In 2000, Armani joined Calvin Klein, Gucci, Versace, Prada and Ralph Lauren by launching its own home collection. The Armani Casa concept, which includes furniture, linens, bowls, vases, plates and cutlery, began in Milan and spread to Athens and London before landing in New York's SoHo.
Taking cues from Milan's open-loft environment, design firm Janson Goldstein LLP (New York) worked with Armani designers Bien Otero, vp, retail development, and Erin Hoover, director of retail development, to create a similar setting in New York's most loft-friendly district.
The 6400-square-foot space on Greene Street had most recently housed a Southwest-style Zona store. All of the mechanical and electrical elements had been exposed and the windows and skylights had been covered - essentially obscuring the inherent strengths of the loft space.
"We needed to strip it of decoration, uncover the structure and free up the space so that we could focus on the space and the light," says principal-in-charge Mark Janson. "The concept was to take it down to the minimum and create an envelope for the product."
After rediscovering the loft, designers turned their attention to several inherent architectural challenges in the space, which spanned the block, from the Greene Street storefront to a connecting building on Wooster Street. Greene and Wooster run parallel to each other, and the buildings meet in the middle of the block through a first-floor connection. The Wooster Street building also had a lower level that designers wanted to transform into usable retail space.
With the two-building layout, designers were confronted with a very deep space and a narrow entryway - not ideal attributes for inviting customers inside. Also, the only existing connection between the Wooster building's first level and lower cellar stockroom was a set of service stairs.
Designers installed skylights in the roof at the junction of the two buildings, and added an open staircase of satin stainless steel, glass and Pietra Serena limestone treads. "You see this daylight as you enter the store and it really draws people toward it," says Janson. "Also, as you get under the skylights you can see the stairs to the lower level, which creates a very dramatic, double-height space."
Building on the "casa" concept, the store's layout is similar to a house. Customers come in through the foyer-like entryway, where decorative and new products are displayed, and then pass through the living and dining areas on the first floor before descending to the lower-level bed and bath areas. "It's as though you're living in a loft," says Janson, "where the spaces just kind of move from one to another."
To create an environment where the Armani furniture and accessories can take center stage, designers chose a neutral palette with lightly colored sheetrock walls and ceilings, including a custom wall color created by Armani himself. A burnished concrete floor was poured throughout the space that both unifies the rooms and directs shoppers throughout the space. Halogen and metal halide lighting in recessed ceiling troughs provides dramatic cool and warm areas.
Within each living area, movable platforms are used to create vignettes for showcasing furniture and accessories. A minimal wall display system consisting of backlit cast acrylic with cantilevered shelves houses smaller items. Stainless-steel bars are inserted into the walls for draping fabric swatches.
"The backlit panels allow the merchandise to appear as if it is floating," says the retailer. "The clean, modern look of the store does not distract from the sleek lines and solid shapes of the furniture."
The loft space is completed by the display of Armani home furnishings in the sophisticated yet natural home environment. "It's really very simple and neutral," adds Janson. "The main thing was going back and identifying what is a beautiful, simple loft space."
Client: Armani Casa SoHo, New York - Bien Otero, vp, retail development; Erin Hoover, director, retail development
Design: Janson Goldstein LLP, New York - Mark Janson, principal-in-charge; Peter Weed, senior project manager
General Contractor: NTX Interiors Inc., New York
Outside Consultants: Johnson Schwinghammer, New York (lighting); Robert Silman & Associates, New York (structural engineer); Ber Brothers Partners, Carrara, Italy (stone stairs); Eve Ashcraft Studio, New York (paint); Laszlo Bodak Engineer, New York (mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer)
Suppliers: Electronic Environments, New York (audio/video); Encore Retail Systems, Brooklyn, N.Y., CPI, Mount Vernon, N.Y. (fixturing); Azzarone Contracting Corp., Mineola, N.Y. (flooring); Armani Casa, New York (furniture)
Photography: Michael Weschler, Los Angeles