Get real. Applied creatively, it was a concept our judges rewarded regardless of budget, stylistic approach or category in selecting VMSD’s 2009 Retail Renovation Competition winners. “The stand-out projects were the ones that didn’t spend money to conceal or hide anything,” says Bob Welty, director of design, WD Partners (Dublin, Ohio), and a judge at this year’s competition. “They kept their focus on elements that differentiated the brand.”
Projects lost points if they looked like they could be anywhere or, worse yet, didn’t take the opportunity to reconnect with the customer. The way forward, said our judges, is to layer brand identity throughout both concept and materials. That’s what earned Ermenegildo Zegna Group (New York and Milan) this year’s grand prize for the transformation of its Fifth Avenue store into the luxury menswear retailer’s first U.S. flagship. (An in-depth look at the Zegna renovation will be presented at the upcoming IRDC in Dallas.)
Design firm Peter Marino Architect (New York) kept luxury real by drilling down past high-end design generics to Zegna’s historic core strength – the quality of its textiles. Working with Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction, the designers extrapolated the action of weaving machines into intertwining stainless steel threads that shuttle across the ceilings and seam the grand staircase.
“Zegna’s interiors have the same ‘hand’ and styling as the clothes,” says competition judge David Hogrefe, managing director, in Fitch’s Columbus, Ohio, office. While the clever concept impressed, the judges also cited the renovation’s success as a sales driver. “When you look through Zegna’s new glass facade, the design pulls you in. It’s cohesive, right down to the hand-sewn leather accents,” says fellow judge Ken Pray, director of store design, The Kroger Co. (Cincinnati).
But Zegna also bucks some trends. Not many renovations have this flagship’s budget or the freedom to gut a 100-year-old building’s interior to create 3000 more square feet of selling space. Retailers are more likely to follow the example of Boise, Idaho’s new North Face (an honorable mention winner), which also happened to take over a century-old space, in repurposing whatever supports the brand. In design terms, that means a new emphasis on exposed ceiling joists, brick walls, undisguised metal beams and industrial perimeter columns.
“The days when you throw everything out and start again are over,” says competition judge Ken Lay, design manager, Macy’s (Cincinnati).
Economic reality is a major force shaping renovation. The redo of Guess? Inc.’s Michigan Avenue store in Chicago caught the judges’ eye right away with its new white perimeter and red-accented denim department. But what made it visionary enough to earn an award was its reuse of existing fixtures (the maple units were treated with a new environmentally friendly finish called Pro-Coat) and its four-day turnaround time. The budget? One-third that of the typical Guess? remodel budget, according to Vember Stuart-Lilley, special projects manager, retail development, for Los Angeles-based Guess? Inc.
Eberhard Architects LLC’s (Cleveland) first-place conversion of a failed downtown Cleveland shopping mall into Dollar Bank’s high-profile banking center sums up the challenge many designers will face: How do you create a look that restores confidence in a beleaguered sector – whether in a service retailer or a department store? Fewer, bigger and bolder design statements, as well as rich, natural materials, are popular ways to convey staying power.
“People want to be confident that their bank, or the store they shop at, isn’t going to fail,” says William Eberhard, managing partner, Eberhard Architects (formerly Oliver Design Group). “We modeled several scenarios for Dollar Bank, including a low-budget version. Their reply was, ‘We can spend X dollars and fail, or we can spend X dollars plus 8 percent and blow people away.’ ”
That’s the point of any renovation now. “Our clients tell us they have to innovate immediately or run the risk of going away. And they don’t want to go away,” says WD Partners’ Welty.
David Hogrefe, managing director, Fitch
Ken Lay, design manager, Macy’s
Ken Pray, director of store designer, The Kroger Co.
Meredith Seeds, senior interior designer, FRCH Worldwide
Jan Tribbey, vp store design and construction, Victoria’s Secret Stores, Limited Brands
Bob Welty, director of design, WD Partners
Retail Renovation of the Year
Ermenegildo Zegna Flagship, New York
Photo credit: Paul Warchol, New York
Dollar Bank, Cleveland
Specialty Stores with Sales Area under 10,000 Square Feet
Ludwig Beck Classical and Jazz CD Department, Munich
Brown University Bookstore, Providence, R.I.
Douglas Parfumerie, Dortmund, Germany
Guess? (Michigan Avenue), Chicago
Sinn Leffers, Bielefeld, Germany
The North Face, Boise, Idaho