Arlene Hirst | April 01, 2011
Is retail design going to the dogs? Looking at Chico, a pet shop in southern Japan, you certainly wouldn't think so. Atelier Kuu Co. designed the store to pay tongue-in-cheek homage to man's best friend while making an ultrasophisticated statement. Unlike with most pet shops that strive to be stylish, there's nothing cutesy here.
Chico is in Shizuoka, a city of almost 700,000 people near Mount Fuji and, fortunately, about 300 miles south of the recent earthquake and tsunami devastation. As for Atelier Kuu, it's a three-person studio led by architect Nobuo Kumazawa. Kuu, by the way, means space in Japanese.
A storybook doghouse shape, essentially a box with a peaked roof, provided the playful motif lightening up Chico's strictly minimalist 615-square-foot interior. Carving a peaked cutout from the corner of a large storage volume created a canopy over the cash-wrap desk. And an identical silhouette frames selected compartments in the otherwise unadorned plywood shelving system, giving it visual rhythm.
The doghouse shape was a natural for a pooch-size opening in a sidewall. Venturing through this doorway, four-legged customers have direct access to a grassy run where they can play when they get bored with shopping. Looping a leash through a stainless-steel ring built into the wall ensures that they can't stray too far.
Materials and colors are as minimal as the architecture. Atelier Kuu stuck to plain gray for flooring, beams, and many walls; plywood, sometimes painted white, for the storage volume and shelving units; and white melamine board for the display table and cash-wrap desk.
Product selection is equally pared-down: food, leashes, toys, canine clothing, and a carefully curated selection of apparel and accessories for human owners. The merchandise presentation is more reminiscent of an art gallery than a shop. "Display stands so often ruin a space," Kumazawa laments. Retailers might find his statement provocative, but many designers wholeheartedly concur.
"The merchandise looks better, too, when interiors make the best use of it," Atelier Kuu designer Harumi Oura adds. To limit possibilities for misuse, the self-contained shelving units promote visual definition. Chico's owner does the buying, naturally, but Atelier Kuu maintains the store's meticulous appearance by handling the displays.
Atelier Kuu knows a thing or two about style destinations. The portfolio of the six-year-old studio includes a kimono shop and a beauty salon in Japan and a chain of cafés in South Korea. Pet-related interiors are becoming second nature as well. The Kushimoto Royal Hotel, south of Osaka, hired Kumazawa to design its Bowwow Land, where hotel guests can board dogs during their stay.