Just as high-speed Internet use in the home and in the office has blurred the lines between those two sites, so too have design and technology blurred the lines between commercial, retail and residential design.
Changing design trends reflect changes in the way people behave and work. In retail, trends work at both ends of the spectrum, with more formal high-end spaces co-existing with other retail spaces that are homey and distinctly residential in feel. Like personal fashion, which mixes brand names with bargain items, retail design adds elements from commercial and residential design in 21st-century shops. The trend is toward a fusion of ideas.
AT HOME IN THE STORE
Faith Popcorn first observed trends like cocooning in the early ’90s. People didn’t want to leave home, even to shop. Stores reacted by accommodating shoppers of all sizes, ages and ethnicities with the addition of armchairs, coffee and wine bars, fireplaces and, finally, water walls to the design mix, aimed at relaxing the shopping experience.
At Sturhan Jewelers in Bethesda, MD, for instance, the design elements are distinctly residential. A valance over the blinds utilizes the same fabric on a wooden roller blind as the fabric on the armchairs in front of the fireplace. Shoppers love nothing more than to relax by sitting down, enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of coffee while they select designs for engagement and family rings or other purchases. Customer service distinguishes it from home.
At Charleston Alexander Diamonds, a sophisticated uptown store also in Maryland, another trend is apparent. Horizontal metal and wooden blinds are installed over 20 of the 22 windows to enable privacy and help salespeople develop closer one-on-one relationships with their clients. Open windows invite passersby to participate in the experience inside, a little like theatre.
“Jewelry purchases are very emotional and, in most cases, clients don’t have the information they need to make these purchases with intelligence and they don’t want to be exposed,” explains Jon Sabet, second-generation owner of the store.
“Feelings of trust and intimacy between the salesperson and her customer are facilitated with blinds.”
Draperies and blinds are used for other purposes in retail design, too. In clothing stores like Worth’s in Florida, draperies are used in place of doors to create changing rooms for clients wanting to try on clothes prior to purchase. They help develop a softer, more feminine feeling in the space. Retail design today keeps the enhancement of customer experience foremost developing distinct gender identification through the use of curves, color and other design details.
Stores that sell jewelry, flatware and giftware are particularly prone to noise because of hard surfaces like glass, metal and ceramic tile. The hum of outside traffic, the clack of heels on the floor, the buzz of the air conditioner and the whir of the jewelers’ machines create echoes. Drapery is used to absorb and soften the sounds, cutting the flutter echo in much the same way drapery is used in concert halls to absorb and soften sound.
Residential flooring solutions like cork, wood and carpet have become more popular thanks to technological innovations, which have enabled these materials to meet fire codes and provide durability. They also add sound absorbency. Flowing drapery adds to drama in a retail space, setting the stage for the magic of emotional purchases. Similarly, drapery is used to create romance and drama in residential design.
In Robbins Diamonds a magnificent purple blue drapery helps sub-divide a space, producing a separate place within the jewelry superstore where women can be comfortable while they try on jewelry of all sorts. It is beautiful, distinctive and sound absorbent, creating greater intimacy and quiet in a large and lovely space.
When people see beautiful things, they frequently want to own them, to bring them home and display them in their homes. Home theatres and home offices have crossed the lines between commercial and residential design. Now, the hotel chain W has opened its own stores from which those familiar with the special hotel beds, for instance, can purchase them for their own homes.
Lighting is another area in which retail design has impacted the residential. Homes used to be primarily lit by the soft yellow of incandescent light. Now tungsten halogen, fluorescent and even LEDs have moved into residential design.
In an interview with @ Issue, Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller, observed, “The one overall trend that we’re starting to see is a less mechanistic feel to the way offices are put together. They’ll become more organic. They’ll have more of a residential quality in some ways.”
In fact, the company’s metamorphosis reflects the trend toward crossover in residential, commercial and retail design. Originally a manufacturer of residential seating, Herman Miller transformed offices with its modular panels and ergonomic chairs in the ’60s, then further adapted to a changing marketplace by developing into a design-driven company. Solutions are more dependent on the problem itself than the venue of the design. As George Nelson, Herman Millar’s top designer in the ’30s and ’40s explained, “Design is a response to social changes.”
Design trends reflect our changing cultural experience. Witness the utilization of the color red from store walls to dining room and even bedroom walls. The Beijing Olympics are often given as the reason for red’s changed status and for the making of all things Chinese a growing trend. The multicultural experience, provided by television reality shows like “Survivor” expose the most stubborn couch potato to new visual ideas.
Drapery cuts out UV rays, without shutting out light. This quality makes it an increasingly popular tool for retail designers as day lighting, another popular trend, is proven to revitalize shoppers and staff in malls, while it answers the challenges of environmentally sustainable design. Draperies save space and divide it, create character and improve acoustics especially in spaces dominated by hard surfaces like tile, glass and steel. The overall trend is toward a greater individual freedom in borrowing design elements that look good publicly in retail and commercial design and bringing them home to enjoy in the privacy of home.
Grid/3 International, www.grid3.com, is a Manhattan, NY-based retail design store with 25 years experience providing interior design, store planning, lighting design, millwork design and detailing to its customers. Ruth Mellergaard and Keith Kovar are the principals; Sarah Yates is director of marketing.