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Little Man Ice Cream's service counter. Photo by Aaron Colussi

Behind the Design of Little Man Ice Cream’s Newest Hub

At the Factory, the cold-treat empire's headquarters, visitors find a sense of wonder (and few right angles).

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Denver ice-cream mogul Paul Tamburello likes circles. After all, ice-cream-machine paddles trace the endless form, and scoops of the cold treat rest sphere-like in (round) bowls. That’s why Tamburello, founder and owner of Little Man Ice Cream, wanted the shape to make appearances throughout his company’s new Sloan’s Lake headquarters, a Willy-Wonka-Chocolate-Factory-esque space that opened this summer. “When a child spins in a circle, she’s lost in space and time,” Tamburello says. “We want the kids in all of us to be wide-eyed by the possibility of life when they enter.”

Chef Claire Fields makes a decadent sundae. Photo by Aaron Colussi

Of course, scooping ice cream into enticing globes is a cinch compared to integrating curves into a right-angled building. Circles are a challenge to build, says architect Ted Schultz, who was hired to design the headquarters: “Circles are an egalitarian, joyful shape, but bricks and steel aren’t exactly amenable to bending.” So, Schultz was forced to devise clever ways to integrate the curves Tamburello envisioned into the 6,000-square-foot rectangular space known as the Factory.

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The circular kitchen. Photo by Aaron Colussi

Solution No. 1: The kitchen’s large circular window—its rectangular panes of glass joined by steel pillars—that calls to mind a huge, rotating barber’s pole; the design draws visitors’ eyes into an ice-cream laboratory of sorts, where chefs busily simmer fresh fruit for sorbet, temper chocolate in a copper cauldron, and pour cream into twirling, Italian ice-cream churners.

Ice cream buckets on a conveyer system. Photo by Aaron Colussi

A dry cleaner’s conveyor belt, outfitted with buckets, connects the kitchen and service counter, allowing chefs to restock flavors with the push of a button. And then there’s the factory’s most striking space, where the circle motif really shines: the counter. Inspired by Little Man’s milk-jug-shaped flagship shop in the Highland neighborhood—but with the eye-catching addition of a marble-ringed round skylight and exposed steel hood overhead—the cylindrical serving space is where this creative design really comes, well, full circle.

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