You might call Dikea Katakis-Kotsifakis a visual storyteller who uses the language of interior design to develop narratives about people and their cultures. The award-winning designer’s career spans nearly two decades and four continents giving her deep knowledge and experience of global brands, retail strategy and all aspects of design.
In her current position as senior design manager for Starbucks, Katakis-Kotsifakis oversees the design team and locations on the Eastern side of Canada. She recently moved to the Toronto office after working almost seven years in Amsterdam as design manager for Starbucks stores in EMEA, which includes Russia, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Cyprus, Scandinavia and the UK, within a team of talented designers.
“The job of the design team is to create beautiful stores,” said Katakis-Kotsifakis. “No two stores are the same. Each has characteristics of the Starbucks brand, yet maintains its own look/feel.
“In my role as a senior design manager, 100 percent is design-focused for the business split between design and people. The design is about pushing the brand forward through space, layout, lighting, determining the lighting, store layout, façade, storefront, furniture, materials, equipment, artwork…) and the other is people-based (mentoring, managing, providing direction and leadership). To generate the best ideas from my team, I challenge them to resist doing what’s comfortable and, instead, to consider new ways design can be used to tell the story of each store’s location.”
While the connections she makes and the people she meets make each project special, there are two that highlight her team’s design power. They include Starbucks locations Arbat 19 in Moscow, Russia; Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain; and Korai in Athens, Greece. Arbat 19 and Sagrada Familia received awards, a People’s Choice design award, and the Korai store won Best Retail Environment in Greece.
“The teams that worked and supported these projects with me are so talented, we inspire and create great work from each other allowing us to put the store first,” she said.
“Arbat 19 is located on a pedestrian street, lined with musicians and artists outside the restaurants and boutiques. Its design was driven by the rich culture this location inspires. We connected with a local artist, who handcrafted a paper-layered Siren with a Russian pattern intertwined, to showcase the brand in a locally relevant way. The walls were stripped to expose underlying brick, and Russian metal workers were commissioned for the handcrafted Reserve bar. These elements helped to give this location an authentic feel.”
The Korai store burned down during an uprising in Athens. The location was important to the company, as it was the first Starbucks to open in Greece. Katakis-Kotsifakis wanted the renovated space to celebrate both tradition (10 years of Starbucks in Greece) and modernity (a new era of Starbucks in Greece). Elements of wood and marble help to create this balance.
“Korai features a large wooden stair case that leads to the mezzanine,” she explained. “On the ground floor is a long, wooden table made out of pure walnut. These types of tables are commonly used in Greece for large, family dinners and moments of connections.
“During the renovation, we discovered pink marble flooring that was used when this store was first built. It isn’t even available anymore! Rather than cover the marble, we decided to expose its historic, natural beauty. Then, on the wall we featured a large, marble engraved Starbucks Siren designed by a Greek artist.”
Katakis-Kotsifakis always knew she would be an artist or designer of some sort; she was always sketching as a child. She especially loved to draw houses and, like many kids who grew up in Detroit, was fascinated by cars. Initially, she pursued industrial design at CCS with the intention of designing cars, but her love of space and architecture led her to the field of interior design. What she learned from the different disciplines in art and constructive critiques continues to impact her approach to design today.
“I loved that I was able to take courses in fine arts, crafts, illustration and so many other types of art,” she said. “This helped diversify my skills and helped me be able to express ideas using different media. It led to more opportunities than I would have had limiting myself to one field of art or design. You’re only as good as what you allow yourself to know, and I was blessed to be around so many awesome artists and designers.
“CCS also helped me become a more effective communicator. Through critiques, I learned how to accept feedback, listen and grow. Each was unique and taught me something different. Criticism may be difficult to take at first, but it gives you a thick skin and helps you build confidence. Even still, it’s my foundation and I have grown from what I learned and took from CCS.”
In her free time, Katakis-Kotsifakis enjoys traveling—meeting new people, experiencing other cultures and sampling local foods.
“Travel is in my blood,” she laughed. “When I was younger, I would book cheap flights about once a month just to go someplace new. Even now, with two small children, we make it a priority to travel. It gives us a chance to check out the local design scene, see a show and try some good food. Experience has taught me that life revolves around good food.”