It's a Man's World
Robin Kramer designs an understated shop for John Varvatos men's wear that embraces the spirit of Soho.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
THE INTERIORS SCHEME is simple, clean-cut, and restrained to the point of diffidence, as befits the first John Varvatos shop devoted solely to the master tailor's men's wear and accessories. So one deduces from the project summary by Robin Kramer, the eponymous founder of what she calls her branding design firm, who makes a point of stressing her client's "classic sense and modern sensibility." These are the qualities that, she notes, called for an environment reflecting the highly successful and popular fashion designer's "honest masculine aesthetic," clearly incompatible with fuss or frills. Not that an air of coolness was wanted. Warmth and welcome were to be predominant traits of the interiors scene.
Varvatos's shop, on Mercer Street in Soho, is one of the area's rare surviving Federal style houses, this one dating to the 1860s. The genre, explains Kramer's director of design and architecture Brady Wilcox, is distinguished by its brick façade and stoop-less, flush-with-the-street entry. Landmark guidelines sanctioned "appropriate" changes but omitted inhibitive caveats. A good thing, too. For not only was the place, previously occupied by a renovation-averse shopkeeper, in need of considerable repair, but also, plans called for conjoining the space with a residential apartment contained in a four-ft.-lower 1960s/'70s building in the rear. (The height discrepancy goes with the sloping territory.) This obviously would require much structural work, yet it was just part of the job. Unexpected and potentially unsettling, on the other hand, was the discovery of the wood beams' having, during a fire some years ago, been charred so badly as to present a hazard. To support the floor above, the wooden supports had to be replaced.
As converted, then, the 2,400-sq.-ft.-combined area's front sector rises just over eight ft. high, but from the merger line rearward, the ceiling reach is 18 ft. Masking the seam are five steps going, as seen from the entry, down. Flooring up front and including stairs is of reclaimed oak; the rear zone is of poured concrete. Added for brightness was a pair of skylights at the store's end, where two changing rooms are reached through separate doors set into a dark metal-grid frame with panes of ribbed opaque glass. (The same oil-quenched, a.k.a. blackened, metalwork is used for the storefront and some display fixtures.) Adjustable accent lights, changing from recessed to pendant beyond the high/low divide, run parallel to a band of trough-held strips providing ambient illumination.
Creating a showy backdrop that competes with promoted merchandise would, of course, be foolish if not fatal for this type of retailer. Kramer and Wilcox put prime emphasis on the design of display devices, starting with L-shaped—long leg, short foot—metal rods hooked into a metal reveal. The angled protrusions hold hangers for blazers and trousers seemingly connecting with floor-anchored shoes but lacking anything on which to put a cap or hat. In the trade, Kramer explains, this putting together of would-be complete outfits without mannequins is known as "rigged" displays. Also serving to exhibit Varvatos merchandise are three walnut tables, the central one straddling the divisional steps and thus needing a short end-support up front and a long one abaft. Small tea tables near the entry uphold single items—a tie here, a belt there—as if, to exert the imagination a bit, the butler were laying out which-goes-with-what pieces for the master's wardrobe. Out of sight is shelving that can be inserted between, or lifted off, hang bars.
Overall, Kramer notes, the Varvatos shop, consisting as it does of rough/raw materials and uncluttered open space, visibly relates to Soho's lofts and galleries (most of them now migrated to Chelsea, but never mind) while conveying a pared-down look linked to masculinity.
Completing the team were project manager Christopher Love and designer Ann Hossler. It took about eight months to do the job.