Neiman Marcus wanted to pay tribute to the local architectural flavor of Coral Gables, Fla., the nation's first fully planned community.
This "American Garden City," first envisioned by George Merrick in the 1920s, has blossomed into a luxurious village and home to many historical landmarks, including The Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables Merrick House and Venetian Pool.
The new store is in an upscale commercial center of office, retail and residential components, The Village of Merrick Park, full of the area's Mediterranean- and Spanish-inspired architectural style.
"You feel somewhat transported to the past in Coral Gables," says Charles Sparks, president and ceo of Charles Sparks Co. (Westchester, Ill.). "So we incorporated a mixture of the modernist design principles of Neiman Marcus with some of the motifs and Spanish Colonial architecture that inspired the region."
The three-level 135,000- square-foot store has cosmetics/fragrances, precious jewelry, designer jewelry, ladies' shoes, handbags, vendor shops and fashion accessories housed on the first floor; women's and children's on the second; and men's and home decor and accessories (now called Gift Galleries) on the third.
To achieve their goals, designers used a neutral palette and combined colors and materials to create an environment that showcases the products. "You can get the more artful, by-the-hand look if you are careful with combining diverse elements, which I think people appreciate," says Sparks. "We underestimate the importance of materials in our field too much."
For Sparks and Neiman's, that led to white-lacquered archways in the store foyers; unusual wood choices (zebrano and figured sycamore wood); and glass to give some of the space an airy, open feel.
"Color and material are the strongest ways to create and alter perceptions," says Sparks. "We take that to the extreme with Neiman Marcus because of its desire to differentiate and to always project its unique personality in the market."
Another subtle Neiman Marcus design technique is the use of artisan furniture and objects to display merchandise. "The stores are designed with purposeful places and opportunities to present product," says Ignaz Gorischek, vp, visual planning and presentation, for Neiman Marcus, "so that when you look down an aisle, your eyes are always going to something of importance."
The strongest and newest example of this is the Gift Galleries area, which Neiman Marcus debuted in its Willow Bend, Texas, store in 2001. (It borrows from stablemate Bergdorf Goodman's presentation of home goods and accessories in its New York store.) Here, the traditional departments for china, glass, crystal, tableware, silver and decor items are presented in a home-like setting in segmented rooms that branch off a circular main aisle.
Merchandise is displayed on conventional fixtures - such as perimeter wall units designed to mimic in-wall cabinet furniture &endash; but also on less-conventional ones, such as a "TV Table" that features a 4-by-4-foot glass tabletop embedded with 12 video screens. Home decor items are set around the screens on the table for a one-of-a-kind presentation.
"We want people to get as excited about the vehicle that we are presenting merchandise on as they do about the product," says Gorischek. "It's about the whole experience at Neiman Marcus."
Fixturing throughout the store incorporates contrasting wood materials to define areas, as well as to add a luxurious feel to the space. In the cosmetic/fragrance and designer jewelry areas, figured sycamore wood with a light-stain finish adorns the display cases, while the precious jewels area, which is larger than in most Neiman Marcus stores, is distinguished by zebrano wood showcases with a high-gloss lacquer finish and polished stainless-steel frames.
On the third floor, men's clothing and furnishings are presented in dark-stained wood showcases, while the men's sportswear area uses oak displays with light-stained zebrano wood inlay.
Glass keeps sightlines clear and creates a sense of translucency in the store. For instance, on the second floor in women's better apparel, partition walls that rise to the ceiling are fitted with textured translucent glass top panels in a grid pattern, defining the area and also keeping it open and light.
"Rather than creating heavy architecture, we always want to create a sense of something beyond," says Sparks. "Glass is a wonderful material to work with and I think it also communicates a level of luxe consistent with the Neiman Marcus brand."
Colors are infused into the Coral Gables store through a variety of vehicles, including custom-designed area rugs, colorful textured walls and slumped art glass frames and panels. (Layers of glass are stacked together and baked, fusing into a one-of-a-kind glass brick.) In the women's department, rugs in lime green and red are accented by red show boxes and fresh green fruit.
The third-floor Gift Galleries feature bright yellow walls with contrasting green area rugs and red glass vases on display. These walls will be painted on a seasonal basis to fit a particular season or product launch.
The region's influence, reflected through the presentation of fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables in displays, also brightens the store. "For South Florida, we tended to work with shades of yellow and blue, because there is so much sun and water," says Gorischek. "But they are subtle so people wouldn't say, 'Oh, you did this because it's Florida.'"
Also integral to the Neiman Marcus culture is the incorporation of regional artwork into its store design. For every store, the company commissions from 100 to 200 original works of art designed for specific areas of the store.
"When you stand back, maybe the art jumps out at you, or the merchandise jumps out at you," says Gorischek. "Then you walk into an area and the subtleties in the architecture start to come out. It provides a nice element of surprise no matter where you are or where you look."
Client: Neiman Marcus, Dallas - Cliff Suen, vp, properties; Clifford Brandt, properties/project management; Collette Ventrone, vp, store planning and design; Ignaz Gorischek, vp, visual planning and presentation; Chris Lebamoff, director, store planning and design; Paolo Antononi, store planning project manager
Design: Charles Sparks Co., Westchester, Ill. - Charles Sparks, president and ceo; Donald Stone, executive vp, account executive; David Koe, senior creative director; Stephen Prosser, account coordinator; Fred Wiedenbeck, director, Resource Studio; Rachel Mikolajczyk, designer, Resource Studio
General Contractor: Beck Construction, Coral Gables, Fla.
Outside Design Consultant: Integrated Lighting Concepts, Westlake Village, Calif.
Architect: Diedrich/NBA, Atlanta
Suppliers: Armstrong World Industries, Lancaster, Pa. (ceiling); Donghia, New York, Knoll Textiles, New York, J. Robert Scott, Los Angeles (fabrics); Suss Woodcraft, LaSalle, Que., Intl. Woodwork Group, Colorado Springs, Colo., Target Woodworks Inc., Hialeah, Fla., J.P. Metal, Montreal, Universal Showcase Ltd., Concord, Ont. (fixturing); Bentley Mills, City of Industry, Calif., Monterey Carpets, Santa Ana, Calif., Masland Contract, Mobile, Ala., Lees Carpets, Greensboro, N.C., Atlas Carpet, Los Angeles (flooring/carpet); Gallerie Diurne, Paris, Pacific Looms, Irvine, Calif., Della Robbia, Irvine, Calif. (area rugs); Innovative Marble, Hauppauge, N.Y., Ann Sacks Tile & Stone, Portland, Ore., Mid-America Tile, Mundelein, Ill. (stone flooring); Buell Flooring, Dallas (wood flooring); Donghia, New York, Holly Hunt Ltd., Chicago, Gerard, Plainville, Kan., B&B Italia, Chicago, Knoll, New York (furniture); Sirmos Lighting, Long Island City, N.Y., Donghia, New York, Baldinger, Astoria, N.Y., New Metal Crafts, Chicago (lighting); Formica, Cincinnati (laminates); Ultra Glass, Chatsworth, Calif., McGrorey Glass, Aston, Pa., Chameleon Visual Arts, Seattle (glass decoratives); Ann Sacks Tile & Stone, Portland, Ore. (decorative tile); Southwest Progressive, Plano, Texas (special finishes); Studio E, New York, Elizabeth Dow, New York, Innovations in Wall Coverings, New York, Surfaces, San Francisco, Knoll Textiles, New York (wall coverings)
Photography: Charlie Mayer, Chicago