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DDI Magazine

An enchanted forest
June 01, 2013

Photo: Binwu Zhu, Visual Commercial Photography
Upon entering Little Bookworm, a children’s bookstore in Chongqing, China, children and their parents immediately feel as if they’ve stepped into the pages of a fairy-tale story. And that is exactly what owner Chen Zhang asked New York-based design firm  Pompei A.D. to create.

Using the vibrant and bright colors found in a rainbow, the inspiration for the design was a pop-up book, says Pooja Rao-Pillao, studio director at Pompei A.D., and a variety of elements within the design reflect this theme.

“When Ms. Zhang first approached us with the vision of a ‘little bookworm’ living in a forest, we decided to bring simple elements of the little bookworm’s home to life, and were inspired by the concept of a pop-up book,” Rao-Pillao says.

As a result, the little bookworm’s play area became the store’s arts-and-crafts space, where trees and tables pop out of the walls. What would be his sleeping area became the storytime space, and his eating area became the café.

“In the book corners, paper-like trees pop out from the ground and little bookworm’s forest friends became special seating and book displays,” Rao-Pillao explains.

Much more than a retail store, the space also can play host to children’s birthday parties, arts-and-crafts classes, movie showings and storytelling sessions. The design encourages the imagination and creativity of both children and parents by providing “areas of discovery,” including seating nooks, a magical storytime area that resembles the inside of a tree trunk, and a mezzanine with a giant paper tree, where children can sit and read.
There also are memory foam “worm stools” in rainbow colors that can come apart and fit back together for seating, and tree-shaped magnetic chalkboards, where children can draw and play with magnetic shapes to create their own designs.

The entrance to the 3,000-sq.-ft. store is lined with tree-shaped structures made of MDF panels painted with a high-gloss lacquer to represent the trees found in a magical forest. Rainbow LED lights line the sides of each structure to draw attention to the store entrance and emphasize the oversize tree shapes, Rao-Pillao says. “We wanted guests to feel as though they were being transported from the outside shopping mall into a magical forest,” she adds.

The ceiling fixtures, backlit with LED light strips and suspended from a sky-blue drop ceiling, represent abstract leaves found in a forest. The green stained concrete floor reflects this pattern. “There are leaf shapes stamped within the forest path to guide guests throughout the space, and these stamps represent shadows of the leaf lights above,” Rao-Pillao notes.

Additionally, the wall that divides the main walkway and the event space is created with felt cut out in leaf shapes. This offers seating nooks for children to sit and read. While the main walkway is dimly lit to create the feel of walking in a forest, the areas where books are sold feature bright, dramatic lighting.

Within these retail areas, ceramic tiles with the look of white-washed wood are used on the floor, and tree structures made of MDF hold books for sale. The designers chose MDF, because the material is thin and adds to the illusion of the structures being made of paper, much like a pop-up book.

Seating made to look like other forest animals, such as bunnies and squirrels, is near the book displays in a much more open area compared to other sections of the store. The storytime area is covered, and meant to look like children are sitting inside a tree. “We made the storytime area a bit darker, with special lights to give it a more intimate and magical atmosphere,” Rao-Pillao says.

There also is an arts-and-crafts area designed with a movable, tree-shaped magnetic chalkboard wall. This allows teachers to draw when classes are taking place, and is available for children to play with outside of a scheduled class.

The café features simple tables with colorful chairs. This section was designed with parents in mind, with shelving to display parenting books, and healthy snacks for sale, including fruit, juice and smoothies.

The store offers annual memberships for customers to access even more features. “The owner wanted to create a unique experience of a magical wonderland, where kids could play, explore and gradually establish a lifelong love for reading,” Rao-Pillao points out.