Retailers are always trying to define and capture the “downtown New York” vibe. Some see it in cast-iron framing and large loft windows; or high ceilings and exposed brick walls; or concrete flooring and open duct work.
For his first U.S. flagship store, French shoe designer Pierre Hardy saw it as an attitude evoking an urban nightlife sensibility. His two Paris stores are celebrations of glass and other sleek materials. Hardy wanted something edgier for New York’s Greenwich Village.
MR Architecture + Décor (New York) found the answer in the use of a wide range of surface materials, from smooth to rough, shiny to grainy, sharp to soft, austere to luxurious.
“When we gutted the space – an old carriage house on Jane Street – we found a century’s worth of brick, stucco and cinderblock walls,” says MR president David Mann. “We restored and repainted the walls, then fronted portions of them with a double-density glass build-out that reflects the light against the dark, providing the illusion of a night out in New York.”
The flooring, too, is a journey of different surface materials, with pre-cast concrete planks in the front of the store leading in from the sidewalk, followed by wood and then leather. “They were treated so they all look exactly the same, like black stained wood,” says Mann. “But they don’t feel the same underfoot. The idea is that the walking experience gets softer and more elegant as the shopper gets deeper into the store.”
In the middle of the 900-square-foot store is a large intersecting “X” of two vertical planes of clear, gray glass, creating display areas for bags and men’s shoes. However, women’s couture shoes make up the bulk of the merchandise and so the main presentation opportunities were placed against the walls.
The dominant feature of the perimeter is a series of blocks that appear to be floating from the wall in what Mann calls “clouds of cubes” – each displaying a single shoe in true minimalist fashion. The gray, cement-like surface is a perfect complement to the gray exposed brick and cinderblock walls. Except that it’s not cement.
“Traditional cement would have been very cost and weight prohibitive, and achieving the floating effect would have been nearly impossible,” says Brian Graham, vp of operations for Concrete Design Studios (CDS, Rockaway, N.J.).
Instead, explains Graham, each cube was manufactured independently out of a composite substrate material at CDS’ facility and affixed to one another in three large sections to create a free-form arrangement designed by MR Architecture. Each unit was covered with what Graham calls a “cementitious skim coat” (proprietary to CDS) to give the whole thing the desired mottled look that resembles concrete and then moved on-site for final installation, where more skim coat was applied to cover up the seams. The result: It looks like one continuous sculpture in concrete.
Two industrial I-beams, laid out along the two side walls, also display merchandise, and silk velvet pillows placed on the beams provide seating. But because loose cushions can shift around and fall off a steel surface, Mann’s team came up with the solution of sewing small magnetic pads into each pillow. “They’re invisible from the outside and they adhere to the steel – but not so strongly bonded that the pillows can’t be rearranged or removed if necessary,” says Mann.
The cashwrap and stockroom were placed in the back of the store, behind the diffused glass wall. “The idea was to disassociate the commerce of retailing without hiding it completely,” says Mann. “Shoppers can still see their credit cards being run and their packages wrapped. But the ethereal nature of the downtown urban design environment has not been lost.”
Retailer: Pierre Hardy, Paris
Design/Architect: MR Architecture + Décor, New York
Metal Fabricator: Soraya LTD, Pleasant Valley, N.Y.
Concrete Fabricator: Concrete Design Studio, Rockaway, N.J.
Leather Fabricator: Floor Tile Specialists Inc., Levittown, N.Y.
Lighting: Translite Systems, Shelby, N.C.
Signage/Graphics: Duggal Visual Solutions, New York
Architectural Glass: Avant Art Architectural Glass Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.