Retail Rebirth

Dramatic conversions give old buildings new uses in retail, where brand stories paired with slick interior designs are reaching customers in a hyper-targeted way
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Posted September 3, 2019

Retail Renovation of the Year
Conversion – Specialty Store, Sales Area Under 10,000 Square Feet
Claus Porto, New York
Submitted by: Tacklebox Architecture, New York

Tasked with designing the first international store for 131-year-old beauty and fragrance brand Claus Porto (Porto, Portugal) in the heart of New York’s Nolita neighborhood, Tacklebox Architecture (New York) paid homage to the brand’s heritage while letting its artful, ornate packaging shine.

The site’s showstopping arched tunnel is modeled after Porto, Portugal’s São Bento train station (first proposed in the brand’s 1887 founding year) and recalls the transit hub’s famed azulejo tilework, which depicts the country’s significant historical events. Schedule and budget circumstances surrounding the store’s location impacted how its final design would take shape.

Referencing the long, narrow layout, VMSD Renovation Competition judge Vicki Wiesman, Senior Designer at The Kroger Co. (Cincinnati), noted would be inherently challenging to work with, much of the 500-square-foot store’s fabrication would need to take shape offsite so it could later be installed in the span of less than 10 days. Designers conceptualized a 42-foot-long archway comprising 1500 faceted diamond niches composed of sustainably sourced milled cork.

“This [strategy] allowed us to begin fabrication in advance of construction and also to allow for most of the base-building construction to be complete before bringing in the millwork,” says Jeremy Barbour, Founding Principal, Tacklebox Architecture.

This ingenuity was not lost on VMSD competition judge Brian Shafley, Columbus-based Consumer Experience Consultant, who said, “It looks like they built this in modules, which is even more impressive.”

The glow of the enveloping archway beckons from the street, and Barbour cited the intended contrast between the inserted freestanding archway and the existing ground floor as what makes the design so visually striking. “The experience begins long before you cross the lease line, and in this project, we initially engage the boundary between inside and outside,” he explains. “This juxtaposition is most evident as viewed through the storefront window.”

The subtle manipulation of light and shadows is another standout feature of the store’s design, creating dimension and directing attention within the space without detracting from other elements. “We worked with our [lighting provider] to find a way to [illuminate] the space without making it about the lighting fixtures themselves,” Barbour says. In addition to suspended lighting, custom glass LED panels were installed within the cork niches, with careful coordination between the designers, the lighting manufacturer, fabricators and the electrician, to hide their mechanics. This attention to detail was another technical accomplishment commended by Shafley.

Thoughtful storytelling touches were also included as a direct reference to Claus Porto’s Portuguese heritage and reputation for fine craftsmanship, including a wash basin resembling a baptismal font (recognized by VMSD judge Claudia Cerchiara, Client Leader – Retail at Cincinnati-based BHDP Architecture) – carved from the same block of Estremoz marble that formed its twin version at the brand’s Porto flagship – as well as brand artifacts, including original fragrance bottles and packaging, historic photos of the brand’s founders and factory, and a framed Gold Medal Award Certificate the company won at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

For more winners from VMSD's 2019 Retail Renovation Competition, be sure to check vmsd.com throughout the month of September.