EPIC Building: Cafe Corner

This is the Lego Cafe Corner set. It came out in 2007, contains 2056 pieces, and sold for about $200. It was the first in a series of minifig-scale modular buildings that could be arranged next to each other to make a realistic city scene. These sets have been very popular with Lego fans, and in addition to the official releases, some folks have made their own buildings in a similar style and scale.

I’ve never done this type of building before and wanted to give it a try, but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. I decided the best thing to do would be to actually build Cafe Corner to see how it was put together.

But man, a $200 set! And worse, an out of print $200 set, making it more like a $400 set! There was no way I was going to drop that kind of cash. Then it dawned on me.

I didn’t need to build the real thing. I only cared how the pieces were used. Color didn’t matter; I wasn’t going to display it. And I probably already owned the parts I needed, just not in the required colors. Because the set was at least three years old I found the instructions on Brickset. Peeron had a complete part inventory for it (and, since I’ve entered the sets I own into Peeron, it could show me for each piece how many I own and in what colors.) I pulled what I could and, at the end, when there were a few things I just plain didn’t have (house windows and doors which, quelle suprise, aren’t found much on spaceships) I put in a $20 order to Bricklink (one shop had everything I needed at great prices.) For each part, I matched the color if I could, and didn’t worry about it if I couldn’t.

I know someone else must have done this before, but I couldn’t find references to it, so I coined a name for this kind of building: EPIC. It stands for Existing Pieces, Ignoring Colors.

Once my order arrived, I got started. Here’s an account of my journey.

This guy was the first color casualty. Can you spot his problem?

Here’s the first stumbling point, when I ran out of light gray 1×8 bricks. This is only the first floor, so I was surprised to run out so soon.

First floor is done! Looking good!

The sidewalk was made up of approximately 472,219 1×1 and 1×2 tiles. I took the liberty to switch them to bigger tiles in an attempt to try to have smaller ones for later. I did keep the bit that spelled “CAFE”.

Pretty much everything you see that is normal blue should be dark blue. And there’s an easter egg!

Okay, on to the second floor! The scanned instructions here had a tough time showing me brown on black pieces, so this was a bear. I ran out of brown 1×2 tiles here and got creative.

You can see two other details here. I didn’t have enough of those arches, so I made them. Also, even when pulling brown pieces that were supposed to be brown, I didn’t waste time worrying about old brown vs new brown (which is redder).

This floor doesn’t look TOO bad on the outside, but the inside is pretty gaudy. The red is supposed to be dark red.

The “HOTEL” sign is particularly attractive. The thing here is, I didn’t really look at the instructions before I pulled pieces, so I had no idea what was going to happen here. I probably have enough trans-yellow 1×1 plates that I could have at last done this in one color. Ah, well.

Third floor time!

Things are about to get ugly, folks.

The interior of the third floor. The blue 1x8s at the bottom tell a story; they’re supposed to be tan. When I ran out of brown 1x8s on the second floor I switched to tan, not realizing those were for the third floor. The blue ones here were supposed to stand in for the brown. So I ended up with two ugly floors for the price of one (wouldn’t have mattered anyway; I ran out of tan ones too. Hence the gray.) How about those wall colors?

Third floor exterior. That’s hot. Incidentally, that glass has only water in it, despite the color scheme here.

And finally, the entire building!

What a beaut! Let’s compare it to the real deal:


And here’s the back:

All in all, this has been a success. I built an out of print $200 set for only twenty bucks. It’s not as horrendous looking as I thought it would be, though it does look like someone had a seizure about 2/3 of the way through. I got some great inspiration from doing this, and I will probably do another “real” building in EPIC style before I attempt one on my own (which WILL be properly color-blocked). Not only did I get some hints on how to do a building like this, I also got some hints on EPIC building in general. Specifically:

1) If you’re ignoring color, ignore color. If you need 12 lime green pieces and only have 2, just do ALL of them in whatever color you substitute. Or better, just pick pieces and, even when you’re building, don’t worry about color.

2) If you are partially paying attention to color, make a note of what is supposed to substitute for what, and when. That is, if you only have three of these in blue before you switch to yellow, note both of those things. It will come in handy.

3) Go through the instructions before you pull pieces. Chances are you can make some other substitutions that still get the job done without making things too ugly or using up too many pieces.

4) It’s very difficult to ignore color. It’s funny, but kids pay absolutely no attention to it while it drives older builders nuts.

5) I said I’d noted my sets in Peeron so I had an idea of which pieces I actually had. This caused a problem because there’s one set I still have built: the Death Star. Any pieces in that were not available to use. So do I temporarily remove the Death Star from Peeron next time? Or…do I take it apart?

6) This is not a tip, but something interesting I discovered, out of the 9,174 1×1 plates I needed, I only have 170. Now, 170 might seem like a lot, but in a 30-year Lego supply featuring hundreds of sets, that just seems like nothing! I was really shocked to find out I had so few; that’s a piece you think of as being pretty basic.

So that’s my first foray into EPIC building! It was a lot of fun, and I am definitely going to do it again.

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10 Responses to EPIC Building: Cafe Corner

  1. CJ says:

    A few more EPIC buildings and you’ll have a pretty accurate depiction of downtown Portland

  2. Bully says:

    Brilliant and beautiful! And at least James May’s designer didn’t come by and cry and make you take it all apart because it had poop-brown in it!

  3. T. Derscheid says:

    Seems like Peeron needs a checkbox: “dude, I am using this for something right now.”

  4. T. Derscheid says:

    Also, EPIC is a great idea. I’ve got a moderate amount of Lego stuff from way way back in the day, including the time Lego had a huge exhibit at the Iowa State Fair. That one exhibit probably netted every kid who went in at least a few minifigs and whatever other pieces looked good at the time.

    My girls are beginning to get into it, and it was really neat to watch Cori (4 1/2) play by herself, telling a small story about the pirate figures she had.

  5. blathering says:

    Impressive! Bonus you don’t have a sibling breathing down your neck to tear it apart and build something better. Which would be the reason my Mom instituted special Lego rules in our house.

  6. Ted says:

    Like the concept. You mentioned that you made the arches… how? I remember “making” pieces in my sets years ago, but they kinda became custom (a hot sharp knife was the weapon of choice). Also if you were going to keep one of these EPIC creations together, couldn’t you go custom on the colors with a light coat of paint (or is that a taboo subject to real assemblers). Anyway, great job. I used to collect some of the clearance sets from WalMart when they were discounted half price… unfortunately my kids have taken them all away from me.

  7. Mattwran says:

    Now I know where to send Miya in a few years when she wants to play Lego…. Right now, Miya wants to know if you do Duplo.

  8. Dave says:

    Ted: Nothing so heretical. In this case, the arches I needed were identical to a different type of arch plus two 1×1 bricks. In the acronym-happy world of AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego), these are known as POOP (Piece that can be made Out of Other Pieces).

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