For its flagship in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, Alessi, the ultra-design-conscious Italian manufacturer of household objects, found a hot location—on Greene Street, where a dense cluster of design stores guarantees high-volume, well-heeled pedestrian traffic. But the narrow, 13-foot-wide storefront in a renovated loft building lacked dramatic presence. Although the long, 1,800-square-foot interior widens to 21 feet toward the rear, the place posed yet another problem, namely “too much space for this kind of retail operation,” as Jan Vingerhoets, Alessi USA’s executive vice president, puts it. But he and Alberto Alessi, the company’s joint general manager, hit on a solution: an espresso bar inside the shop. The concession, serving on Alessi tableware, would draw potential customers, while demonstrating that these fanciful objects were not just for collecting.
For both the interior and graphic design, Alessi hired Asymptote Architecture, a New York firm, whose principals, Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture, have forged an avant-garde reputation based on digitally generated forms. Alessi’s mandate was to update the store image from its 1980s Postmodern heyday, when it purveyed playful polychromed objects by Michael Graves, Aldo Rossi, Hans Hollein, and others in similarly colorful and whimsical shops by Atelier Mendini. While those stores functioned well in presenting Alessi’s evolving line by later generations of vanguard architects and designers, including Asymptote, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Toyo Ito, “it was time to be different,” says Vingerhoets, “especially in New York.”
Asymptote’s scheme draws on a pale blue and cloud-white palette (inspired, says Rashid, by mist on Lago Orta, Italy, near the company’s headquarters) to endow the cavernous space with an ethereal aura. Principles of stagecraft pull visitors in, beyond the espresso bar, to the objects for sale. With a series of folded walls and ceilings, made of medium-density fiberboard and spaced algorithmically, the architects created successive layers of angular proscenium arches in forced perspective. Visible from the street, the jagged, receding planes are dramatized by 2-foot-wide light bars that edge the folds. These troughs of fluorescent fixtures beneath stretched, white copolymer membranes help define bays for espresso sipping or object display. At the back of the store is the true mise-en-scène. Here, an off-white, bent-steel shelving system, illuminated by hidden LEDs, juts out from the sidewalls, following the pattern of the light bars—presenting Alessi’s gleaming artifacts as if on miniscule stages.
Alessi US Shops
Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture
Jill Leckner, Stella Lee, David Lessard
Carsten Laursen, Karen Lee, Jong Kouk Kim, Erick Carcamo, Asako Hiraoka-Sperry
Jenny Chow, Ruben Useche, Salvador Lopez, Natalia Ibañez Lario, Carlo Kessler, Marcia Akermann
Robert Silman Associates
MEP Engineer: Kam Chiu Associates
Tillotson Design Associates
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: NJS Woodwork
Catalyzed Urethane + Epoxy
Interior ambient lighting: Bartco
Additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Asymptote designed the store’s modular shelving system in collaboration with Visplay (a subsidiary of Vitra) as well as the wall graphics, packaging design and internal and graphic design elements.