Edie Cohen | April 01, 2011
It sounds like a cute, catchy name for a children's clothing store in any mall, anywhere in the U.S. But with Elliott + Associates Architects attached to the project, we're certain that cute is not the operative adjective at Uptown Kids. Interior Design Hall of Fame member Rand Elliott doesn't do cute. Sophisticated, sure. Artful and thoughtful, affirmative. He's an inveterate traveler and a dedicated shopper who just happens to prefer working close to home in Oklahoma City. So when local girls and boys, parents in tow, step into Uptown Kids, they are in for an experience worthy of any international capital you care to mention.
Actually, the shop is part of a mall. However, Classen Curve is a mall designed according to Elliott's unique point of view: a parklike setting with 13 low buildings sited to form a C shape. They turn their brick back walls to surrounding streets. "What you notice from the outside is a series of outdoor amenities—water features, courtyards meant for jogging or dog-walking," he says. It's only on the internal pathways that storefronts appear. "I'm trying to regenerate the idea of window shopping for Oklahoma City," he continues. Cantilevered canopies fight summer's searing heat, so shoppers can walk from one end to the other in comfort.
Big-box is off-limits. Elliott's buildings offer a variety of floor plates as a way to entice small, one-off enterprises, and he's already designed four of the interiors, too-a café, a gastro-pub, and a women's designer fashion boutique in addition to Uptown Kids. The latter's owners are a local couple with a baby girl.
Asked to treat the clothing like "art in the space," Elliott started thinking. Art has to have a frame, right? With that, his starting point was a foregone conclusion. "I interpretated a frame for art, graphically, to mean a grid," he explains. In 3-D, that grid plays out as a system of black-painted steel pipes that hug the walls and ceiling. With this seemingly simple stroke, he created an eminently flexible solution to order the 2,500-square-foot space and keep it fresh from a merchandising perspective. "The display kiosks are on casters, so the store can be completely rearranged in under two hours. It'll never get boring," he says.
Inserting squares clad in white plastic laminate into the pipe grid's vertical voids establishes a visual rhythm. Similarly, just about any spot can accept a clip-on display box, perfect for toys and other small items. That leaves the rest of the floor free for hanging fixtures, built from pipe and accessorized with wire grids reminiscent of batting cages. As for the flooring itself, black lines painted on white echo the grid motif.
Even play adheres to precise parameters. A 9-by-12-by-18-foot box of transparent yellow acrylic, standing off to one side, is the assigned spot for making art, telling stories, and showing short videos. "The playroom idea grew out of conversations about retail," Elliott explains. "There needs to be another reason for people to keep coming back." Once through the playroom's pivoting yellow door, kids are in a world of their own. Having them otherwise engaged leaves their parents free to browse such international brands as Desigual, Eliane et Lena, and Persnickety. There's nary a bored whimper of "Can we go yet?"
Try-on time is more fun time. Elliott fashioned the fitting rooms as three more playhouses. A built-in bench can be audience seating for mom, as her children spin and preen in front of a mirror framed by a black grid painted on the wall. Or she may have to perch on an hourglass-shape plastic stool while her little fashionistas appropriate the bench as a stage, modeling for purchase approvals. Whatever the scenario, there's plenty of space in the generous rooms, lit to a super-white halogen glow.
Signage does deviate from the tightly orthogonal black-and-white scheme—that's Elliott indulging in a bit of layering. The Uptown Kids name appears on a candy-colored make-believe subway map with stops for Boy, Girl, and Baby. Equally colorful, installed on the back wall, is the dancer rendered in markers: It's the work of Sacramento Kings shooting guard Desmond Mason. What's the connection? Mason got his start playing basketball at Elliott's alma mater, Oklahoma State University.
David Poerio; Brad Buser; David Ketch: Elliott + Associates Architects. Smith Lighitng Sales: Lighting Consultant. Rachel Shingleton Design: Graphics Consultant. Joyous Sounds: Audiovisual Consultant. Total Environment Nursery: Landscaping Consultant. Engineering Solutions: Structural Engineer. Johnson & Associates: Civil Engineer. Cooper Cabinet Systems: Woodwork. Alliance Steel: Steelwork. City Glass: Glasswork. Concreteworks Design: Flooring Contractor. Smith & Pickel Construction: General Contractor.