Spiff the Store Without Breaking the Bank

JCK talked with Jack Tiemann, AIA, an architect based in Jersey City, N.J., about sprucing up a store without ratcheting up costs. Tiemann has designed both residential and commercial buildings and also worked in the store planning department of Tiffany & Co. for two years.

Lighting. OK, this one can be expensive. But Tiemann says too many jewelers have ambient lighting only and should layer different kinds of lighting. “You want your store to feel like a residential environment, not a commercial environment,” he says. “You don’t want to see the light source, and you don’t want to see ambient light. You just want to walk in and see the jewelry sparkle.” To achieve this, use a combination of ambient lighting layered with low-voltage halogen lights in the ceiling and in-case lighting. Installing recessed halogen lights doesn’t require ripping out the ceiling. “You literally can cut a hole in the sheetrock, shove the unit in, rewire it, and you don’t have to patch the ceiling,” Tiemann says. Don’t be afraid of down light reflecting on glass showcases. Tiemann prefers a bit of reflection to non-glare glass, which he says dulls jewelry.

He has one lighting caveat: “You have to understand who your market is. You don’t want to overdo it on [upscale] lighting if you have a lower-end clientele, but still the lighting has to make the product sing so the customer goes ‘wow.’”

Lighting is expensive but worth the investment, Tiemann says. Figure on spending $10,000 to $15,000 to improve the lighting in a 1,500-square-foot store.

Following, as promised, are some less expensive ways to spruce up the store:

Paint. Pick a rich neutral, don’t just default to off-white. Tiemann says “rich it up” by using a dark brown, deep taupe, gold, or lush green. “Don’t be afraid of color,” he says. “Choose a color several shades darker than you’re comfortable with. Envision a crystal bowl on display—what’s going to show it off better, a pale ivory wall or a deep brown wall behind it? The same concept applies to jewelry. It’s light, translucent, and will really pop against a dark background.” Not every wall has to be dark—you can use color to accent one or two.

Showcases. If the idea of espresso walls is too much, instead punch up color in the cases by rotating sets of forms and fabrics. “People have different sets of tableware at home for different seasons or occasions, so why not apply the same concept to the store and have different sets of forms for different seasons?” suggests Tiemann. “Get bright red ones for Valentine’s Day, pretty pastel ones for Easter and Mother’s Day, and lush deep green ones for Christmas.” You can carry the color theme through by similarly rotating accent pillows on chairs or couches in seating areas.

Art. Get real art, not blowups of jewelry or advertising, Tiemann advises. It doesn’t have to be costly, but it does have to be well lit and beautifully framed.

Décor. As you design, think residential and who your audience is. If your store hasn’t been redecorated since the 1950s, chances are the audience that appreciated that kind of décor is long gone. Tiemann suggests visiting stores like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel and emulating some of their design principles. “A jewelry store should be surprising, but you don’t want it to be overpowering,” he notes.

Floors. Since most jewelry stores have little fabric to absorb sound, carpet is necessary. The area in front of the door should have other flooring (or plan to replace the carpet there frequently, especially if your store opens to the outdoors), but the rest of the store should have carpet.

Not recommended. Avoid dark wood and bamboo. Design is still in a dark wood phase, Tiemann says, but it shows every nick and scratch and thus is inappropriate for retail. By contrast, clear natural finishes are too trendy. “Choose neutral mid-tones like walnut, pecan, or cherry,” Tiemann suggests. “I wouldn’t recommend mahogany or espresso.”

Bamboo is the poster child for green design. It’s sustainable and durable, but bamboo flooring must be glued down, which means it’s there forever. “If you change your mind in the future, it’s going to be a horrific job to remove it,” Tiemann says. “For that reason most people install it over a floating foam pad, which to me feels cheap.”