KDA redesigned 1,800m2 of luxury goods retail space on the ground floor of Selfridges & Co’s famous Oxford Street store. Finding inspiration in the way stores fit neatly behind the existing architecture of London’s Victorian shopping arcades, and in the notion of wunderkammer – room-sized displays of interesting or exotic objects – KDa created the Wonder Room, a spaced that housed “a luxury goods emporium with the energy of a souk.” They devised an elegant wall of white-coated aluminium fins that runs around the perimeter of the room, floating elegant polished stainless steel display cabinets between the fins. Rather than giving the individual brands complete freedom of expression, all the concessions are placed behind this façade, giving the Wonder Room a degree of uniformity and order. In the centre of the Wonder Room, KDa placed glass and high-gloss lacquer cabinets for the display of smaller items such as fine jewellery, watches, and luxury mobile phones. An icon of British culture, Selfridges & Co. operates a series of high-profile department stores across the country. Selfridges’ London’s store opened in its exclusive Oxford Street location in 1909, and is one of the largest stores in Britain. Since its earliest days, the Selfridges sought to make shopping an adventure rather than a chore, and the store gathered and displayed goods from around the globe to amaze and excite its customers. From its earliest days, Selfridges was a place where shoppers could find wonders they could see nowhere else – the first public display of a television took place on the first floor of the Oxford Street store in 1925. This innovative approach has made Selfridges a world leader, setting the pattern for department stores around the globe. In the lead up to Selfridge’s 100th anniversary celebrations KDA were asked to undertake a birthday revamp, redesigning 1,800m2 of luxury goods retail space on the ground floor of Selfridges’ Oxford Street store. The brief was to accommodate store-in-store concessions for nine luxury brands – including Chanel, Cartier, and Chrome Hearts – selling goods from jewellery to high-end mobile phones to exotic rare books. KDa’s goal was to reintroduce the surprise and wonder into the shopping experience, and create a department store for the 21st century. Returning to London, where both Astrid and Mark had lived and studied in the 1980s, they were impressed by places such as Burlington Arcade. Compared to the chaotic shopping areas in Tokyo where stores compete for attention, the architectural setting dominated the individual stores to give the large number of outlets a sense of uniformity. “Places we would have overlooked as locals became very interesting, places where brands fit neatly behind the existing architecture of a building that they are forced to respect,” says Dytham. Another key inspiration for the design was the notion of wunderkammer, known in English as “curiosity cabinets”. These encyclopaedic collections were room-sized displays of interesting, exotic, or charming objects from all over the world, and are the predecessors of modern museum collections. Combining these two ideas, KDa created the “Wonder Room”, a space that houses “a luxury goods emporium with the energy of a souk.” The key element is an elegant wall of glass and white-coated aluminium fins that runs around the perimeter of the room. Beautifully polished stainless steel display cabinets float between the fins, and the concessions are placed behind this uniform façade. The fin wall allows the individual brands a degree of flexibility in setting out their displays while giving the Wonder Room a degree of order, and calm. The design of fin wall has a cunning directional effect - to shoppers strolling past each concession the wall is transparent and offers clear views of the goods on display within. Look along the wall, however, and it becomes an opaque screen; the brands disappear, the visual clutter typical of department stores is streamlined, and the wall becomes a background to the overall Wonder Room. One of KDa’s goals for the project was to show respect to the Daniel Burham-designed building. The retail floor had undergone a number of unsympathetic refurbishments over the years, the ceiling being lowered to accommodate air conditioning and lighting. KDa cleaned out these accretions, restoring the ceiling to its original height and re-establishing the elegant proportions of the space’s Corinthian columns. The air conditioning was placed under the floor, air being delivered through vents artfully concealed in skirtings of display cabinets. The space originally had only one pendant light per structural bay, with nothing else cluttering the ceiling. Looking to restore the clarity of the space, KDa custom designed donut-shaped light fittings that followed the one-per-bay pattern – theses fittings both up-light the crisp ceiling and and down-light the display cabinets. In the zone at the centre of the Wonder Room, there was a need for low cabinets for the display of items such as fine jewellery, luxury mobile phones, and over thirty exclusive watch brands. Rather than a sea of glass cabinets all at the same height, they conceived an irregular layout of cases resembling a miniature townscape that shoppers could wander through to explore the products on display. As with the concession stores, KDa considered the question of how to unify the irregular layout of display cabinets, and came up with a solution that combined discipline and freedom in a similar way to the fin wall. They designed a series of cabinets composed of blocks of glass and high-gloss lacquer. Arranged in a subtle colour gradation across the rooms, some of the lacquered blocks have been finished in beautifully crafted mother-of-pearl, carbon-fibre, gold leaf, or silver leaf, adding a further touch of wonder to the room. The interior of the glass display cases has been carefully designed - a stainless steel frame carries internal lighting, and the runners that support the display pads have been concealed. KDa developed guidelines that allowed the various brands some flexibility in how they displayed their products on these pads, but which ensured the overall effect of the space was harmonious and elegant. Along the Orchard Street side of the Wonder Room, two special Selfridges-run zones have been created behind the wall of fins – the Concept Store and the Wonder Bar. The Concept Store displays more youthful and fashion-oriented goods - exploring this flexible space, shoppers might find anything from haute-couture sunglasses to exotic rare books to super-cool Kid Robot limited editions. Timber boxes in Jenga-like stacks lead patrons up to a wine bar on a mezzanine floor tucked up close to the grand capitals of the Selfridges’ extraordinary Corinthian columns. Sitting in the Wonder Bar’s plush interior – its timber linings are accented by panels of wine-red lacquer – customers can treat themselves to some of the finest wines from around the world, dispensed from a jukebox-style vending machine.
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