Tag Heuer's first U.S. boutique in New York's SoHo, is one of three new global flagships designed by Tokyo-based architect Gwenael Nicolas for the luxury sports watch brand. Tucked neatly into a long, narrow 19th Century storefront on West Broadway between Prince and Spring streets, the compact 700-square-foot shop was built by Richter Ratner (Maspeth, N.Y.) to tightly articulated standards of precision.
"The space itself is like a watch," says R R project director Lars Nilson. "Every detail had to be clean and crisp, since nothing is hidden."
Though it incorporates a traditional decorative cast-iron column, the façade is a simple sweep of stainless-steel-framed glass that announces the architectural aesthetic of the interior, where contrasting surfaces lend drama to the minimalist space. The south wall is faced in opaque black glass that frames a series of illuminated niches featuring Tag Heuer professional sports watches against a background of celebrity images from the current ad campaign. A video clip explaining the famous Tag Heuer movement occupies one niche.
Tag Heuer's classic watches are displayed in monoliths of transparent tempered glass that center the narrow space, while the north wall is a graceful serpentine curve of veneered American walnut, with recessed display cases and hidden storage drawers. The flooring combines parallelogram-shaped aluminum-and-glass-dust tiles with American walnut planks. The customer service desk flows into the veneered wall, but is illuminated from below so it seems to float off the floor. To the rear, a panel of backlit turquoise-filmed glass is a serene backdrop to a small seating arrangement of four wedge-shaped black leather chairs and a walnut-veneered table.
The entire interior, including the curving American wallnut wall and all the cases, was custom-built by Richter Ratner. The major challenges of the project, says R R manufacturing director Scott Riback, were to work with the complex curved wall and meld the compact shop's many details and finishes into a flawless whole, in a tight space and on an extremely fast-track schedule.
It took just 12 weeks to produce the store (including time for Riback to consult with Nicolas in Japan and see his newly opened Tokyo prototype). "I took samples of the veneer for him to see," Riback says. "It was splendid wood from a single massive American walnut tree cut in the 1930s, with wide leaves in 12-foot lengths that allowed us to perfectly match the grain down the entire span of the serpentine wall. There aren't many trees like that still standing today."
Each of Tag Heuer's three new flagships, including the ones in Tokyo and London, reflects the same interior aesthetic as the SoHo store.
Client: Tag Heuer SA, Marin, Switzerland
Design: Gwenael Nicolas, Tokyo
General Contractor: Richter Ratner, Maspeth, N.Y.
Architect-of-Record: John Illardo Architect, Port Washington, N.Y.
Suppliers: Metro Wood Flooring, Rosedale, N.Y. (wood flooring); Precision Glass & Metal, Maspeth, N.Y. (glass, mirrors); Midtown Neon Sign Corp., New York (signage); Sisbros Millwork, New York (millwork); Artisan Stoneworks Corp., Deer Park, N.Y. (stonework)
Photos Courtesy of Richter Ratner, Maspeth, N.Y.