a listed Dutch department store gets an ultramodern makeover

Remodelling retail space so it retains the atmosphere of an original listed building yet feels smart and contemporary is always going to be a challenge. Shoehorning modern services in makes things even trickier. Interior designer Redjacket has managed to neatly reconcile these conflicts in its remodelling of one floor of a 1926 building in The Hague, Holland, for department store de Bijenkorf.

The redesigned living department is intended to have a residential feel by functioning as a series of room sets opening off the central circulation space. “The idea was it would be like a journey through the house,” says Richard Greenleaf, Redjacket’s design director. So each space contains items found in rooms at home such as kitchenware, bedroom furniture or bathroom accessories. Unusually, the windows were opened up to let in natural light and reinforce the domestic feel – retailers don’t normally like windows as these take up valuable space. “If it was all merchandise you wouldn’t see the wood for the trees,” says Greenleaf. “You need to let the merchandise breathe.”

The low floor-to-ceiling height meant services had to be carefully threaded through the department. The solution was to run the services in ducts located above the main routes through the department, as installing a false ceiling would have made the department feel oppressively low. Greenleaf says this central ducting has two benefits. “It leads the eye down to the relevant department,” he explains. “It also makes it more dramatic with tall walls at the edges of the store, but with a domestic feel to the centre.”

Another neat touch is the merchandising units built into the walls. These feature vertical dividers to help break the display up into separate product groups. The units also contain hidden fluorescent lights that evenly illuminate the products – Greenleaf says ceiling mounted spotlights tend to create shadows. The centre of the store uses chunky, freestanding units that look like contemporary furniture. The success of these, Greenleaf says, is largely down to the specially made mock walnut plastic edging, which is 40 mm deep and makes furniture look much chunkier than the standard 18 mm deep offering allows.

This new look should last for a decent length of time. According to Greenleaf, it was designed to be flexible so screens, shelving and even some low walls can be moved around. “The space needs to be accommodating enough so the buyers can change the store as they go along,” he says, adding that it acts as a backdrop to new styles of merchandise as fashions change. If this proves itself in the short-lived world of retail fit-out that would be an achievement indeed.