On its head

Viktor and Rolf’s store in Milan is a store that provokes a double take.

It is literally built upside down. Everything from the front door to the lighting has been flipped. The signs are upside down. In the front window a dress hangs from an inverted chair, which is seemingly glued to the ceiling, as it’s finished in herringbone pattern parquetry.

An upside down chandelier springs from the ceiling next to it – or the floor, depending on how you look at it. You can sit rather uneasily on the underside of an arch that curves down towards the floor and contemplate the clever, but rather disturbing, spectacle of the world’s most completely inverted store.

Others have imitated. Gap turned a store partially upside down for a promotion in 2010, complete with an up-ended hot dog stand outside.

Peter Alexander in Sydney’s Mid City Centre sports an upside down bedroom setting that clings to the ceiling near the entrance.

I’m not saying that upside down is the new right way up. But in design, it sometimes pays to turn the plan upside down.

McCartney Design has been thinking upside down about a few of our new store concepts. For example, have you ever thought of your floor as a light source?

It’s worth thinking about in these energy conscious times. We all want to light our merchandise to its best effect. Often, we use dark or blacked out ceilings to achieve theatre and atmosphere. But combined a dark timber or carpet floor finish, or even a dark concrete finish, can soak up precious light.

By going with, say, a white tile or epoxy finish, you get the benefit of reflected light – a secondary lighting source for your merchandise, which is rarely more than 1.5 metres off the floor. It’s effectively an upside down store design.

We used this to create atmosphere in simple stores like Great Dane Furniture in Fitzroy, where your attention is drawn down to the floor where the merchandise is.

We’ve gone one step further in using a floor material on the ceiling in several Just Cuts stores. The idea is that the merchandise in the store is actually the customer – you get a haircut to look good.

Here we used a light vinyl floor as a reflective surface to give a diffused lighting effect from the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. The ceiling itself is timber stripping, which again creates a warm atmosphere.
Thus there is good task lighting for the stylists and – more flattering light on the customers than you would get from ceiling mounted metal halide downlights.

Dan Murphy’s is an upside down store. All the light in this blacked out Aladdin’s Cave of wine is focused on the product. The aisles are lit from the reflected light on the light concrete floor.

Upside down works for instore communications as well. We have recently created store signage hierarchies to eliminate distracting messages in the air and on walls above pelmet level.

Traditionally, the trend used to be to fill all available air and wall space with messaging. More recently, we have been editing out high level messaging in order to place more relevant messages close to the customer’s eye level.

With the new Woolworths supermarket at Wolli Creek in Sydney, which opens in October, we have turned the traditional inverted pyramid of information upside down.

Instead of a myriad messages at high level and few at eye level, we have placed a few essential, large, directional signs at high level and increased the information content closer to eye level where the customer is looking.

When done in a disciplined manner, this gets the information you want to share with the customer into a position where they will not miss it but notice it and act upon it.

Big W is another example – the editing of information at high level gives clarity and focus on the merchandise, which is where you want the customer to look.

Looking at things in a different way is always interesting. Sometimes simply turning the plan upside down is a useful design tool. Or maybe you could just try standing on your head.

* Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design and a regular contributor to Inside Retail. You can reach him here.

* This feature first appeared in the October/November 2012 edition of Inside Retail Magazine. For more stories like this, subscribe to Inside Retail Magazine’s bi-monthly print edition here.

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