Elder Cellar

Industrial and inviting might seem like polar opposites, but when steeped in the underbelly of a campus building, even the iridescent-purple wall treatment and plywood panels create a speakeasy vibe. And for Northwestern University, that was how we made a destination of the Elder dining hall.

Exhibition was the name of the game for this cellar, as we pushed the cooking stations out into the entrance and carved out space for the diners to view all the aspects of the kitchen. Even back-of-house elements were given air time as the start of the journey into the space. To add to the experience, the beverage and breakfast area was turned to a self-serve station with the addition of a SMEG refrigerator.

Being able to turn an eyesore into an asset is always a good use of resources. And with the Elder Cellar budget, we opted not to shroud the forgotten space. Instead, we added a few key finishes like: a variety of ceiling tiles, multiple types of seating, and 3 kinds of wall textures (to reflect the slice of light coming from a wall of half windows), all to transform the experience into a truly cozy lower room.

Project Details

  • Client: Northwestern University
  • Location: Evanston, Illinois
  • Year: 2019


In keeping with the basement diner motif, we gave a nod to the classics through curved party booths with red-vinyl benches that line half the perimeter of the cafeteria. These retro nooks allow students to charge their devices, via the USB ports, while enjoying the many delicious food options.

Elder was one of many spaces Nvironment was called on to revamp. To see the other Northwestern University spaces, check out the Allison and Norris bios.

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