It’s not often that you hear Stockholm mentioned in the same breath as, say, London or Paris. But Sweden’s first Urban Outfitters store might just provide a reason for doing so.
The two-story, 22,000-square-foot shop – the retailer’s ninth in Europe – is the outcome of many months of hard thinking and labor to convert a former cinema. It is also an example of how good can come from close cooperation between a city’s planning department, a multinational retailer and the U.S.-based design firm, Pompei AD (New York).
For a start, there’s the building itself. It was dubbed the Roda Kvarn (“red barn”) when it opened in 1915 as a cinema in Stockholm’s upscale Biblioteksgatan district, as a Scandinavian take on art nouveau and, a little later, art deco.
It was the city’s grandest movie house until the 1970s, when it morphed into an art-house cinema and its original dark wood and arts-and-crafts interior were painted over with heavy red and black paint. The end result was the conversion of a historical building into a cross between a bordello and a nightclub.
Little surprise, then, that one of the city’s conditions of approval for Urban Outfitters was that it restore, as much as repurpose, the cinema’s interior. Steve Morris, the retailer’s project director, received a 150-page document, drawn up by the city planners, outlining what would be required.
Standing outside the Roda Kvarn today, you could be forgiven for thinking you were still looking at a cinema. (Other than the red neon sign carrying the retailer’s logo.) The walk-in arcade, with its bank of light bulbs overhead and boxed-in windows on either side, still looks like the kind of place where a limo might glide up and decant a Hollywood star for a premier.
Inside, though, it is unquestionably a store. It has been subdivided into four distinct zones. First is the cashwrap zone, immediately inside the front doors. At this store, the cash desk is an event in itself, with extensive art deco detailing. Overhead is a gallery, accessed from the upper floor, with a modest display of art and a skylight that allows natural daylight to flood the space.
But no natural daylight permeates “the pit” – that magical area where decades of movie-goers used to face the screens – and the space’s dark brown wood with deco gilding on all sides made lighting for retail even more important than usual. Two 880-pound crystal chandeliers, the kind you’d find in the ballroom of a very grand hotel, have been installed as mid-floor eyebrow-raisers. In keeping with the dramatic nature of a cinema pit, light also comes from theatre-style gantries with colored spots that beam down onto the sales floor. Above the lighting, the ceiling’s swirling deco patterning has been painstakingly restored.
The real eye-highlight is the “slott,” a two-story Swedish castle recreated where the movie screen would once have been. Pompei AD designers came up with this as a way of incorporating fitting rooms into the space.
This stage-set castle has a block of fitting rooms on each of its two levels. Its white clapboard structure provides definition and a focal point to what could have been a cavernous space, given the size of the sales floor in front of it. The slott dominates the store and its floors are connected by a spiral staircase set on the right-hand side.
Beyond the pit and away from the slott is a designer clothing area. Baroque curlicues in monochrome form the graphics and the mock-Louis XIV furniture fosters a favorably upmarket impression.
Upstairs, via either the gentleman’s club-style wooden staircase or the movie-star lift, is a large, brightly lit, minimalist art gallery with pieces by local artists. A corridor leads to the balcony overlooking the cashwrap.
This is a store where meticulous restoration is coupled with a consciously modish sensibility, mimicking the Swedish design eye for stylish simplicity (think IKEA, Saab or Volvo). It also cost more to put together than any other of Urban Outfitter’s European outposts.
Martin Parker, Urban Outfitters’ European managing director, says the retailer is considering other locations, and that Berlin is a likely candidate for a store opening sometime in 2008. The retailer is also set to open in the Bluewater mall on London’s southern fringes this spring. But the bar for European installations has already been set pretty high on the frigid banks of the Baltic.
Client: Urban Outfitters, London – Martin Parker, managing director, Europe; Steve Morris, projects director, Europe
Design: Pompei AD, New York – Ron Pompei, principal and ceo; Ellen Depoorter, studio director; Gaetane Michaux, art manager; Mathew Webb, senior project manager
Architect: Koncept, Stockholm, Sweden
Outside Design Consultants:
Karlsson Svenson Projekt AB, Stockholm (lead consultant)
Johan Hansen Stockholm, Sweden (technical services manager) Per Nelson, Stockholm, Sweden (conservation advisor)
Spotlight AB, Stockholm, Sweden (electrical consultant)
General Contractor: Janrik & Co AB, Stockholm, Sweden
Restoration Contractor: Ullenius-Ateljeer AB, Stockholm, Sweden
Audio/Visual: Soundabout, London
Chandeliers: Krebs, Stockholm, Sweden
Fixtures: Core design, London
Signage/Graphics: SkyltGruppen AB, Stockholm, Sweden.
Photography: John Ryan, London