Ali & Dustin’s Reinvented Piece of Denver History: The Black Eye Coffee Shop

published Jun 4, 2013
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Name: Black Eye Coffee Shop 
Location: Highland Neighborhood, Denver, Colorado 
Size: 1,200 square feet
Years Occupied: 1.5 years, open for 8 months

A year and a half ago Ali and Dustin ventured into a dilapidated storefront on Navajo street. It was a space they had walked past a number of times, but that night something was different. The “Coffee Shop Coming Soon” sign that had graced its facade for months had come down, and they were intrigued.  

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Originally, Ali & Dustin had planned to create a shop featuring repurposed furniture and unique architectural objects, a designers’ showroom if you will, with a coffee shop at the front beckoning to the neighborhood’s coffee enthusiasts. However, once they started renovating the space, they realized what the community really needed and what the space seemed to want to become was simply a great coffee shop. Perhaps without knowing, Ali, Dustin, and third co-owner/coffee enthusiast, Gregory Ferrari, signed on for an adventure that would breathe new life into a neighborhood and create a much needed space for its residents to enjoy.

As to be expected with any major commercial renovation, it took nothing short of blood, sweat, and tears to bring what was once a bustling live theater in the early 1900s back to its former glory, just now with the smell of Boxcar espresso filling the air. Not quite as expected is the way in which this power trio took on the major renovation, doing it all themselves! “If we didn’t know how to do something, we found out.” Dustin says, revealing the incredible determination behind their vision. Ali laughs, “If we would have known what it would take to transform the space into what it is today, we might not have taken it on.”
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Ali, Dustin, and Gregory set out to bring great coffee to the Highland neighborhood, and in doing so, created an amazing space for the community to enjoy. They have also shown us how to successfully design a commercial space with a nod to both the old and new. I was so happy to hear that this was just their first endeavor and that new projects were already brewing for their design company, (appropriately called
Rust and Varnish). I can not wait to see what they create next, and I know the entire city of Denver is with me on that!
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Aged industrial furniture and lighting, Americana, Art Deco elements with the contrast of modern updates and clean lines.

Inspiration: Most things rusted, dented, repurposed. Anything that has history or a story behind it. Objects that were made to last.

Favorite Element: Probably the original theater border that we recovered during the build out. It was part of the décor for the Coors Theater lobby. We felt like we struck gold when we found it hidden behind some of the drop ceiling, of which there was about three layers.

Our second favorite feature of the space is probably the vintage Tyler refrigerator. This was actually in the space when we took it over. It weighs so much that it was abandoned long ago and just sat unused, collecting dust. We cleaned it up, put it on casters, and had it retrofitted with a modern compressor and lights. Its such a beautiful feature — it’s a relic that’s been made modern.

Biggest Challenge: The space itself was the biggest challenge. We had to peel back all the layers of various usages over the years. There was no real floor, no plumbing, no electrical and several drop ceilings. Not to mention a whole lot of junk. We uncovered the brick walls by hand. We didn’t want to use any power tools to do so, since they end up damaging the brick and we would’ve lost its beautiful character. That took us about 200 man hours and we enlisted (bribed) as many friends as we could to help.

What Friends Say: “Wow, you guys actually pulled it off!”

Biggest Embarrassment: Some of the shoddy tile work in the bathrooms. We did it all ourselves and it was a learning process. Thankfully, by the time we got to the bar area, we had it down.

Proudest DIY: The “Reclaimed” wood bar. We were on a tight budget for this space and needed to cut corners and be creative wherever possible. After trying to source reclaimed wood that would fit in our budget, we decided that we should just “fake it” and make our own version of reclaimed wood. We had actually seen wood we loved in an old building in Denver and decided to try and replicate it. We literally beat up different sizes of plank wood in our backyard with various objects, and experimented with different staining and paint methods till we got the result we wanted. It was actually a lot of fun, even in the 105 degree Denver summer weather.

Biggest Indulgence: The garage door, but it was well worth it. We really needed to add more light and brightness to the space. Having the door open gives the shop a completely different feel, and you can actually see people shift their demeanor when it is up; they look more relaxed. 

Best Advice: It’s hard not to want to see what your fellow creators are doing, but we feel that when you are in the midst of a design project, you have to keep your head down and stay your course. If you have a vision for a space, follow that vision and don’t worry about what other people may be up to. Let it evolve naturally, but don’t change what is just because you want to be different than so and so. Just follow your intuition.

Oh, and flowers — fresh flowers. They add another layer to any space.

Dream Sources:

A European Ship Yard

An intact Art Deco Hotel that’s been abandoned

ABC Home, New York (If we could ever afford it)

Traveling to places that are rich in history 

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:


  • Martha Stewart sand piper (ceiling)
  • Behr wolf grey (walls)
  • Behr Pewter and Iron Mountain (outside)


  • Armoire – Colorado Antique Gallery 
  • Lighting – Craigslist out of an old barn in Colorado
  • Furniture – Mostly thrifted and ebay


  • Chairs from Industry West
  • Some lights and chairs from a vintage furniture shop Werk, NYC 
  • Vintage neon sign from Queen City Architectual Salvage
  • Furniture & decor – the deep corners of craigslist and garage sales and ebay
  • Large Tables – The large tables are vintage industrial skids that were once used in a warehouse, sourced from a woman named Kim who owns Pearls of Yesteryear in Denver. Dustin took 4×4 posts and milled them to fit the existing metal legs. He lightly stripped/sanded down the metal and wood, then covered it in heavy polyurethane to bring out the natural patina. The legs were painting in a rustic Navajo white to look aged. 
  • Small Tables – The other smaller tables are made from old doors that were pulled out of the basement of houses in the Highlands area. The theory with one of them is that is contained a small peep hole that was used for bootlegging. We love those little bits of story behind the objects. Dustin cut put a heavy coat of polyurethane on the doors then fastened hair pin legs to them. Some of the hairpin legs we purposely rusted and sealed. Some we left the way they were depending on the look we wanted to achieve. 


  • All commercial 


  • Wallpaper –
  • Art – all over the place.
  • Furniture – estate sales, antique shops, craigslist
  • Lighting – ebay 

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

(Images: Kathryn Bacalis)

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