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Surmounting the Summit

Outdoor lifestyle retailer Snow Peak opens a hospitality-driven hybrid store and restaurant experience at its new U.S. headquarters in Portland, Ore.

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DESIGNING A RETAIL experience, restaurant and new headquarters all-in-one may seem like the equivalent of summiting a mountain for some, but the design teams at Snow Peak and Skylab Architecture (Portland, Ore.), met the challenges head on.

In 2011, the 60-plus-year-old outdoor lifestyle retailer opened its first headquarters (HQ1) in rural Niigata, Japan, on a mountaintop surrounded by a campsite, explains Matt Liddle, Chief Operating Officer, Snow Peak USA. By embedding its headquarters in the field,
barriers between customers and employees were blurred. “We could walk right out the door and test a new product, or see customers shopping in the retail store or camping at the campground, and interact with them directly,” he says.

“It was transformative for the brand; it brought our customers really close to our product and our leadership team.”

Taking cues from HQ1, it was important that this Portland, Ore., headquarters (HQ4) be just as memorable. Set at 15,000 square feet, the retail/restaurant/office hybrid was inspired by the Sanjo, Japan-based outerwear brand’s motto, “Let’s dwell outdoors, together,” and features ample amenities indoors and out. Guests step down into the main store from the street – much like a traditional Japanese home – and are eventually beckoned upward to the showroom. “Around every corner, customers are drawn by discovery,” says Reiko Igarashi, Project Director, Interior Designer, Skylab Architecture.

The concept also features a restaurant, event space and an outdoor patio. The patio is key to the restaurant and an extension of the showroom, says Igarashi, where customers can witness products being used. “There’s not a typical customer experience to be mapped through the space, we planned for a lot of different ways of experiencing it,” she says.

A hand-painted mural by a Seattle-based Japanese artist features the brand’s founder.

A hand-painted mural by a Seattle-based Japanese artist features the brand’s founder.

Beyond experience, the design was driven by unique materiality. At the beginning of the process, the design team acquired three massive 100-year-old Douglas Fir timbers from a warehouse in southeast Portland that was being demolished. The timbers were re-milled and upcycled into the intricate woodwork found throughout the space.

“I think it added to the texture of the project in a really amazing way,” says Igarashi. “That ended up being the backbone to the material palette … re-milling these timbers into a stacked wood language that surrounded the space and became part of the retail fixturing system; it also helped to create order and spatial definition.”

Another design element is the hand-painted mural (by a Japanese-American, Seattle-based artist) of the brand’s founder on a mountainside on the double-height wall at the entrance of the space, anchored by river rock. The river rock makes another appearance in the gallery toward the middle of the store, which shows a photography-driven brand history.

The restaurant, Takibi (meaning “bonfire” in Japanese), headed by chef Alex Kim and cocktail guru Jim Meehan, also features unique materiality through wall tiles derived and upcycled from notable ceramics manufacturer Heath (San Francisco).

“Fire is built into the restaurant’s DNA,” says Liddle. “In conversations with Heath, we learned the shelves they use in their kilns to fire all their traditional ceramics have about a two-year lifespan. In glazing them, they turned this beautiful burnt brown color that’s really compelling. The tiles had a life completely lived in fire, and it brings a gorgeous affect to the restaurant.” Each tile is unique, says Liddle, and features scrape marks from the tools used to pull ceramics out of the kilns over and over again.

Due to COVID-19, the restaurant was unable to open as planned in 2020 but will debut in 2021, according to Liddle. In the end, the design team felt thankful to complete a project of this scale during a pandemic. “Born of creative vision and a lot of courage, to see it come to life so beautifully was an emotional moment. You don’t get a lot of those in your career,” says Liddle.

PHOTO GALLERY (3 IMAGES)

Carly Hagedon is the Managing Editor of VMSD magazine. She lives and works in Cincinnati and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati, where she studied Journalism—Magazine Writing and American history. She also currently serves as a board member for the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

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