by Pallavi MehraJun 04, 2022
Physical retail spaces have been on the cusp of an integral reconfiguration since the proliferation of online retail. Retail design is now tasked to capture the same versatility as an online portal while also communicating in a very physical sense the core values of the brand. The uncertainty of the past two years has only added to how essential experiential design is to retail spaces. They have also grown to be more than spaces to buy items. Newer retail spaces, at their conception, incorporate additional functions and programs that inform the overall spatial dynamic of the interior design.
Described as a holistic flagship store for the Danish shoe brand Notabene, the newly designed concept store is located in the heart of the old city of Copenhagen in Denmark. The high-end retailer’s flagship store opens its doors not only to the shoes themselves but to a world of shoemaking. Designed by Danish architectural studio Norm Architects, the entire retail experience has been reformatted to create a hub where all things surrounding shoe design and shoe care are unified in a big industrial space comprising a retail area, a shoeshine bar, and a creative lab.
Notabene has been in the shoe industry for 20 years and is known to create beautiful and viable shoes of high quality and comfort from what the brand identifies as honest materials. While rooted in Copenhagen, all shoes are created by hand in Italy. The store's spatial experience was conceptualised to showcase and highlight the brand's collection of Italian handmade shoes as delicate icons. Displayed on clay podiums, and stark aluminium shelves, shoes are displayed as artefacts to be admired rather than objects to be bought. It creates an impression of longevity and desire. This particular display modality is in line with the brand's desire to create lasting designs that tap into the needs and trends of the Copenhagen woman.
One of the key ideas of Notabene’s retail experience is about ‘buying less but better’. Norm Architects try to illustrate this idea through their material selection. “The intention to form a retail space resembling that of an artist’s atelier, combined with a simplified and stylised warehouse feeling is enhanced by the many freestanding plinths, displaying shoes as artwork in a versatile, yet harmonised, material palette,” explained Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen of Norm Architects. These displays are contrasted by the exposed and tactile concrete walls, and an original terrazzo flooring.
On entering the store, one is welcomed by a grand double-height space with an oak wood wrapped staircase. The rich material palette of lush bouclé, golden oak and raw concrete in natural colours all create a backdrop for the delicate shoes. Peter Eland of Norm Architects elaborated saying, “The expressive and raw building structure tells tales of various use over time and is juxtaposed by refined Japanese cabinet making, echoing the refinement and precision of the shoemaking process itself.”
At the entrance level of the store is the retail space. This section is spacious and well lit, with the design lad on the mezzanine. The basement level is where the shoeshine lab is located. Dim, cosy, warm and intimate, the lighting design creates an interesting contrast between the two. A central bar covered in golden oak veneer is accompanied by a lounge setting with comfortable sofas and lounge chairs from Japan. The idea here is to allow guests to get a glass of wine, tea or coffee, and put on a pair of slippers while having their shoes fixed.
The programmatic confluence is not distinguished simply by the different levels or its lighting – it is visible in the materials used. From the soft curtains set against the raw concrete walls to the delicate Japanese oak wood furniture on top of the traditional black-and-white terrazzo flooring, each juxtaposition is a reflective moment that showcases the key elements of the store which are the shoes. The furniture in the store is by the Japanese furniture design brand Karimoku Case Study. The furniture is accompanied by the monumental wooden staircase that sculpturally connects the three levels of the space, while playfully letting in the sunlight through its oak structure.
The staircase connects the three levels and programs as a visually strong feature. Frederik Werner, Norm Architects, added this about the furniture design, saying, “All the furniture pieces are designed bespoke for the store in close collaboration with Karimoku Case Study and while some pieces will remain as such, others might find their way to the permanent collection of the brand. This way of working with design, that is created for specific needs, is the core principle of product development at Karimoku Case Study.” With the vertical elements of the staircase’s bannisters and the clay plinths, there is a certain verticality to the interior design. This strategically draws one’s eyes to the top of these platforms and further enhances the idea of each shoe being an artefact rather than an object.
Relaxed, refined, and luxurious at the same time, the space encapsulates everything that the brand is and offers more than an average retail experience. With a clash of style, form and tactility the store is a dynamic space that tells a new story of a traditional shoe brand. Eland explained the store's axiom saying, “What we have really worked with is the materiality and the design language of the space to ensure that the downstairs shoeshine bar has the same feeling as the store area on the ground floor and likewise as the design lab on the mezzanine, all the while the different areas still needed to have their own character and to stand out as unique and diverse experiences.”
Name: Notabene Flagship Store
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Area: 250 m2
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Norm Architects
Design team: Partners & Architects: Peter Eland, Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Daniel Kutlesovski, Frederik Werner