The Art of Bathing
Mario López-Cordero -- Interior Design, 10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Conventional wisdom in kitchen-and-bath retail display often places quantity at the apex of imperatives. The more sinks, faucets, and showerheads on view, the better—no matter how mind-boggling. "I walk into some showrooms and feel like pulling my hair out, because I just can't get my head around it," says Ronnette Riley, whose firsthand encounters with such bewildering setups made her an ideal choice to provide an alternative at the Davis & Warshow showroom recently unveiled in New York.
Handed 7,200 square feet, Ronnette Riley Architect had to design a sales space that, first of all, welcomed customers instead of overwhelming them and, second, "differentiated Davis & Warshow from every other operation in town," says the company's director of showrooms, Sheldon Malc. Those messages are transmitted starting at the front door, where a dramatic walkway of crimson rubber resin extends straight ahead to the reception desk, then flows up its face. To the left, the same material rises to clad a divider shot through with glowing honey-colored resin blocks. "Plumbing products are mostly metallic or white, so we set them off with color and warmth," Riley explains.
The crimson path also subtly directs traffic, as the receptionist pairs new arrivals with a salesperson. "Every client is guided through," Malc says. His policy isn't merely a tenet of profit-making. Again, the scheme is designed to keep shoppers from being overexposed and to allow sales staff to select goods tailored to customer needs.
In the showroom proper, inventory isn't displayed haphazardly; it's arrayed in 36 modular walnut cabinets fitted with drawers and pull-out shelves. The latter reveal merchandise only when opened by the staff, who know the lay of the inventory, so someone looking for a contemporary ceiling-mounted faucet doesn't have to sift through a dozen traditionally styled taps to find one.
The mobile cabinets fit together to form display islands or pull apart to make room for a crowd. "It's ultimate flexibility," Riley says. In minutes, the floor plan can change to accommodate a lecture or a party—looking good either way. At the same time, track lighting with a preset dimmer system shifts lighting from high-wattage display to mood mode for events.
Riley's approach takes the little merchandise that's left out in the open and elevates its stature. For example, glass sinks are mounted vertically on a backlit resin panel, creating an effect that's more art installation than plumbing display. There are also two working bathrooms—one contemporary and one traditional—and a steam shower, giving customers the ability to envision the wares in action.
The showroom also takes note of its industrial setting, a SoHo cast-iron building. Huge windows line two walls; ductwork, painted silver, remains exposed. "We didn't drop the ceilings and hide everything," Riley says. "The history comes through."
Her historicism, when combined with all the other thoughtful elements, lends the sales floor a feeling that's uncharacteristically serene for a retail environment. "You're not climbing over a bunch of boxes," she says. It's completely the opposite of what she refers to as "Home Depot sink, sink, sink, sink, sink."