While many retailers are injecting their physical spaces with colour, digital noise and living greenery to engage customers, a new wave of minimalist retail design is also taking place – the gallery store trend.
The gallery design concept sees retail stores carefully curated to reflect an artistic space. The space is generally light, airy and spacious, and minimalist when it comes to décor. Floor space is maximised and the walls are treated as canvasses for product.
The concept was initiated by many luxury high-end fashion brands. While market reports push for retailers to create experiences and offer activities in their stores to encourage physical in-store sales, some retailers are seeing the value in beautiful spaces that are distraction-free - spaces that are pared back and make products the heroes.
This retail design trend is becoming increasingly popular in boutique or concept stores, many high-end fashion labels or for brands whose brand, product or packaging also follows a similar aesthetic.
There is rarely a chair in sight, or a furniture piece that offers no function. Windows are stripped bare of loud branding and inside, design features are minimised. Where possible, a touch of raw sustainability through materials and textures is also evident.
These gallery spaces are designed for customers to wander, and to be visually engaged only by the products on display.
Australian luxury skin care company AESOP is a strong proponent of this design concept. The brand opened its first store in 2004 in St Kilda, Melbourne. It was a narrow ramp that descended into an underground car park, a benchmark for their future store designs.
Each retail outlet is customised to echo elements of its location but overall, the company keep its retail spaces clear of clutter with products (often in bottles) displayed on the walls in a horizontal linear format illuminated by just enough light.
The products themselves have simple packaging and this has translated to AESOP's store design where the subtlety of the space actually draws consumers.
The brand also manages to use sustainable materials where possible, bringing a warmth to the space and coupling well with AESOP's products, many of which feature plant ingredients.
For example, 400,000 pages from reclaimed copies of The New York Times were used as construction material for the company's first New York store in Nolita. Its latest and largest store, which opened earlier this year in Los Angeles, features six-inch round cardboard tubes to create walls and furniture. Even the countertops are made with recycled paper.
The LA store’s designer, Brooks+Scarpa, describes the space as “comfortable and unobtrusive.”
AESOP confirms this as part of its design strategy.
“Just as meticulous research is integral to the formulation of each product, our utilitarian containers (stores) are carefully considered to ensure they function with ease and bring delight to our eyes,” the company states.
Over in Europe, Parisian fashion designer-turned-luxury homeware designer Muriel Grateau has a store which features a highly minimalist aesthetic and is a favourite among design enthusiasts.
An impressive 100 shades of coloured linen light up a completely white store from floor to ceiling. Grateau's simple products are positioned on walls in a symmetrical canvas style application. Everything on display is for sale, with the display units a stark white that blur into the space as a whole.
According to Cool Hunter, Grateau's goal was to evoke a feeling of floating, to imply that the pieces are unattached and unrestrained by mere surfaces or walls.
Victoria Beckham's new London store shares this aesthetic. While fashion houses such as Versace and Missoni prefer a more ornate, colourful feel to spaces, Beckham pared back her Dover Street flagship store to create a very basic space.
Iranian born architect Farshid Moussavi, who is renowned for her museum portfolio, designed Beckham's store with museum or gallery aesthetics in mind.
The glass storefront offers no signage but gives passersby a look into the space, which changes depending on the products available. The store exudes a sense of calm and a minimalist beauty thanks to its clutter-free design.
A 340-kilogram concrete front door brings a touch of industrialism opening into the 6,000 square foot floor space. Carefully-placed angular bench seating allows customers to sit, relax and ponder the items on display.
The products are the primary decorative element, with clothes spaced out on racks or suspended from the ceiling with the same chains Beckham uses for her handbag line.
Within the three-storey building, two ceilings are mirrored, which appears to double the height of the store while offering another view of the product. Another ceiling features a textured triangular pattern (a reference to a clothing pattern from a previous season) but also houses the store's lighting.
“The store design involves display systems for hung clothing, shelves for handbags and accessories, counters for folded clothing and display for sunglasses,” Moussavi says on her website.
“These are integrated within the space of the shop to ensure an immersive experience for customers. The accessory wall for handbags located on the ground floor is designed as long retractable shelves to allow the store to vary the amount and height of handbags on display. Regular customers will perceive the entry space on the ground floor differently over time as the different arrangements of the accessory wall will alter the scale of the space over time.”
Many design professionals have predicted the end of minimalism, but the gallery design concept is making a push to bring it back. The keys to gallery design are ensuring there is enough floor and wall space for customers and products, and being confident that the product is good enough to stand alone.