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02.17.2010
State of Boutiques
Gone are wenge-wood slabs, white leather, and square mats. The new look in retail is decidedly ad hoc, cheap, and creative. And small shops are the place where architects can be inventive, as retailers discover that even a bit of design expression can pack enough punch to turn stores into destinations. Julia Galef shops for the latest in smart design.
The new Malin+Goetz, designed by Konyk Architecture, has a split personality.
Courtesy Malin+Goetz

Few cultural indicators are more sensitive than the retail landscape of shopwindows and showrooms. While the flagships of Fifth Avenue may sail on with white-box minimalism intact, many smaller retailers are facing an economic imperative to make stores do more, for less. Today’s boutique often does double or triple duty as event space, gallery, and atelier—no small feat, especially in New York, where architects must adapt to pre-existing spaces rather than build ground-up. Yet in the process, they’ve sparked a new generation of stores that are multi-purpose, elegant, and downright witty without breaking the bank.

For the second branch of Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz’s minimalist toiletry lab Malin+Goetz, which opened last year in a landmarked former barbershop on the Upper West Side, Konyk Architecture reckoned with cross-purposes when it came to brand identity: expressing the firm’s clinical style while also reflecting the new store’s particular place and time. “Matthew was concerned that it should have some warmth to it. Andrew felt we needed to continue the clean aesthetic of the original store. They were both right,” said architect Craig Konyk. So he lacquered the front and back of the store in a sleek white to match the Chelsea location, with embedded shelves illuminated by fluorescent bulbs. In the store’s midsection, Konyk affixed rough oak panels that he salvaged from a Long Island estate. Floating in front of the original wall, they offer hints of the building’s previous lives. “We strip the building down until we get to something authentic, like the existing brick, or tin, or this plaster with scratched green paint that we loved,” Konyk explained. The team tied old and new together by extending a pre-existing arched window with a futuristic circular cutout in the oak wall.


puro chile's wine racks rotate freely, allowing the space to be used for events.  
ben gancsos
 
 

Achieving multiple aesthetic goals gets even trickier when your store has split personalities. For Puro Chile, a Chilean specialty boutique that opened on Soho’s Grand Street in September, the challenge facing Chilean architect Felipe Assadi was how to turn the large loft into a combination wine emporium, gourmet food store, and event space. Complicating matters was the city’s law against selling wine in a food store. Assadi’s solution involved moving parts: Against a glass barrier in the middle of the store stand eight 14-foot-tall stainless steel wine racks that rotate 360 degrees on their axes.

In addition to maximizing storage, they wall off the wine section when turned flush against the glass, making it a separate entity during the day when the food store is in action. When rotated 90 degrees, they animate the space by creating a visual connection through the glass. Assadi built even more flexibility into Puro Chile’s food section. The shelves lining its walls are attached to heavy-duty hinges so that they can swing around to close completely flat, and display cases in the middle of the store are on wheels to allow them to be cleared out with ease. As a result, Puro Chile can go from a packed store to an event space with a 150-person capacity in a matter of minutes. In its short tenure so far, it’s been used for everything from exhibition openings to fashion-week afterparties. “When I took the fashion week people here to preview the space they said, ‘What were you thinking? We can’t do a show here,’” a store spokesperson recalled. “But then we transformed the store and they said, ‘Oh wow—this is a beautiful, raw space.’”


Salvaged beams from a Shaker barn give Red Hook's Saipua its look.
Courtesy Tacklebox

For firms tackling multi-use projects on a smaller budget, it helps to have a light touch and an interdisciplinary background. Brooklyn-based firm Tacklebox’s experience in furniture design and installations came in handy when they were hired to build a new home for Saipua, a small Red Hook outfit that sells handmade soaps and floral arrangements. Settling on a 700-square-foot warehouse space, Tacklebox had to create an intimate store setting and a back-of-house studio area—all on a bare budget. Tacklebox’s solution was to think of the store as a large piece of furniture, building a 20-foot-square, freestanding box at the front of the space. “We really didn’t want to permanently attach to the warehouse,” said project architect Jeremy Barbour. The result was an intimately sized shop in which Saipua’s wares are displayed in cut-away shelves, after being crafted in the untouched warehouse behind the box.

Although their tight budget was Tacklebox’s initial reason for seeking out salvaged wood, it was the perfect fit aesthetically, due in part to the geographic context of the store. “Red Hook is very close to the sea, and everything here has a bleached gray quality,” Barbour said. Unable to obtain salvaged wood locally, they turned to Craigslist to find a contractor selling beams that had been harvested from a collapsed Shaker barn in Michigan—the wood has a silvery hue that matches the faded beauty of Saipua’s new neighborhood.


Le Vigne's decor creatively recycles furnishings from the Salvation Army.
Petia Morozov

Cost constraints served as creative inspiration at Italian winery Le Vigne as well, which opened on Greenwich Avenue in July. Working on an “astoundingly low” budget, according to MADLAB studio’s Petia Morozov, who designed the store with artists’ collective SPURSE, the team headed to Goodwill and the Salvation Army to scrounge up materials for a striking installation. In the center stands a jumble of chairs and tables fixed together in one 25-foot-long, white-painted assemblage in which the wine collection is embedded at jaunty angles. A second sculpture of found furniture crowds up close to the storefront window, blocking the street view into the interior and lending Le Vigne a surrealist air. The designers’ artistic approach obviated any costly changes to the 600-square-foot space, preserving its original walls and tin ceiling. Embodying the best of the new boutiques, their design serves as decor, display system, objet d’art, and marquee, all in one.

Julia Galef