Rena Tom Rena Tom

Brick and Mortar

Hello everyone!

I love thinking about trends, the next “it” colour, styling, product creation, store curating and virtually every area of design that retail utilizes (we all know I can go on and on). Shops, the containers of these spectacular design details, are the ultimate source of inspiration. I am always amazed at how any store, whether an online environment or physical space, can be so full of thought, beauty and memorable experiences beyond simple financial transactions.

That being said, I always find myself particularly drawn to brick and mortar shops. Perhaps it is how the physical needs of a store, from signage to window styling to lighting, provide countless opportunities for striking design. There is so much dedication required to run a shop of any kind but a unique magic in opening a store for the day, interacting with customers and creating a tangible sense of community.

As always, I continue to wrestle with my own shopkeeping desires and just how to fuse such dedication with my other interests. Needless to say, my retail inspiration folder is bursting at the seams and I thought I would share some of the brick and mortar shops that have caught my eye in the last month or so. This collection is focused on physical storefronts but can be used to inspire any facet of retail (I do plan on featuring the many unique details that make online shops fabulous in a future post.)

With the rise of big box stores and discount e-commerce, brick and mortar shops feel like fragile yet vital components of how a city formulates its design aesthetic and uniqueness. To me, the soul of a place is found walking down its streets but what happens if every street looks exactly the same? Even if chain stores are an inevitable addition to a neighbourhood, there is no excuse for cookie cutter design. They can embrace each location in a new way, enhance the community they join and still remain true to an overall brand (Anthropologie and Aesop are fantastic at achieving both). With the vibrant necessity of brick and mortar shops in mind, let’s pretend we are on a magnificent (and global) walking tour and ponder inspiring retail spaces! – Chloé / plenty of colour

I love when shops take over spaces that are otherwise unloved and re-imagine them in fabulously creative ways. Talk about contributing to a community! From top left: denim shop Imogene + Willie gave a gas station a stylish makeover, an old slaughterhouse in Madrid became a public cinema centre and a 100 year old former convenience store in Vancouver turned into a chic café/market named Le Marché St. George (one of my favourite local spots).

Small retail spaces can still be mighty places of design from kiosks to food carts to self-contained pop-up shops.

United Colors of Benetton just opened a pop-up shop in New York City called “The Art of Knit”. Any space can engage the public and serve as an inspiring brick and mortar experience regardless of its temporary nature.

Colour, whether applied with a rustic sensibility or kept spotlessly clean, is a great way to bring life to your storefront and streetscape. I have noticed some striking examples lately (perhaps deserving of their own post one day!)

I love brick and mortar shops that focus on modern aesthetics and feel like a hidden gem on a busy street. Another great detail? Focusing on one impactful design element like a vinyl window illustration or typography feature. How great is that artful door frame? At once minimalistic and ornate.

While not every shop budget includes new architecture or a stand-alone structure, there is still plenty of inspiration to be gained for exploring this corner of retail design. The top left photo illustrates how a chain, when it wants to, can infuse a street with great architecture (in this case, Starbucks). Or how about utilizing a brand colour? Yes, the middle right image is a Barbie concept store. Light effects or brand colours can be used on a much smaller scale and still be full of impact. The architecture of any space, whether you have the budget for large changes or not, can be embraced and enhanced with striking results. Highlighting raw industrial ceiling details or creating an artful room divider from old shipping pallets – there are no limits to the possibilities.

As always, I love the details of brick and mortar shops. They form the soul of a shop, don’t you think? Typography installations, windows that creatively use recycled clothing tags, gorgeous sandwich boards, fabulous lighting, a chic dressing room or a striking cash desk — the details are the design.

images via nico alary

Speaking of details, Little Mule in Melbourne is an example of how simple can be smashing. Oh and the power of a well designed awning! Great open/close sign too.

image via jennifer chong

Taylor Stitch, a men’s clothing store in San Francisco that specializes in custom tailored shirts, features their fabric swatches in dapper fashion. I think more shops should display colour ways, swatches and options with such reverence. Oh and how about that wall of fabulous hangers?

image via Love Camden

This book store in Woburn, London showcases how retail signage might not be needed if your shop windows are this indicative of the products within. Such a magical storefront.

Okay, I could go on forever (and I’m thinking we might need a water break on this walking tour). I love brick and mortar establishments but I truly believe that all shops can be inspiring, full of great design and create a sense of community. Now more than ever, we need to support small businesses of all forms as they create the soul of our neighbourhoods and cities. Oh and we need to hold chain stores to a higher standard of unique location design! Until next time, I am off to plan another insane global shop tour… – Chloé / plenty of colour

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  1. […] Just look at that great Starbucks above! Any shop can be engaging and full of great design. In my latest post for Rena Tom, I dissect some great brick and mortar shops that have caught my eye lately and serve […]

  2. Karen T says:

    This is a fabulously inspiring roundup — thank you.

  3. Sue says:

    Love this posting, great images! Thanks Chloe’!

  4. Ana says:

    I saw a post dedicated solely to that slaughter house/cinema and it looks incredible!

  5. chloe says:

    Thank you Karen, Sue and Ana! It’s a rather inspiring topic so very fun to find photos.

    Oh and yes, that slaughter house/cinema is an amazing project Read more about here if you are interested:

  6. Daniella says:

    Very inspirational Chloe! Thanks for such a nice selection.

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