When New York's historic Grand Central Station was renovated in the late 1990s, many retail stores were shuttered and moved into more compressed locations in the station's high-traffic corridors.
Grand Central Optical, a fixture in the terminal for many years, was closed in 1995 and reopened several years later in a tiny 350-square-foot space designed - as the first store had been - by Belmont Freeman Architects (New York).
Like all of its neighbors, the new Grand Central Optical was subject to strict architectural guidelines from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission: Illuminated signage was forbidden, and all graphics had to fit in with what design firm principal Belmont Freeman describes as the "old-fashioned" aesthetic of the overall restoration.
"We'd renovated the client's previous shop with a clean, modern look," Freeman explains. "For this more compressed space, they wanted the same sort of aesthetic, with even more light to showcase the tiny frames."
To get around the signage restrictions, Freeman collaborated with New York photographer Amanda Weil to create an ingenious art glass wall that encloses the tiny examining room (and is lit from behind when the room is in use). "We convinced the review board it is a piece of art glass, not an illuminated sign, but the wall kills several birds with one stone," Freeman points out. "It not only forms the examining room, but also defines an appealing vestibule area and provides an eye-catching graphic that telegraphs what the store is all about."
Using proprietary thermoplastic printing and laminating techniques, Cesar Color Inc. (New York) sandwiched the enlarged image between pieces of tempered safety glass to form the wall. "I always work with a client to come up with an image that reflects its retail concept," Weil says. "In this case, they liked it so much they have also used it for the logo on their business cards and stationery."
Client: Grand Central Optical, New York
Design: Belmont Freeman Architects, New York - Belmont Freeman, design principal
General Contractor: Interior Construction Group, New York
Suppliers: Gold Medal Fixture Co., Jonesboro, Ga. (custom casework); Crossville Ceramics, Crossville, Tenn. (flooring); ICF, New York (stools); Cesar Color Inc., New York (glass wall); Weil Studio, New York, (photogram)
Photography: Amanda Weil, New York