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Old and new are haute together …

Every design project engages our services differently and invites a unique relationship with the client and, usually, with the space itself. Sometimes while studying a job site before renovation, I imagine an existing building or space begging us to reclaim the found materials or those viable elements left behind by a prior owner or tenant. From the standpoint of budget requirements alone, the exercise in salvaging makes sense. Old millwork, fixtures, finishes and even furniture show up at renovation sites and, with a little creativity and a lot more elbow grease, find new purpose. Perhaps better even than the financial incentive is feeling nudged to recycle, repair, and re-use simply because we’re curious to see what new magic may come from what already is. As the years go by I find myself more and more compelled to make sense—and use—of stuff that’s right now in our world. (For many us that stuff happens to include people and animals too.)

We recently enjoyed the opportunity to brainstorm fresh use for elements abandoned within the old Harold’s store in Kingsgate South. The space is now location for Belly Couture, a fashion-forward maternity store that also includes gifts and fashion for women not pregnant. Belly Couture is the brainchild of Michelle Tyler, a savvy young entrepreneur who came to us with a clear vision for what she wanted to accomplish in her store. What she didn’t know was exactly how to get there. As a start-up, she had many financial priorities to consider, including inventory and advertising. As such, she was willing to play an active role in the process in order to save on design fees. For example, Michelle took on the task of shopping for, and purchasing, furnishings and lighting. Studio West came on board specifically to define the overall concept, develop the space plan and fixture layout, re-purpose existing millwork, select/design finishes and brainstorm ideas for furnishings and lighting.

An early site visit gave us opportunity to fully inspect what remained in the space from the prior tenant. We discovered a true gem in an abundance of dark stained retail display millwork. Although rough around the edges from years of use, the millwork looked as though it might be readily refigured and refinished. We decided right away to paint—not stain—the new finish in order to hide imperfections, cuts and alterations at added joinery. The wood floors were in apparently poor condition, comprised of multiple transition points and uneven elevations, the old carpet worn in places. Ceiling and lighting were intact, with enhancements required to bring the space to an acceptable level of sparkly retail illumination. Each area of discovery invited conversation with our client and value assessment. Throughout the project we allocated Michelle’s budget to accomplish success in all the important areas.

The most significant gift we offer—whether our client is hands-on or, like many, busy enough to want us to manage it all—is bringing together a cohesive project. A factor we want our customers to understand is that even a seemingly minor decision positively, or adversely, affects the overall project. For this reason, we are often guides and enforcers, keeping watch to be certain every decision is considered as part of the whole. The space plan becomes the functional footprint out of which all other design decisions flow. Retail design is both science and art, with product placement necessarily the strongest driver. Retail requires allowing for flexibility and growth—or shrinkage—within specific areas or departments. Belly Couture required even further consideration since theirs is a single retail experience encompassing multiple product markets.

What I particularly love about our relationship with clients is the collaboration. Michelle came to us with great ideas and a strong vision for her store. We worked together, as a team. When all was said and done our biggest success may be the dressing rooms. Michelle was clear from early on when she charged us to create dressing rooms to invite a delightful experience for all women, with lighting as the primary component. Every client or project seems to reveal one or two non-negotiable items; for Michelle, dressing rooms became the biggie. As such, we built on our knowledge of illumination, mirrors, back-lighting and paint color to enhance skin tones. I can vouch for the success of the dressing rooms. My daughter and I shopped there during Belly Couture’s grand opening and were totally seduced by how great we looked in the mirrors, in that lighting. We came. We spent. Mission accomplished!

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