Interior Design Masters: Episode 5
March 2, 2021
February 23, 2021
The Brief: Six designers faced with three shops in the historic Pantiles district of Tunbridge Wells. A cook shop, a pet accessory store and a photography shop. Three family businesses behind listed shop fronts with owners who are as passionate about their wares as they are specific about their requirements.
Various key words were specified by the owners for their new and improved businesses, from the desire for a “vibrant, warm, and a sophisticated yet wholesome scheme” for the cookshop. “Eclectic, energetic and heritage” for the pet store. And for the camera shop: “a toyshop for adults with warmth, character and personality”.
And in this episode, the designers pitch their designs directly to the shop owners, who could then choose parts of both schemes, or a single lead scheme. Regardless, the designers have to work together. So this challenge is as much about the pitch process as the final designs.
Also, for these retailers, this is more than their jobs, this is their livelihoods. Thus, naturally they will be both practically and emotionally invested in the outcomes. Nevertheless, if they could have designed a better shop themselves, they wouldn’t be needing a makeover now. This is what the designers have to remember.
Working with any client is always an exercise in negotiation. At the end of the day, you need to be able to do a good job, as only you will be to blame in their eyes if they do not like it. But sometimes, in fact often, you have to give people what they do not know they need, let alone can describe. In this way, the art of a good pitch is to paint a picture of what you want to achieve based clearly on their requirements so that they trust you, before gently introducing creative ideas for how you intend to achieve it.
In other words, it’s all about navigating the tricky area between confidently standing your ground regarding your ideas, while staying flexible enough to be sure you’re really listening to the client’s feedback. Nothing is gained from backing yourself into a defensive corner.
For example, many retail briefs can probably be boiled down as follows…
So pitch to acknowledge these points, with the rest up for designerly interpretation. This is where the magic of collaboration can happen. In other words, it’s crucial to allow your client to feel involved, not excluded.
Where designers often go wrong is in pitching in hard about the decoration (the bits they get excited about but which can be dangerously subjective) and forgetting to address the more practical requirements as detailed above. At the end of the day, there’s no point having a gorgeously fancy pants wallpaper at the very back of the shop if you can’t get anyone through the front door to see it.
Retail design has completely changed over the last few decades because consumer behaviour, as well as the economic landscape, has radically changed. And this was even before the pandemic complicated the issue even further. Retailers, from big brands to independents, are fighting to stay afloat, so adaptation and evolution of the shopping experience is everything.
But even in the era of e-commerce, physical shops have purpose and a vital role to play. Their design however must become focused on the kudos of visiting them IRL. Creating moments. Engagement. Touching great product. Connections and community. The experiential factor. All of this needs to be referenced and recognised. Shops can no longer just be about displaying product. If I can see everything a brand might sell from the comfort of my sofa, you have to give me more.
In other words, create a story. A reason to enter. An inviting atmosphere. A reason to hang-out. The background to the business so I know it’s all about people, not just products. Basically, make it about everything you cannot get online.
Ross Bailey has worked with everyone from Nike and Kanye West to Net a Porter. His company Appear Here, dubbed the “Airbnb for retail” by Monocle magazine and a “digital game changer for the high street” by The Guardian, is the marketplace leader for pop-up and short-term shops. The idea is frankly genius simple. You have an idea/product to sell or an event, then rent an existing empty shop, market or pop-up stall in any of many cities around the UK to Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Amsterdam. Then showcase it for as long, or short, as you like!
So Ross knows a thing or two about kerb appeal. As he puts it, “Shops should be seen as marketing fronts for brands rather than just places to make sales. The idea is that the customer comes to a store to learn and experience the brand, then shops online and spreads the word on social media.”
Ross is also spearheading a #SaveTheStreet campaign asking the government to support the independent retail sector, as they have done with other sectors, eg restaurants. the campaign highlights that the retail sector represents 20% of the UK’s GDP and it’s our independent retailers who will play a vital role in the economic recovery of local neighbourhoods. For every £1 spent with local independents an additional 63p of benefit is created for the local economy, compared to just 40p generated by larger national retailers. But as it stands, 1 in 3 British brands are predicted to disappear by March.
You can find out more here: SaveTheStreet
Viewing: navy blue S’ MaxMara cable knit jumper; S’ MaxMara Chinoiserie fabric silk coat (many years old now); Paige jeans; pale green Nike trainers
Judging: Roksanda Illinic red/pink top; navy blue See By Chloe wool trousers (bought from Tidy Street General Store in Brighton); Alexander McQueen gold shoes from God knows how long ago, definitely before small was born!
Thank you for reading this, and if you want to know when I next post something, please do subscribe.
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.