‘Out-of-the-Box’ Store Design

The first time architect Joel Miroglio designed a jewelry store, he won a national award. It was more than beginner’s luck. Miroglio followed up on that 1996 award—from Visual Merchandising and Store Design (VM+SD) magazine and the Institute for Store Planners—with honorable mentions for his next two jewelry stores. These awards were in the magazine’s 1997 and 1998 competitions.

“We don’t specialize in jewelry stores, but we’ve had good clients,” says Miroglio, whose Miroglio Architecture + Design firm in Oakland, Calif., works on retail as well as residential and commercial properties. His jewelry store designs have been successful because, he says, “our jewelry clients have come to us with the specific desire not to look like everyone else.”

A glimpse at Miroglio’s jewelry stores makes that point clear. In one, walls lean inward like a cave. Another was designed to resemble a walk-in jewelry box. In a third, a giant gold ingot balances a scale full of larger-than-life gold chains.

The design process begins with a brainstorming session. “We find out what’s important to the client, what’s unique about the client, and what’s unique about the store,” Miroglio says. This information is translated into themes for the store design. Miroglio then adds an intangible factor. “There has to be an element of joy, of something special that’s pleasant and interesting,” he says. “After all, jewelry stores don’t have to be solemn or severe places.”

A beacon to shoppers. Miroglio’s original approach to jewelry store design is most successfully realized in Patronik Designs Jewelry Gallery in Burlingame, Calif. A distinctive light made of hand-blown Murano glass and copper wire in front of the store serves as a beacon to shoppers and makes a statement about the unique jewelry inside. “People walking by come over to look at the light,” says Nick Kosturos, owner of the 900-sq.-ft. store. “Then they figure out where it belongs and walk inside. One surprising aspect of the design is that people always make it to the very back case, which is quite a long distance.” The store, situated in a quaint downtown shopping area in an upscale community south of San Francisco, draws at least 200 customers a week, many of whom work in Silicon Valley.

Three themes are expressed in this long, narrow space, which opened in 1996. First, and most simply, it looks like the kind of quiet and subdued “white box” gallery where one buys art, with the emphasis here on contemporary American and European designer jewelry. The second theme is expressed in the iconography of the modern industrial workshop. An aluminum façade in the back of the store reinforces the message that jewelry is manufactured and custom-designed on site. Kosturos designs half the jewelry displayed in the store and has a considerable custom-design business, as well.

The last theme, that of the reliquary, or catacomb where sacred or valuable objects are stored, is the most abstract but also the most intriguing to customers. The right wall of the store leans in like the side of a cave wall and is painted in an earthy terra cotta color. It’s inset with oddly shaped display windows that become gradually more inset toward the back of the space.

Still, customers don’t need to understand the architectural allusion to appreciate the design, says Miroglio. “It’s more important that there’s a sense that there’s something special about the space.”

Initially, the leaning wall alarmed Kosturos. It looked too much like the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake. But when the terra cotta color was added, he says, “it went really cool.” His contractors were a bit alarmed as well. “They kept telling me, ‘This wall should not be leaning, and the boxes are all different.’ I kept reassuring them that’s what we wanted. Then they just had fun with the project.” The design, which cost approximately $125 a square foot, won an honorable mention in the VM+SD 1997 store-design competition.

Trick lighting? Not long after Ted Mitchell, owner of Plaza Jewelers in Santa Rosa, Calif., opened his Miroglio-designed store, he called the architect with a half-jesting question: “Did you put trick lighting in my store?” The other jewelers in his mall were telling customers that Plaza Jewelers’ lighting artificially enhanced the look of his diamonds.

In fact, “We have great lighting—MR-16 halogen bulbs—and excellent diamonds that sparkle a lot more than the competition’s,” says Mitchell. That’s just one indication of how the project that took the design magazine’s first-place award helped Mitchell succeed in a competitive retail environment.

The design also helped Plaza Jewelers distinguish itself as an independently owned store. The other stores in the mall all belong to national chains. “Their stores are almost interchangeable,” says Mitchell. “You could move the signs from one to the next and no one would notice. If we looked like the other chains but didn’t run their 50%- to 60%-off sales every day, then we would have been in trouble. But our store stands out.”

Plaza Jewelers’ motif is that of a jewelry box with walls of custom-formed maple attached with jewel-like custom metal fasteners. The sign at the entrance resembles a diamond prong fastener. Because the lease extends to 2005, Mitchell asked Miroglio to incorporate a high-tech feel to the design. The architect responded with inset computer monitors on which customers inside and outside the store can view highly magnified gemstones and computer-aided jewelry design.

Mitchell says he spent about $100 a foot for the design and construction of the 1,000-sq.-ft. location. “The initial look of the store puts off someone who wants to spend $75,” he says. “But if they want to spend $200 or $300, we have a good shot at them. And if they’re ready to spend $2,000 to $3,000, they’re definitely drawn in. The store looks like it carries a better quality of jewelry.”

Weighty design. Miroglio’s most recent VM+SD honorable mention was for a particularly challenging store location. The Chainery opened a year ago in the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, an observation tower that draws 70,000 people a week. Unfortunately, most visitors arrive on tightly scheduled bus tours, leaving them barely enough time for impulse purchases as they walk through the mall on their way to a tower viewing platform.

Thanks to Miroglio’s design, the store has managed to attract at least 1,000 customers a week. The focal point of the design—a larger-than-life clear acrylic bowl full of gold chains that’s counterweighed, like a scale, with a giant gold ingot—announces that the Chainery sells high-quality gold chain by weight. It’s also an expression of what makes the store unique.

The relief in the storefront façade echoes the art deco motif of this section of the Stratosphere mall. It’s lit by halogen floodlights and links on either side to custom cabinets finished in part with bird’s eye maple. Interior lighting is extremely bright, as well, with halogen throughout. Custom floor cases feature internal lighting and custom overhead pendants. The wall cases are lit internally as well as by overhead recessed down-lights.

“People are curious about the storefront with that large scale and the very bright interior,” says Ezra Bekhor, president of the Chainery. “The architecture creates a much higher-end, luxurious image for the store.”

Other benefits: “The landlord was extremely pleased with what we did here,” he says. “And sales associates are also certainly much happier about having a well-designed store with products merchandised nicely in showcases. That makes their lives easier.”

Bekhor plans to roll out the design at his other three Chainery locations in Las Vegas, as well. The only weakness in the design, notes Bekhor, was that “it was somewhat more difficult for the contractor to understand and required a lot more direction than just a plain box. We anticipated this and felt it was worthwhile—obviously, since we’ll be rolling it out to our other locations.”

In fact, Bekhor was so pleased with Miroglio’s design that he asked the architect to design a different type of jewelry store altogether at $400 per sq. ft. compared with the Chainery’s $250-per-sq.-ft. design. The result can be seen in the lush interior of Ca’ d’Oro, a high-end Italian designer jewelry store that opened this spring in one of Las Vegas’ most opulent developments, the Venetian Hotel.

For more information, contact Joel Miroglio, Miroglio Architecture + Design, (510) 891-9145.