Pick Six: Store Designs of the 1940’s
"In no section of the [modern] building field has there been the amount of fruitful experimentation, the depth of understanding of the problem, or the variety of expression that has gone into shops." -George Nelson, from the Foreward to "Contemporary Shops in the United States"
According to George Nelson, in his foreward to Emrich Nicholson's book on U.S. store design, there was no traditional basis for the shop as an independent problem in design. This situation changed in the late 19th-century, with the advent of the great block stores, epitomized by H.H. Richardson's Marshall Field. The design problem for the 20th century involved the place of the small shop in the equation, and the pressure of competition, which led to design being considered as a function of merchandising.
Structurally, the greatest change in store design concerned the front window, previously treated as a distinct and hermetic entity, whereas "today we choose to think of the entire shop as a front." This, to Nelson, represented an advanced and more organic concept. Still, while the book traced the flowering of the individual shop, and showed a commendable range of expression, the need to compete led to numerous questionable solutions. "Often," Nelson rued, "they try much too hard to catch the eye."
With this admonition in mind, the six selections from Shops, representing work from the early 1940's, are as follows:
• America House, New York. Morris Ketchum, architect and Dorothy Draper, designer. A little known but significant emporium of things modern in the postwar era, America House advertised in "Interiors" and other such periodicals, and was featured in articles in "Craft Horizons," among others. A fit subject for a future post, if not an article. If anyone has specific information, especially catalogs and period photos, they are urged to contact this blogger.
• Candy Store, Brooklyn, NY. Gruen and Krummeck, designers. One of several candy stores featured in the book, this one conveys the delight and wonder one might hope to find in a candy store. The scrolling plywood walls and concentric rings of light create a carnival effect, with the calliope display case at the center. I especially like the "Push" button on the wall to the left, which puts one in mind of Willy Wonka.
• Sports Shop, Morristown, NJ. Ernst Payer, architect. Understated but appealing display, with a nice use of organic design elements such as the curved podium and built-in table. I like the placement of the target, and the casual air of the whole project.
• Bird Cage Restaurant, Lord & Taylor, New York. Raymond Loewy, designer. A fanciful effort from one of America's top industrial designers, with a program that belies the whimsy: "An excellent place to meet another shopper or to rest while debating a decision...a clear view of the sales floor may be had from any seat."
• May Company Wilshire, Los Angeles. Albert Martin, architect, and Samuel Marx, assoc. architect. One of the last large department stores built prior to WWII, May Company oozes high-end luxury, but with restraint and elegance. Could any project involving Marx avoid being chic?
• Art of This Century Gallery, New York. Frederick Kiesler, designer. I could not omit Peggy Guggenheim's gallery from this list, given that AOTC was a seminal and influential collaboration of art and design. Kiesler's biomorphic seating has become iconic, and enormously valuable. The present image is less seen than others, and showcases Kiesler's innovative display techniques. Note the folding stools on the right.