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Against the grid

By Erin M. Loewe
October 03, 2012

Photo: Magda Biernat Photography, New York
Since 1826, New York-based Lord & Taylor has been a trailblazer in the world of high-end department stores. One of its newest stores, in Westchester County’s Ridge Hill development, continues this tradition, asserting itself as a modern marvel of retail design and a bold step in the evolution of the Lord & Taylor brand.

Opened in spring 2012 and anchoring the Yonkers, N.Y.-based open-air shopping and lifestyle complex, this Lord & Taylor store defies any previous notions of what a department store should look like. In a partnership with Marina del Ray, Calif.-based Giorgio Borruso Design and Boston-based Bergmeyer Associates, Lord & Taylor’s Toronto-based parent company Hudson’s Bay Co. was seeking to take the brand to another level through design.

“From having the first female president of a department store [Dorothy Shaver] to being the first to showcase American brands [in its Canadian stores], we have always been thinking outside of the box from a design perspective,” says Kerry Mader, senior vice president of store planning, design and construction at Hudson’s Bay Co.

Perhaps part of what makes the new store design so outside-the-norm for Lord & Taylor is that the project was designed by two firms who have never worked on a department store before. “While neither Giorgio Borruso Design or Bergmeyer had done any previous work with department store retailers, we had unique challenges and opportunities afforded us,” says Joseph P. Nevin Jr., senior principal for Bergmeyer. “Not burdened by the requirements and contraints of ‘traditional’ department store design, we had the opportunity to look at the planning and design of a project like this with a fresh set of eyes, and could challenge the norms of fixture design and perimeter presentation. In our collaboration with GBD and Lord & Taylor, we created an environment that went beyond what either of us would have done individually."

Specifically, Nevin notes that Bergmeyer was able to bring its specialty store experience to bear in this project, which allowed for each department to be viewed individually, creating more intimate experiences throughout and punctuation points in each area. And Borruso certainly brought his ability to defy architectural convention into the store’s layout and exterior.

The design evolution begins outside the store, where a dramatic, geometrically inspired glass façade dominates the first impression. Borruso, principal of the self-named firm, conceptualized the elaborate façade on the main east entrance, which undulates like an ebbing glass wave. A smaller-scale façade and entrance on the north side features a similar, though flatter, glass-and-steel triangular pattern to keep natural light streaming through the space. “The façades use an extremely innovative ‘free-form’ glass technology to fluidly shape and pattern the façade, forming a strong visual contrast with the surrounding elements of the Ridge Hill development,” Borruso says.

Upon entering the space, customers soon recognize this is not your average Lord & Taylor. Gleaming white Italian porcelain tiles set the tone on the floor, and a mass of eye-catching, strategically placed triangular pendant lights draw immediate attention upward, bringing a sense of excitement and discovery into the store layout.

While department stores traditionally rely on a grid layout on the floor, Ridge Hill features an asymmetrical pathway that winds its way through the store. Borruso describes moving through the store as “a journey.” “The interior recalls the fluidity and lightness of the Raymond Loewy designs for Lord & Taylor from the ’40s, under the direction of Dorothy Shaver,” he explains. “The two exterior entries are connected via a scale-modulating, non-planar ceiling surface composed of large, cable-hung pendant lights that corresponds to the façade’s structural triangles. A network of orthogonal, zigzag and curved paths, as well as ovoid-shaped nodes, organizes the space, providing moments of pause where sculpted columns energize and re-orient movement.”

Although Ridge Hill is just Lord & Taylor’s second new store since 2001 (the retailer opened a store in Salem, N.H., this past March), the company also recently renovated the first floor of its Fifth Avenue flagship in New York. Mare Weiss, associate at Bergmeyer and senior designer on the project, says design inspiration for the fixtures and other interior features came from “design inspiration sketches” by Borruso, as well as the company’s desire to use some existing fixtures from Fifth Avenue. “Working with L&T Design and merchants, we updated details of the fixtures based on feedback from (the) New York City renovation, and we also changed some details and finishes to more align with the aesthetic of the new design,” she adds.

Evoking the iconic Lord & Taylor logo, a dark gray is layered throughout the store among the sea of white. Borruso says custom carpeting in select areas features vertical lines that run the same direction as the lights in the ceiling, which also has some unique characteristics. “The ceiling is activated by a dropped, curved soffit around the periphery of the store, while the lighting grid is made unidirectional and linear, becoming another intuitive orientation tool for the public,” he adds.

Mader of Hudson’s Bay says although the store is a bit smaller than the average Lord & Taylor (about 80,000 sq. ft. versus 100,000 sq. ft.), the open feel has an unexpected benefit as well—making the floor more hospitable to merchandise. “Giorgio pushed us to think about the fact that fixtures don’t have to be in a straight line; they can be more random, showcased in a more modern way than what she would typically see in a gridline fashion,” Mader adds. “[The merchandisers] didn’t think they could get that much product in there, but it’s been a learning experience. The product has never looked better.”

Richard Hamori, vice president of Hudson’s Bay Co., says the company is looking ahead to a new store in Boca Raton, Fla., slated to open in 2013, and possibly a complete Fifth Avenue renovation in the near future. “As with any retailer, we are always searching for how we reinvent our brand,” he says. “We are still studying the store to understand what works and what doesn’t, and we’ll change going forward based on that. But, the overall perception so far is that it’s been well received by the company and the public. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.”