existing cafeteria had old lighting that made for some unattractive, unevenly lit space. To stick to the budget, we used new LED 2×4 fixtures for the majority of the dining area, and provided some pendants over our cafe height tables. With dimming options, this allows the space to change brightness for different uses. The pendants were fairly inexpensive and helped the space feel a little less institutional and a little more cozy.

In addition to the main space, we wanted to give a little update to the serving line in the kitchen. New lights visually improve the space and tie the two rooms together.cafeteria-new-pendants

8. Finishing Touches

Wall paint was a must on this project, and one of the easier ways to transform the cafeteria.  We updated the rooms with an energetic, modern palate. By selecting furniture and building finishes at the same time, the project aesthetic is very cohesive.

We kept a small row of the existing wood paneling and painted it with chalk board paint. Now, kitchen staff can write out their menus each day on an official menu board.

As a way to provide a design feature that does not take up space or spend too big a piece of the budget, we designed a geometric wall graphic for the north wall. As a nod to dining plates, we designed a circle pattern and selected color that were found in the furniture upholstery. Fast Signs in Asheville worked closely with us to make sure the colors were accurate, and that the design and installation went smoothly.


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