“As a practice, we approach every project as a unique opportunity to reveal the hidden personalities of our clients, their businesses and, where appropriate, their location,” says Ryan Russell, whose Melbourne-based design studio bears his name. “Maintaining a brand across multiple sites doesn’t have to equate to carbon copy designs.”
Russell recently won the Viridian 2010 Vision Award for Creative Use of Glass in an Interior Application – Commercial for his design of Aesop Chatswood, the latest of a chain of stores selling premium quality skincare products. Aesop Chatswood was the third Ryan Russell has designed for the chain.
Russell believes that all too often, the interior design of retail stores can be so cookie-cutter in approach that customers can be forgiven for not knowing if they’re in Sydney, Stockholm or San Francisco.
The desire to maintain uniform branding across all outlets stamps out any visions of injecting character into individual stores, he laments.
His approach reflects the stores’ location.
“For example, Aesop Doncaster features wall tiles laid in a brick pattern that subtly shifts in plane and texture aiming to create a sense of movement within the space, metaphorically echoing a breeze through gum leaves. This is reflective of its Melbourne eastern suburb surrounds.”
When contemplating how to inject a sense of Sydney into Aesop Chatswood, his designers were inspired by the relationship the city has with water, a core part of Sydney’s culture he believes.
“Essentially, we examined the effect of sunlight as it dances across the waves on Sydney Harbour, the movement and tactility of sailing and the discrete process of swimming and bathing. The store relies on customer movement to subtly shift the action of light on the material surfaces of the exterior and interior to represent these conditions,” says Russell.
The materials palette, lighting, washplane and shopfront are the main features of Aesop Chatswood’s theme.
The custom washplane of aged brass of the testing area, combined with carefully positioned and discreet lighting, sets the stage “where the customer engages with the product and water directly”.
“This element is designed to amplify and remind the individual of the process and joys of swimming and bathing as it casts the hands and face of the tester in a soft golden hue when products are tested. This is also a direct reference to sunrise and sunset across the harbour, the times when the process of bathing generally takes place.
Aesop’s products stimulate the senses, he says, but are simple and pared back in presentation and philosophy.
“The material detailing and lighting is designed to reflect this.”
Aesop’s shopfront continues the water theme. A façade of floor-to-ceiling vertical glass blades, manufactured from Viridian VFloat Clear glass, create reflections that ‘flicker’ as customers approach the store, “subtly echoing the dance of light across the waves of Sydney Harbour”.
“I guess you could say that glass is the hero of Aesop Chatswood’s design,” says Russell. “It complements the plywood and antique fittings and makes a huge impact within the shopping centre environment.”
“Our approach to all materials is to try and use them to both dramatic and functional effect. With 70mm of space between each piece of glass, the design has the add-on effect of allowing the products’ scent to waft into the shopping centre. In an environment where stores are competing furiously for a slice of shoppers’ attention, this is a significant benefit,” says Russell.
Ryan Russell and his team worked with structural engineer, Abbot Design to ensure the suitability of the glass blades. Concerned about the potential for the glass to bend during the toughening process, it was decided to toughen each piece individually.
“While it was a minor possibility, any warping would’ve deviated from the linear form and been detrimental to the overall design. Toughening each blade individually ensured the best possible and most consistent outcome,” says Russell.
With the shop positioned on a corner within Chatswood Chase, Aesop enjoys a second, less prominent frontage. Three 1200mm wide, floor to ceiling glass panels provide uninterrupted views into the store.
Russell says the client feedback has been fantastic.
“We always work closely with the client throughout the planning and design process so there are no surprises when we reveal the finished result. I think in this case, we’ve all been blown away by just how effective the glass blades are. They provide a unique element, while their simplicity ensures they don’t overshadow the whole design.”
This feature first appeared in Inside Retailing Magazine. Click here to subscribe.