Wilsonart® high pressure laminate was specified for the interiors of a teahouse located in Connors Park on the Near North Side of Chicago to continue the sustainable design theme of the facility.

Founded in 2003 by Arsen Avakian (CEO), Simon Simonian and Daniel Lindwasser, Argo Tea goes beyond merely serving drinks to provide patrons with a one-cup-at-a-time experience. Driving a mainstream tea-renaissance in the classically coffee-centric urban American setting, Argo Tea sources ingredients directly from growers around the world, and blends them into unique signature drinks for their clientele.

Dana Dimitri, director of marketing for Argo Tea explains that Argo wants to be welcoming, inviting and open to the communities they serve. Argo Tea not only raises awareness of the health benefits of tea and the cultural benefits of partnering with responsible suppliers but also provides a space for people to come and work, study, or meet with friends in an environment where they can experience tea and relax.

The Connors Park greenhouse is a great example of that guiding principle. Established as a public/private partnership between the Chicago Park District and Argo Tea, the teahouse has been designed to provide the amenity to the park, but not take it over with a big, solid chunky building, says Mark Cuellar, lead designer for Argo Tea, which currently has 29 stores in the United States.

Argo Tea came up with the greenhouse concept to keep the building as transparent as possible and the park as green as possible. The exterior glass structure and necessary mechanical units are complemented with trellis and vines, adding 1,600 square feet of vegetation to the site. An existing fountain was also incorporated into the interior as a water feature. Argo Tea’s greenhouse in Connors Park opened in May 2013.

According to Dimitri, sustainability and quality are two of Argo Tea’s core platforms, reaching beyond their menu to the use of sustainable design elements, landscaping, energy sources and service items. Argo Tea walks the sustainability talk from the smallest disposable details such as compostable sporks and knives, and shopping bags made from recycled material to significant renewable wind energy installations and fixtures made with recycled content.

The interior of the Connors Park greenhouse features cabinetry, casework, display space, tea host station and POS millwork built with Wilsonart’s Studio Teak High Pressure Laminate (HPL). Though natural wood veneer was considered for the vertical surfaces of the casework at the beginning of the project, they decided to go with the HPL because of the greenhouse design and concerns about the humidity level. Wilsonart laminate is made in the United States and contains recycled content.

Once the decision was made to go with HPL for its durability, consistency and tendency to not expand and contract with the variations of the building’s moisture level, the design team started looking at aesthetics. Cuellar observes that beautiful engineered products based on natural materials have colour and texture that can’t be replicated with natural veneer.

The horizontal countertop in the front of the house uses engineered quartz while Wilsonart Solid Surface in a classic Capers design has been used for the back of the house counters. Cuellar states that there are a lot of great HPL options in the market but Wilsonart has really beautiful woodgrain designs. Being able to source their laminate and solid surface requirements from the same company, and wide availability of the materials across the country were key reasons behind the specification of Wilsonart.

The interior design project was executed by Creative Surfaces of Sioux Falls, S.D., Argo Tea's long-time supplier for interior fixtures and signage, and a specialist in lean fabrication of unique casework, full-service metalwork and integration of LED technology into graphics.

Image: The interior of the Connors Park location features cabinetry, casework, display space, tea host station and POS millwork built with Wilsonart’s Studio Teak High Pressure Laminate (HPL).