Why timeless design will be the way forward in this new era

Ed Plumb, Founder and Design Director, Studio Found discusses why he thinks retail and hospitality spaces will focus on timeless design

Words by Ed Plumb

We are living in extraordinary, uncertain times; never before have retail outlets, restaurants, hotels and bars been closed like this as we stay safe and isolate at home. But there will come a time when the current crisis has passed, and when we will once again be free to go out and socialise. As designers, we will have to rise to the challenge of creating and updating retail and hospitality spaces for our clients; ones that reflect the new mood of the country and the world at large.

I believe that there will be a move away from ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ interiors - that have become the norm thanks to Instagram and other social media platforms - and a convergence towards more timeless interior design. This will be better for everyone, especially clients, at a time when they will be even more conscious of budgets and sustainability.

Designing for Instagram is not enough

We’ve been living through an era of social media and instant gratification and as a result, the design industry has become more trend driven than ever. Every architectural style was at some point a trend; the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century, Art Nouveau in the early 20th Century and the Modern Movement of the Mid 20th Century, are all examples. The difference between trends of the past and of today, however, is the speed at which they come and go.

With the popularity of Instagram, micro-trends emerge and then just as quickly disappear. One month, bright pink interiors are what’s ‘in’, only for them to be eclipsed by neon-heavy interiors the next month. We’ve all heard about restaurants and retail experiences designed purely to get ‘likes’ on Instagram and generate a buzz online to draw in the crowds; but more often than not, when we finally visit these spaces the ‘wow’ factor we’d hoped for is gone, and we’re left disappointed.

The way forward is timeless design

Designers should create spaces that not only look fantastic and eye-catching when completed, but also ones that continue to be impactful for a reasonable life span. This benefits clients and the world around us – pacifying the environment by adopting a more sustainable and timeless approach to design.

This means designers should be creating dynamic spaces that have the potential to look great years after they have been created. There are three key factors to consider when adopting this design approach: selecting high quality and responsibly sourced materials; using loose furniture as well as choosing flexible fixtures and fittings; and keeping maintenance at the forefront of aftercare.

High quality materials are more economical

Choosing quality materials and manufacturing methods will have a significant impact on the life span of a retail or hospitality space. Although the upfront cost of using quality materials – such as responsibly sourced timbers and stone – will be higher, these materials will significantly outlast cheaper alternatives and can be repaired and refreshed over time.

Our team at Studio Found used this approach for the design of the new Wedgwood concession in Harrods. Many of the marble plinths we designed for the new space were reused items taken from the previous concession, with some repaired and refinished to refresh them and others adapted for a new purpose. The timber framework used throughout the space was all solid FSC certified ash. This was selected as it’s tough and easily refinished if damaged, increasing the life span of all the fixtures and the whole space.

Flexible furniture, fixtures & fittings for a dynamic layout

Designing retail and hospitality spaces that are able to evolve and be updated over time will greatly extend the lifespan of the designed environment. In retail spaces, fixtures and fittings can be designed to be modular and flexible, allowing them to be arranged in different ways or adapted to serve another function. Something as simple as a rail that has adjustable height will negate the need to replace it, if the brand decides to create a new garment that is too long or short for the current set up.

For example, Seoul based studio WGNB designed retail space Untitledot, which incorporated a suspended rail system for full flexibility to create new fixture layouts with ease. This not only enabled them to consistently surprise customers, but also prolong the lifespan of the space.

In terms of furniture items, ensuring those selected can withstand the use they are intended for is critical; this is of particular importance when it comes to chairs, which are naturally subjected to a lot of wear. From a Food & Beverage perspective, there are simple ways to build in flexibility.

For example, freestanding dividers are an effective and simple way to create more private intimate spaces without the restrictions imposed by built in joinery items. In addition, smaller tables should be prioritised over large ones, along with having a good quantity of loose furniture (as well as fixed furniture). This gives the operator the opportunity to change the look and feel of the environment when needed.

One of our studio’s current neighbourhood projects involves creating a small bar for a renowned chef; to maximise the flexibility of the space, the majority of the tables & seating are freestanding, providing the client with the ability to modify the space as required.

Don’t forget the importance of maintenance

A key area, which is often overlooked, is the requirement for hospitality and retail spaces to follow a strict maintenance schedule. We always advise clients that it’s imperative to ensure their spaces remains smart, and our team always factor maintenance into our designs when conveying them to contractors. For example, if using banquettes, we make sure they are constructed in a way that allows sections to be removed and reupholstered if damaged, without the need to remove the whole unit and start again.

On a recent project, a beautiful antique brass finish was used at the client’s request. Although durable, it requires care from the staff to keep it looking its best; we taught the client’s team how to do this, and incorporated the process into their Operations & Management manual. As a result, the brass finish still looks great.

Designing for a new era

It is my belief that when we reach the end of the Covid-19 crisis, a new era of retail and hospitality design will emerge. This new era will be built to last, paving the way for spaces that are created to be appreciated for longer, while also taking into consideration the impact on the planet.

No doubt, once our freedom is restored, we’ll be keen to experience the pleasures of dining out, drinking with friends or browsing the shops. Perhaps we will all take more comfort in being in timeless, familiar spaces, rather than trend-driven, frivolous ones.


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