Book Smart/Street Smart
A former Atlanta library now houses Wish, a high-end sneaker and clothing shop by Rafael Berkowitz and Sam O'Donahue
Georgia Dzurica -- Interior Design, 4/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
The bohemian Atlanta area known as Little Five Points likens itself to New York's Greenwich Village, circa 1967. The tattooed and the pierced amble past shops selling bongs, bongos, beads, and patchouli; the requisite Starbucks Coffee location; and the onetime public library that's home to Wish. When Lauren Amos bought the business in 2004, it carried basic street fashions for skaters and ravers. But Amos could see its potential for transformation into a magnet for style-conscious hipsters—particularly the counterculture of "sneakerheads" who collect limited-edition Nike Dunks the way Imelda Marcos hoarded pumps. Overall, the merchandise would be more tailored and fabric-driven, with what Amos calls a "global reach."
Her relaunch began as a branding effort, courtesy of graphic designer Sayhar El-Hage, who first met Amos when they were studying at the Atlanta College of Art. El-Hage had gone on to work at the New York office of the international branding and design firm Desgrippes Gobé, and she was the one who introduced her former colleague, interior designer Sam O'Donahue, to Amos. Now a principal at Established, he, in turn, brought in RB Architect principal Rafael Berkowitz for the redesign. The team was off and running.
Japan's unique interpretation of hip-hop culture informed Amos's vision of Wish as a total retail concept unifying space, materials, lighting, and merchandise. In addition, the 4,800-square-foot two-level interior was to integrate two opposite ideas: an attitude of urban anarchy and the orderliness of the Dewey decimal system. How to do all that inside a standard-issue municipal brick box set on a precipitously sloping lot? "I envisioned the two floors as completely different shopping and spatial experiences," Berkowitz explains. The main level, with its 20-foot ceiling and tall windows, would be light and industrial; the lower level, built into the hill, would be dark and mysterious.
The industrial vibe upstairs comes largely from the construction-grade plywood covering the floor, walls, and structural columns. Clothing and accessories, mostly for men, are displayed along the perimeter on an energetically intertwined hang-bar system of tubular steel powder-coated in white, tangerine, and baby blue. Additional items are laid out on low steel tables, powder-coated white and gray, and long plywood benches. Right inside the entry, two benches placed parallel to each other flank a row of glass-topped display cases set flush with the floor. Meanwhile, above, hundreds of naked lightbulbs dangling from long cords create a "horizontal chandelier," as Berkowitz says. Hanging from 6-inch nails pounded into one column are assorted belts, caps, and shades. Mounted on another column, empty paint cans contain Polaroids of customers wearing Wish merchandise. The cash-wrap counter is round, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the vinyl records and turntables on hand for anyone who feels like hanging out and listening to Jay-Z or Arcade Fire.
Opposite this impromptu DJ station—where professional DJs make weekend appearances, too—customers in search of sneakers can venture downstairs. El-Hage designed the stairwell's custom wallpaper, which depicts a gilt-framed portrait, attached to a heavy gold chain, being dragged ever downward by a ferocious panther. This slightly surreal scenario is set against a contemporary arabesque pattern that introduces black into the Wish palette.
Blackness takes over completely on the lower level, where every window is now concealed by drywall. "Making it dark creates a fantasy," O'Donahue says. Ebonized planks of salvaged barn siding cover the floor, and the dropped ceiling, composed of reflective black acrylic panels, compresses the space. Lining the walls, built-in bookcases are painted, yes, black and filled with a library of best sellers and classics ordered by the linear foot. The designers specified that each volume be a certain size and bound in black, with gold, silver, or red type on the spine; then they spent two days creating a rhythm of patterns, facing the spines outward in the men's area and inward in the women's. Slicing across the artful stacks at waist height, a niche surfaced in acid-etched mirror displays colorful kicks by the likes of Alife, JB Classics, and Mad Foot!. Other sneakers are arranged on internally lit freestanding counters of frosted glass, their bases wrapped in mirror. Floating in the darkness, the shoes seem to be calling out to sneakerheads everywhere. If that's not enough, Amos phones top customers when a new shipment arrives and posts images on her MySpace page.