Tina M. Kanagaratnam -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
It's tough to stand out on Orchard Road, Singapore's glittering couture belt. Massive department stores and malls jostle for prominence, as intriguing window displays compete for shoppers' attention—and funds. To make accessories boutique Into stand out from the rest of the Palais Renaissance shopping center, a cool marble respite from Singapore's relentless tropical heat, the owners hired 212box.
Easily spotted from the mall's escalator, Into's angular facade appears to be pressed inward, signifying entry. From a few steps away, the exterior's sandblasted aluminum cladding shimmers with what appears to be a floral pattern. Get closer, however, and the seemingly innocuous botanicals reveal discreet outlines of infamous politicians, weapons, and sex acts—racy stuff for a nation strict enough to ban chewing gum.
Principal Erik L'Heureux explains that these subversive allusions are a subtle commentary on the typically decontextualized, apolitical milieu of high-end shopping. Simultaneously, though, the patterned skin plays on the idea of ornamentation, since ornamentation of the body is the raison d'être of a boutique that carries shoes, bags, belts, wallets, and jewelry.
Further exploring the ideas of opposition and connection, a long glass display case actually starts on the mall concourse, then runs through the doorway and into the 700-square-foot shop—straddling the Palais Renaissance world of red and white marble and the Into oasis of sandblasted aluminum, green-tinted glass, and locally harvested teak. L'Hereux's choice of materials refers both to the contextlessness of a generic mall and to the context of Singapore's geography. "We used aluminum and glass precisely because they could come from anywhere at any time," the architect explains. "Teak, on the other hand, offers a connection to place."
The shop floor is precisely calibrated around six rectangular glass display cases of varying sizes, internally lit by fluorescents. Each case is dedicated to a particular type of accessory. After the long case at the entry, shoppers immediately encounter Into's centerpiece, a suspended case that contains the entire shoe collection. A case for belts sits on the floor, while a cantilevered case for bags juts through the boutique's sidewall, into the mall's public space. "To directly engage and entice," L'Heureux says.
The niche behind the shoe vitrine is faced in teak veneer, which also wraps the base of the belt case. A teak cash drawer is visible inside the check-out desk's glass counter. Perpendicular to the counter runs one of the store's only upholstered surfaces: the cotton-covered cushions on a built-in bench.
L'Heureux cites storage as his greatest challenge—and greatest success. In the back of four glass display cases, he inserted compartments of frosted acrylic, hiding extra merchandise in plain sight. (Drawers behind the fixtures pull out for instant access.) In addition, he built cabinets in the 2-foot gap between the boutique's aluminum-clad envelope and the concrete walls of the leased space. That's plenty of room to stash a pack of Chiclets.