Market Research

In retail design, tight budgets can be curiously liberating, inspiring innovation and creativity.

Retail design tends to mirror the prevailing economy. In good times, new stores are boldly aspirational. They celebrate opulence and tantalize us with excess. In tough times, design is reined in and becomes more strategic. We’ve certainly seen the retail landscape change in the past two years. But smaller budgets can inspire bigger thinking. In our third retail roundup, we take a look at new spaces and concepts that offer alternatives to the traditional merchant-customer relationship and ask some intriguing questions: What is a store? Can it appear (and disappear) as needed? Is it portable? The selected projects—including a boutique paint shop that also sells bikes and waffles, and a menswear brand that sources its clothes within ten miles of its store—are all fueled by the kind of ingenuity that’s often a byproduct of lean budgets and fresh thinking.
—Paul Makovsky


53 Grove Vale, London

There is nothing glamorous about buying a can of paint. But Londoners can now trade the hardware store for a new boutique that sells ecofriendly Dutch paint alongside some of the Netherlands’ other famed exports: clogs, cruiser bicycles, syrup-filled stroopwafels. Siecle currently offers 60 colors in its Grove Vale storefront, which is adorned with the slogan “Colour Makes People Happy.” The company plans to open two additional London outlets next year.
—Ivy Harrison


San Francisco

New York City

In recent months, two major U.S. apparel companies launched their own temporary, community-focused arts workshops, both remarkably free of the sort of aggressive branding and selling you might expect ofcor porate-sponsored cultural spaces. In July and August in New York City, Nike teamed up with the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the youth-education program Make Something!! to present a series of design workshops. Artists gave local teenagers lessons in sign painting, puppet making, magazine editing, and other small-scale, craftcentric endeavors. Meanwhile, Levi’s opened two pop-up workshops of its own: a printmaking storefront in San Francisco with letterpress and screen-printing equipment for public use, and a photo studio in New York with space and camera rentals for local shutterbugs. (The San Francisco shop closed in August; the New York project continues until December 18.)

Unlike the Nike initiative, the Levi’s workshops do include a retail component, with each one selling a small selection of apparel and custom goods. But all the proceeds from these sales go to local non-profits; according to Adam Katz, the programming director for the workshops, the shopping side wasn’t meant to be overbearing. “I was surprised,” he says. “People in San Francisco wanted there to be a retail element. We sold more than we ever expected.” This is the kind of reaction that Levi’s and Nike marketers dream of, but to their credit, the companies’ branding imperatives have not overshadowed the community-service component. “They’re in the business of selling jeans, for sure,” Katz says. “But in these projects, the focus is not on a transaction. It’s about how the resources of the brand can be public resources.”
—Mason Currey


Newcastle Depot, East London

Hel Yes!, a two-week pop-up restaurant highlighting the best in food and design from Helsinki, took place this fall in a former warehouse in East London. Visitors were treated to Nordic-style food by top chefs like Antto Melasniemi while they sat in custom-colored Artek furniture or at tables designed by Linda Bergroth; they ate off special Iittala tableware and sipped from limited-edition glasses designed by Harri Koskinen. The sold-out event—a collaboration of Finnish designers, foodies, and manufacturers from the Finnish Institute in London—also featured dialogues with Finnish and British artists and designers. “Hel Yes! sparked people’s imaginations,” says Hanna Harris, of the Finnish Institute. “They could discover a magical spot that was simultaneously truly elegant and utterly laid-back.” The next version will take place in Helsinki toward the end of this year.


Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Pixar revolutionized animated movies by making them appeal to both children and their parents. The Tokyo Baby Cafe, a swanky day care/café, was designed on the same principle. Oki Sato, of Nendo, a Tokyo-based design firm, created this space on Omotesando, Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. According to Nendo’s Web site, “the cafe is designed to be enjoyed by two different sizes of users. So the interior plays on this difference in scale.” The most striking exaggeration of scale—a giant plush couch 7.5 feet tall and 21 feet wide—is reminiscent of Alice’s Wonderland, and it sweeps children into a whimsical space of play. Just across the room,
moms sit firmly in reality, drinking gourmet coffee.


8 Rivington Street, New York City

Farm-to-table restaurateurs and eco-minded designers have long stressed the importance of buying local, sourcing their ingredients and materials from within a few hundred or even a few dozen miles. Now the locavore mentality is trickling down to retail as well. In New York, Freemans Sporting Club recently began promoting its local-wear policy: nearly all of the clothier’s menswear is manufactured within ten miles of its Lower East Side store, an area that includes Brooklyn (suits), midtown Manhattan (sportswear), and New Jersey (shirts). “There’s this emphasis on where your beef is coming from or where your carrots are coming from,” says Taavo Somer, Freemans’s co-owner. “If you care where those are coming from, you should care where your clothing is produced.”
—Kadie Yale


24b Kingsland Road, London

Britain is famously a nation of shopkeepers. And now two of its leading designers, Tom Dixon and Jasper Morrison, have opened stores in London. Dixon’s shop is located in a converted wharf building at Portobello Dock. It sells his full range of lighting and furniture as well as work by other designers he selected. Morrison’s shop is a perfect reflection of his own rigorously simple work. In addition to stocking his classic pieces and new releases (Camper walking shoes, a nifty phone from Punkt), it sells products by both well-known and anonymous designers. “We work with manufacturers,” Morrison says, “and occasionally we’d meet shop people, but we never meet the customer, so it’s so nice to be a bit more open-door to real people who like these things.” The shop also has a small exhibition space, which shows the sort of everyday objects that inform Morrison’s formal thinking. The first show was on jugs, jars, and pitchers; the current one is devoted to trays from around the world.


360 Broome Street, New York City

Opened in Manhattan last June, Shopping Box is part Automat, part brick-and-mortar eBay. Small-time vendors rent out the 140 14 x 15-inch cubbies lining the walls and windows of the interior for a monthly fee of $49–$149 (depending on the box’s visibility). The store’s owner, Janelle Fung, collects a 3 percent commission on sales up to $500, and 10 percent in excess of that amount. So far, the boxes have stocked everything from heat-sensitive mood mugs and false eyelashes to earrings and authentic designer handbags. Although similar shops exist in Hong Kong, according to Fung, this is the first of its kind in the United States.
–Belinda Lanks


Granville Arcade
Coldharbour Lane, London

Brixton Village, a charming 1930s indoor market in South London, wasn’t a dead shopping mall, per se—merely a perennially troubled one. By 2009, 20 of its shops were vacant and the owners turned to the Space Makers Agency. “Our group started out as a monthly meet up,” says Dougald Hine, the group’s founder. “The idea was to bring together people interested in rethinking the spaces in which we spend our time—particularly in making better use of under-used space. Most months there were twenty of us: artists, activists, social entrepreneurs, social-media people, architects, think-tankers, squatters.” Space Makers convinced the owners to fund a competition, making shops available for up to three months, rent free, to people who submitted the best ideas. The initiative kicked off with a free-wheeling open house. “A week later, we had ninety-eight proposals, some for temporary creative and community projects, others with longer-term business plans,” Hine says. The result? Nine months later, Granville Arcade, as it’s locally known, is thriving. Eight of the businesses originally selected for the competition remain; the rest of the shops are leased to new tenants.
—Martin C. Pedersen


227 Waverly Place, New York

“I think it resists style,” Rafael de Cárdenas says of his design for OhWow, a recent addition to Manhattan’s West Village. But given the ’80s graphic patterning and Memphis-like shelving, we’ll call it neo-postmodern. A mere 150 square feet, the shop—which sells books (many limited-editions) by artists featured in its sister gallery in Miami—packs a visual wallop. Black and white tiles suggest a classic prewar New York City bathroom, and the stepped shelves, according to Cárdenas, reference Navajo blankets. Despite the retro, decorative finishes, the designer insists that the aesthetic is more cutting-edge contemporary than cloyingly nostalgic. “I feel like every new interior in New York is meant to seem like it has always been there—the wood paneling, the crappy wide-plank oak floors, the Federalist-style sconces,” he says. “For as advanced as they are with their clothes and their art, New Yorkers still like their interiors kind of traditional. It’s a source of frustration to me.”



Several of us at Metropolis were surprised to learn recently that the MoMA Design Store’s high-end housewares and designer tchotchkes are available not only through its catalog, Web site, and Tokyo and New York outlets—but through the Home Shopping Network as well. In fact, it turns out that MoMA and HSN have been working together since 2007. “We’re trying to branch out and reach new customers and broader audiences, so we thought we would give it a try,” says Ruth Shapiro, MoMA Retail’s director of business development. “Obviously, we’re kind of moving out of our comfort zone. Most people were a little surprised.” But she says that it’s worked out well. Several times a year, MoMA recommends a selection of its products to HSN; the network picks its favorites, then reaches out to the vendors to secure volume and negotiate pricing. (MoMA collects a percentage of HSN’s sales.) The actual on-air pitching is done by an HSN host along with Ashley Ryan, a MoMA product-development manager, which can make for entertaining yin-yang chemistry. (You can watch clips on “We’re more design- and product-focused, and they are totally customer-focused,” Shapiro says. “So it’s been an interesting collaboration.”

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