Water, Water Everywhere
Thomas Connors -- Interior Design, 1/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Pulsing showerheads and spa-tub jets. Toilets with power-assisted flushing action. Of the 300 kitchen and bath products that Janson Goldstein accommodated in designing the first Kohler Store, 30 of them feature actual running water—shoppers can practically take a bath.
Located on the first floor of Chicago's Merchandise Mart, the un-showroom is Kohler Co.'s big chance to court consumers more sophisticated than the average joe outfitting his kitchen and bathroom at a big-box store. "This is about reaching out in a way we haven't in the past. We're going to get direct feedback, which will make us more insightful," says store manager Michelle Kowalski.
To help Kohler with that mission, architect Mark Janson explains, "We approached this job almost like a museum exhibition, rather than product display." Note the enormous black-and-white photomurals, enlargements of images from Kohler's present marketing campaigns.
Janson Goldstein embraced the full 6,400-square-foot size of the volume—walls stop well short of its 20-foot concrete ceiling. Nevertheless, those partitions do break the expanse down into a constellation of vignettes.
Such setups are usually slavish re-creations of real rooms, but the architects opted for a more abstract take on this traditional selling scenario. Meant to let customers impose their own point of view, plain white walls frame a combination of sink, toilet, and shower stall or tub, always paired with tile and stone from Ann Sacks. (This Kohler-owned company has its own showroom by Janson Goldstein right next door.)
The Kohler Store's entry is marked by slender columns of water streaming from the ceiling into a pair of rectangular limestone basins; these sit on a layer of limestone set on the main level's flooring of polished concrete. Another water feature defines the rear of the space: A row of showerheads, aimed at a huge window, creates a cascade that blurs a view of the city.
Along the wall to the left of the entry, a mezzanine with a raised floor of fumed white oak accommodates pipes needed to run water to a panoply of tubs and sinks that are plumbed for interaction. There's also hardware as well as one particularly inventive element, a clear glass wall studded with multicolored nodules of vitreous china and enameled cast iron. "Instead of customers going through a book of color chips, we had this idea of lustrous spheres, almost like cuff links, that represent the colors you can get the product in," Goldstein explains.
A bolder departure from typical showrooms is the mezzanine's enclosed display of several toilets—the trendy new Purist Hatbox among more traditional models. Dubbed the Performance Room, this water closet writ large contains the flushing noise from test runs of these operable fixtures and provides a distinctly separate experience from the store's overall vastness. "In other showrooms, the toilets are just behind a wall or off to the side someplace," Goldstein says. "We gave these their own room."
The flooring here is aluminum tile. ("It's architectural yet residential," Kowalski says.) The walls are predominantly veneered in African koto wood, with the phrase "Form ever follows function" adhered in vinyl letters to an aluminum strip set at eye level—bathroom humor from Chicago's own Louis Sullivan.