Making changes while keeping the historic feel

Opening two enclosed areas is part of the preliminary design plans for a specialty coffee-and-tea and breakfast chain set to move onto hallowed ground in Laguna Beach.

Urth Caffe, based in Los Angeles, plans to move into the space at 308 N. Coast Hwy., which was occupied by the Cottage Restaurant for nearly 50 years until closing in late 2012.

The Laguna Beach location will be Urth's first in Orange County and co-founders Shallom and Jilla Berkman, husband and wife, couldn't be more excited.

"We're so eager to open," Jilla Berkman said while inside the building earlier this week.

The inside is empty but stained glass windows still rest above a hutch.

Architect Todd Skenderian is working with the Berkmans on design plans for the structure, which was built in 1917 and was a house before becoming a restaurant in 1938, according to the property's listing in the city's Historic Resources Inventory.

The plan is to move the current front door 10 feet back and create an open porch in an area currently enclosed, Skenderian said.

An enclosed side room will also give way for outdoor dining to be flanked by two trellises, Skenderian said.

"We're taking the footprint back to what it used to be in the 1920s," Skenderian said while looking at a photograph of the building from that era.

Skenderian is still working on a color scheme for the interior. The exterior will include natural-stained wood, adhering to the historic integrity of the building, he said.

The city's heritage committee approved preliminary plans last year while recommending some design changes to the outside, committee member Rick Gold said.

"What they proposed was nice looking, but it wasn't fitting in with the Cottage," Gold said. "It is a historical property.

"Otherwise, they are pretty much keeping it like the way it was."

The Berkmans are working with a historian to maintain the house's charm and have landscape and lighting designers on board as well.

"How do we make it feel like a cozy living room?" said Tom Ruzika, the project's lighting designer.

Skenderian had to adhere to certain guidelines, such as keeping existing roof lines and two indoor fireplaces, though the tile above the fireplace may be replaced, he said.

Stained glass, crown molding and casing around doors and windows will also be maintained, Skenderian said.

Urth will seat 175 customers, Shallom said, and serve a full breakfast but will not have table service.

Berkman travels to Africa each year to select the best coffee beans and roasts them at Urth's headquarters in downtown L.A.

The Berkmans and Skenderian welcomed neighbors within 300 feet of the property to a recent open house on site to discuss the planned project and answer questions.

Potential customers wanted to know about the food.

"They wanted to make sure they could get omelets and pancakes," Berkman said.

Customers will be able to purchase those items, along with specialty teas and coffees, and lunch items including sandwiches, salads and pizzas.

The Berkmans still need approval from the city's design review board before the building department can issue construction permits.

Shallom hopes to open this summer.

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