Steam rises from a plain white mug as it rests near the edge of a wooden coffee table. Sounds of faint laughter and hushed typing surrounds you as you admire the local art on the wall. The couch feels rough underneath your touch, drawing a sense of contentment from you with its familiar feel. It’s almost as if you were in your own living room, rather than the local coffee shop down the street.

For the past 15 years, local coffee shops have integrated themselves into the community of downtown St. Petersburg through relaxed atmospheres and addictive coffee.

One of the first shops prominent in the community was Kahwa Coffee. First opening its doors in 2006, Kahwa drew people in with a laid-back vibe and locally brewed coffee.

“I love the coffee here,” said regular Brooks. “That was a big draw when I first started coming because I like coffee that tastes European.”

Located at 2nd Avenue South, Kahwa invites people in with its large windows, comfortable seating and friendly baristas. Olivia Solomon, the manager of Kahwa, greets all customers with a smile. However, with regulars, it’s like greeting a friend.

“We are all very tight,” said Solomon. “Most of the people who come in here, I do know by name and weird things about their lives. A lot of people appreciate that familiarity.”

With closeness, comes an environment that most only find in their living room. Customers use the space to meet up with friends, hold business meetings or complete work related tasks.

“They don’t throw you out if you stick around for a while,” said Brooks.

Similar to Kahwa Coffee, Banyan Café and Catering is a local shop that attracts customers with its freshly ground coffee and friendly atmosphere. Located on Central Avenue right next to the Morean Arts Center, the café established its downtown location around 4 years ago.

“We are right across from the Chihuly, a famous glass blower who’s got his work all over and we have [the] hot shop right behind us,” said Barista Paul Bailin. “So, it’s like a perfect place to get a hot drink in between locations and chill out.”

With its dark wooden table tops and an airy demeanor, Banyan Café and Catering offers a relaxing place for passing customers to enjoy.

“[Our clientele] right now are regulars, museum browsers or general browsers, Central Ave. shoppers or people looking for a superior cup of coffee,” said Bailin.

The cafe, like Kahwa, encourages productivity and acts as a meeting place among friends. The comfortable environment lets customers feel at home.

Sociologists Rachael A. Woldoff, Dawn Marie Lozzi, and Liza M. Dilks attribute the feeling of home to Ray Oldenburg’s concept of “third places” in their study “The Social Transformation of Coffee Houses”. With the first place being home and the second assigned to the work environment, “third places” cultivate a sense of community and friendship found outside of the spheres of the first and second.

“According to Oldenburg, people who live in suburban areas use their large homes and the amenities they offer to retreat from the community,” wrote Woldoff. “However, if third places offered the same amenities or more, people may become more interested in using public third places again and may actually prefer to spend time there.”

As a designated third space, coffee shops deliberately design their area as comfortable and functional places. Each design can be different. From sleek black tables and large windows to soft leather couches and short wooden tables, the atmosphere of the shop remains the same.

Barista Magazine reporter Joshua Dusk-Peebles in his interview with architect Selim Vural explored the common themes found in coffee shop designs.

“Selim says that his own personal goal in coffee shop design is to ‘create an artful, unique, and functional space that inspires comfort’”

Mastering all three aspects of design is critical to the composition of the shop. Missing the mark on just one element can throw the whole shop into chaos. Combine art, uniqueness and functionality is the key to attracting and keeping customers in a homey like environment.

Kahwa coffee and Bayan Café and Catering, among other local coffee shops, reiterate these common elements. They manage to attract and keep customers coming back every time. Stop by and say hello, you just might end up finding a place you can call your own.