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Wray’s Work on Display at Tazo Store

Wray’s Work on Display at Tazo Store

: Courtesy of Starbucks Corporation. Photo by Adam Leitz.

Starbucks’ interior designer Tobi Wray [DE ’09] has the best kind of gallery for her work: it smells great and you can blend your own tea.

Anyone who can find a parking space at Seattle’s University Village can see Tobi Wray’s designs any day of the week: they can just walk into the Tazo Tea store. Once there, they have the opportunity to experience design at its richest. It was all thought out in minuscule detail: the smells, the paths, the presentation of the teas and the emotional impact of the visuals. Wray calls it “elevating the tea experience with an element of theater.” The harmonious result is the product of a well-oiled creative team.

PICTURED: Starbuck’s University Village Tazo Tea store; photo by Adam Leitz

The store itself features a neutral palette, and even in the photo one can see how the natural shades of the teas displayed in their jars stand out. The tea is presented front-and-center, allowing customers to get close — with reason: the store encourages them to create their own blends and even brews up test batches. Visually, the overall effect is elegant, but with some spice. Details like the gilded mirror and syrupy stools with a touch of the Baroque add romance, while the cup-hung topiary on the wall and in the graphic behind the wall of windows provide a touch of magical fun. “The holiday promotion is a little inspired by Alice in Wonderland,” says Wray. It’s easy to see what she means by “theater.” Elements of the store can be changed for other promotions during the year.

Owned by Starbucks, the new Tazo store is a globally coordinated effort to do for tea what they’ve done for coffee. “We see tea as a huge opportunity,” says Wray. The design effort at Starbucks is enormous for this and all Starbucks stores, and the size of the design department is correspondingly enormous. Tobi works on one of many small teams of interior designers.  Each one working on stores in specific regions throughout the world or ones focused on special projects or initiatives.  But it’s anything but insular: the entire design group must work as one to present a look and feel that is unified over the whole brand, even as they drill in to a single store: “There are thousands of stores,” says Tobi. “Each store is unique, can respond to locale, can be sustainable, can respond to the neighborhood.”

Tobi’s education at Cornish prepared her well to work in the Starbucks environment. “What I find is that Cornish prepared me to work across subject areas as a collaborator,” she says. “We worked on projects in senior studio that integrated interior design with graphic design and motion design.”

Wray joined Starbucks more-or-less right after graduation. “It was 2009, and it didn¹t look like anyone would be getting a job in the industry,” she says. But as the summer went on, she spotted a posting for an internship. She jumped at the chance. Four years on, Tobi is now a senior designer at Starbucks.


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