New York City


A bright new shop on Manhattan's West 22nd street is turning the idea of retail on its head. Normal is a custom earphones outlet where helpful staff ('ear fitters') guide customers through a process that tailors the popular devices to individual ears, then produces them'in as little as 48 hours'with 3-D printers. Designed by New York'based HWKN (Hollwich Kushner), the 5,000-square-foot space serves as the base of operations for the budding company.

Normal hopes to lure passersby with a slightly futuristic aura not unlike a Kubrick film set. To catch their attention on the street, the design team installed a glazed window wall, framed in white and lined with a continuous band of color-changing RGB lights (typically set to blue)'like 'an aperture that lets you peer into the space,' says lighting designer Steven Espinoza of Brooklyn-based Lighting Workshop. They crafted silvery ear-shaped door handles to greet visitors and, just inside, giant LED screens, picturing supersize illustrations of the merchandise, face each other across the room. 'The space really triggers curiosity,' says HWKN principal Matthias Hollwich. 'It doesn't immediately give away what it is. You have to walk in and actually experience it. The trend in retail is consumption as an experience.'

Located at the base of a hefty 12-story French Gothic'inspired factory building dating back to 1910, the slick storefront is in stark contrast to the quatrefoils, arched doorways, snarling limestone gargoyles, and other embellishments on the surrounding facade.

The interior has a polished yet industrial vibe. Glass partitions divide the space into three distinct areas: sales is up front; assembly, at the loftlike room's center; and an office across the back. Light constantly bounces off the glass, thanks to a parade of dimmable 3500K T8 fluorescent tubes suspended beneath a mechanical duct running through the middle of the ceiling in front. 'It's like a runway of lights bringing you into the space,' says Hollwich. 'It's the layering of glass and reflections that makes the design not so sterile. That's where the playfulness comes in.'

The lighting also unites the dramatic showroom with the more utilitarian factory and office space, with the same linear tubes strung in four neat rows across the back. 'The lighting drives your perspective deep into the showroom, and then to the office beyond,' says Espinoza.

The walls of the retail area are lined with modular cabinets containing 3-D printers, giant spools of earphone cord, backlit signage depicting the merchandise, and quirky memorabilia from an antiques store down the street (a glass jar filled with plastic ears sits on one shelf). Stacks of glossy white blocks'essentially 3-D Tetris pieces that double as seating and tables'match the dimensions of the structural columns they rest against. 'You wouldn't know this was a factory in the middle of Manhattan,' says Normal founder Nikki Kaufman. Normal currently has 10 3-D printers in operation, with plenty of space on the shelves for additional printers if demand grows.

While transparency is ideal for encouraging foot traffic, it also reflects the company's ethos of openness and accessibility. 'We want to draw people to the space because we are proud to show how the product works,' says Kaufman, an entrepreneur in her late 20s who dreamed up the idea of 3-D printed headphones while working at another successful startup. 'We tell you everything. It's completely transparent.'

To attract a diverse clientele, the ambience of the space can change at the push of the button after hours. A Color Kinetics RGB lighting system embedded in the ceiling has different programs to set the mood for a range of functions that could take place in the space, from yoga classes to cocktail parties. (Both have happened since Normal opened in August.)

After dark, the store's bright blue glow is visible from far down the street. 'The blue light emanating from the store very, very slowly pulsates,' says Espinoza. 'It looks like a breathing robot in sleep mode.'


Formal name of building:
Normal Factory | Shop | HQ

150 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011

Completion Date:
August 2014


Nikki Kaufman

HWKN (Hollwich Kushner)
1 Whitehall Street

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Matthias Hollwich, Alda Ly, Nicole Huang, Daniel Selensky, Jamie Abrego, Jason Vereschak, Yuval Borochov

JMV Consulting Engineering, PC

Lighting: Lighting Workshop
Structural: LaufsED LLC
IT: Alphaserve Technologies
AV: Rethink Innovations

General contractor:
Reidy Contracting Group

James Ewing

Lighting Designer:

Lighting Workshop


8,500 square feet (ground floor and basement)

Completion date:

August 2014



Exterior cladding
Storefront: Metro Glass Corp
Metal Panels: S&J Sheet Metal

Exterior Glass: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope
Interior Glass: C.R. Laurence

Entrances: Dorma
Metal doors: DCI Metro

Locksets: Sargent Assa Abloy
Closers: Norton Assa Abloy
Pulls: Millwork: Sugatsune
Glass Doors: C.R. Laurence
Security devices: ADT; Dropcam

Interior finishes
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: All custom
Paint: Benjamin Moore
Plastic laminate: Formica
Solid surfacing: Silestone
Floor and wall tile: Dal Tile (floor and walls in bathrooms)

Office furniture: Custom tables designed by HWKN; Pedestals by CB2
Chairs: Herman Miller
Other furniture: Shop / Assembly Line furniture by Uline

Interior ambient lighting: Bartco
Downlights: Bartco
Exterior: Aion
RGB Lighting: Color Kinetics
Spot Lighting: Solais
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron; Crestron

Fixtures: Grohe, American Standard

Additional building components or special equipment
3D Printers: Stratasys
LED wall: PixelFlex
Speakers: JBL