Described as a ‘retailtainment’ space, Samsung’s King's Cross location is as innovative as the company’s range of technology products
Words by Sophie Tolhurst
Situated in Heatherwick Studio’s Coal Drops Yard shopping district in King’s Cross is a flagship ‘brand experience space’ called Samsung KX. Following the technology firm’s brief for a ‘Pioneer’s Sanctuary’, the concept was developed by Cheil (a digital branding agency born from Samsung itself), while Brinkworth was employed for the front-of-house design concept and Portview took on the main contractor duties. KSS was brought in for all back-of-house design, and to help with the delivery of the interior design throughout.
The 20,000 sq ft space is where the brand aims to showcase technological innovation as well as being a cultural destination, a concept Cheil describes as ‘retailtainment’. Phones, TVs and smart appliances are displayed across the space, but, aligned with retail design trends, there are diversions added to the business of selling, with large areas of Samsung KX dedicated to technology-enabled activities: 5G gaming, a ‘digital cockpit’ showcasing in-car features such as voice-activated controls and drowsiness alerts, and free souvenirs to take away and share on social media – 3D ME and Collage ME are two types of customisable portraits, the first using the phone as an interface to set-up an AI-controlled pen to draw a portrait on a wooden egg, and the second to edit a selfie with collage-like surrounds.
There are multiple events held in the space each day, with the majority focused on using Samsung products; on the day FX visited you could learn how hand-held devices can entertain kids or allow you to sketch, while in a cooking demo lemon drizzle cakes were being made with the help of smart kitchen appliances.
The floor-to-ceiling glass of the store allows customers to people-watch over Coal Drops Yard
Given the different requirements on the space, a main priority of the interior design was flexibility. This meant furniture was movable, but also that the aesthetic had to suit different activities and atmospheres – across the open plan space are domestic settings, a co-working space, and an events venue. The first and largest of these areas is dedicated to the home, featuring the kitchen and various living room set-ups, offering a mix of, as Sam Derrick, design director at Brinkworth, describes, ‘classic design’ – represented by an eclectic mix of chairs, lamps, rugs shelving, including pieces by British designers Lily Pearmain, Helena Lacy and Tom Dixon (plus plants and coffee table books) – with cutting-edge technology. Sometimes the technology takes centre stage, but at other times the products blend in instead, masquerading as picture frames – with artwork displayed instead of a blank, black screen, staff ask teasingly: ‘What do you think those are?’
On the other side of the space is an events-focused area, centred around a large, curved screen consisting of 1,008 LED tiles, in front of which movable tiered seating can be arranged into an auditorium or tidied away as needed.
Making the most of the floor-to-ceiling glass is a row of seating for trying out Samsung’s headphones, allowing you to switch off and people-watch over Coal Drops Yard. There is also a cafe and an adjacent workspace for the local community to use, signalling Samsung’s interest in the co-working concept, but without much obvious brand or product involvement in how this space functions.
Throughout, rather than the blank canvas of an Apple store, the design aims to emulate ‘loft living’ – perhaps not so remarkable in concept – but all the better to show how Samsung’s technology fits seamlessly into a relatable (albeit still aspirational) setting. The airy, once industrial space of Coal Drops Yard sets up the concept neatly, while the interior materials palette is fittingly warm, with plenty of stained oak wood across surfaces, furniture and trellised partitions, alongside porcelain floor tiles from Domus – in a bespoke laminated format specified by KSS – designed to be dry-laid on a raised floor system and respect the weight limits of the structure.
Brinkworth created bespoke terrazzo concrete furniture adapted to display and integrate Samsung products. There are also accents of mirrored metal, complemented by a standout crystal acrylic sculpture near the entrance, designed by Korean artist Saerom Yoon – in a nod to Samsung’s Seoul heritage – and built by Portview.
All parties were keen to make the most of the architectural features of Heatherwick’s building, and here some unique features come in: Portview 3D-modelled and built an architectural lighting frame that moves across the floor and arcs up to the ceiling and down again, and created a bespoke height-adaptable monolithic ceiling, complete with prefabricated troughs for services, for which it worked closely with KSS. Challenges were presented by the complex parabolic form of the roof, but these features work to enhance this feature, while performing key functions regarding lighting and acoustics. Portview describes these and other features as ‘the first of their kind’ and found the project overall an exciting challenge, ‘like nothing we had ever done before’, says John McMahon, Portview’s contracts director.
…while inside they can try out Samsung’s technological innovations
Across the space, other technical achievements include 65dB-rated walls, 774 data points with 36 miles of cabling, and 220 individual bespoke light fittings, with remote control capabilities. Simon Campbell, managing director of Portview, says: ‘Samsung KX is a huge feat for us and is unquestionably one of our most ambitious projects to date. To say I’m proud of our team is an understatement. It’s because of their commitment and expertise that projects like this are delivered to an exceptionally high standard.’
Consultants for IT/AV
Consultant for acoustics /AV/IT