Before Sept. 11, 2001, Century 21’s Manhattan flagship had been a destination store beloved by bargain-hunting fashionistas.
After the horrific events of that day, the store – across the street from the World Trade Center – became one of the symbols of a neighborhood and a culture changed forever. (Devotees even wrote condolence letters to the store.)
But the store survived the attack structurally intact (requiring only new windows). And when it reopened, in February 2002, the city applauded the beginnings of a shaky return to pre-9/11 normalcy.
Founded in 1961, the family-owned chain started in its lower Manhattan location on Cortlandt Street and expanded over the years into adjacent buildings to become a 150,000-square-foot, full-category department store. In 1993, the company purchased an adjoining 1934 deco building.
But space has remained an issue. As coo Raymond Gindi says, “Gaining every 1000 square feet in Manhattan is a battle. We’ve always had more merchandise than space.”
Now, its flagship building has a new mezzanine, making the store bigger and aesthetically better than before.
Doug Horst, of Horst Design Intl., which has worked on several Century 21 stores, saw an unexploited opportunity in the 43-foot vaulted ceiling of the former East River Savings Bank. Horst envisioned building a perimeter mezzanine that could add significant selling floor footage without diminishing the awesomeness of the ceiling.
Of course, to earn the Landmarks Commission’s approval (which ended up being a two-year ordeal), the 3800-square-foot addition had to “disappear” into the original structure.
Designers relied on the space’s original details to dictate the palette, lighting and decorative motifs for the mezzanine. The existing terrazzo floor, a geometric pattern of black diamonds piercing crimson and tan elongated hexagons, established the color scheme. Trompe l’oeil panels fronting the mezzanine floor were matched to the existing red marble on the main framing walls.
The space’s chandeliers did not generate nearly enough foot candles for retail purposes. So once the new mezzanine floor was in place, the wall sconces were moved higher up the wall and more custom fixtures were installed.
The grandest new element in this renovation is the staircase leading from the ground floor. The brass rails, finished to match the original lighting fixtures, sweep the eye upward. The stairs, made from period-appropriate terrazzo, have an instantly-aged appearance.
Before reaching the mezzanine, the staircase splits into two branches, providing even more selling space. Horst created black triangle ironwork panels that are repeated in the stair’s ironwork balustrades to break up the densely packed racks on the mezzanine itself.
“People say it looks like it’s always been there,” says Gindi. “But renovating one area makes the rest look tired. So now we’re planning on upgrading the lighting, millwork and finishes in the rest of the store.”
Client: Century 21, New York - Al Gindi, ceo
Design: Horst Design Intl., Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. - Douglas Horst, president, creative director; Fidel Miro, planning director; Eric Bress, account executive; Ken Fluddy, project manager; Cynthia Davidson, director, colors and materials
Architecture and Engineering: SBLM, New York
General Contractor: BR Fries Contracting, New York
Ceilings: USG Corp., Chicago
Fixtures and Signage/Graphics: Diversified Store Fixtures, Schenectady, N.Y.
Flooring: Cambridge Carpeting, N.Y.; Catco Marble & Tile, Port Reading, N.J.; Durkan, Atlanta
Lighting: Store Lighting Systems, Great Neck, N.Y.
Metal Iron Work: MENT Bros., New York
Wallcoverings: Designtex, New York; Wolf Gordon, New York
Photography: Jack Velenski, Brooklyn, N.Y.