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National Gallery of Canada

Now, for something entirely different as we cross the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, where the new Gallery Boutique is creating quite a stir in the capital city of Ottawa.

In an attempt to showcase a wide variety not only of retail design styles, but also retail disciplines, we turn to an industry that is by its very nature infused with design.  Whilst a single gallery or museum shop has minimal impact on consumer spending (it’s not every day you visit your local or national archives) collectively they form a significant sector of our retail mix.

The core principle for successful gallery design is to elevate the ordinary to art status.  This single idea has become the epitome of countless retail stores across the globe, so it is only fitting that the new Boutique at the National Gallery in Ottawa should be simply stunning.  From inexpensive pens and pencils to objects of desire, such as handmade platinum jewellery with ridiculously high price tags, this shop has to allow every product to shine.  There is also the added complication of temporary exhibitions and of course new product lines to boot.

Lumsden Design has created a work of art for this cultural landmark that was designed by Canada’s most renowned architect, Moshie Safdie, and opened in 1988.  The new 306 square metre store takes inspiration from the iconic building’s use of repetitive shapes and strong lines, utilising slabs, concrete finishes, steel structures and plenty of textured timber to echo the wood’s presence throughout the gallery itself.  The resulting interior is very well executed.

The main entrance to the Boutique is dramatic yet deceptive.  It has an intimate feel as its name implies, but once inside the store opens up to reveal a much bolder, open plan retail space full of light.  A much more state of the art environment than was initially perceived.

Natural daylight floods through the tall windows that reach from the ground to the roof and line one side of the store.   A shelving unit comprised of an open steel structure with metal shelves fills the windows yet enables the light to filter in and around.  The ceiling is far higher on this side of the store and allows pendant lights to be hung, which add interest and a hint of colour to the otherwise neutral toned interior.  Further splashes of colour are found in the seating and a small postcard display rack that is discretely tucked into a corner of the store; they convey the red on the National Gallery logo.  Large, concrete tiles that line the wall where the ceiling changes height add another textural layer to the concept and provide the perfect backdrop for the delicate pendant shades and their vivid wires.

A 10.5 metre long counter displays jewellery and doubles as the cash and wrap desk makes a formidable feature within this serene store.  It runs parallel to the window on the opposite side of the shop; a thick slab of grey sits atop an internally lit base that is formed of hundreds of vertical timber thins.   Further display tables following this design are positioned together with white stained Canadian maple and black and white American oak display tables.  All of the mid floor cabinetry is relatively low, angular in design and used mostly for displaying the Gallery’s extensive collection of literature.  A couple of structural pillars interject the space and are clad with steel racks for displaying accessories and smaller merchandise.

The merchandising system is bespoke and was specified for its versatility and adaptability; the wall units, shelving and furniture islands can all be unclipped to be reconfigured for new product lines and exhibition launches.  This new store is very well thought out and adapted, not just for those visiting the museum, but for the population of Ottawa seeking a gift for others or a treat for themselves.  It has become a destination in its own right full of creativity and flair.   

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