Midas Touch: On a tony new marina, a young duo crafts a glittering jewel box for a storied luxury retailer.
For the Relojería Alemana, a watch and jewelry boutique in Majorca’s new Puerto Adriano marina, the Madrid-based studio OHLAB redefines the traditional jewelry store, dissolving barriers between inside and out, as well as between customers and sales staff, to create a gleaming glass-walled salon. Security concerns dictate the design of most jewelry stores—think of those on New York’s Fifth Avenue or the Place Vendôme in Paris, with their small display windows set in heavy masonry facades. For the more relaxed and protected setting of the marina, OHLAB partners Jaime Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz have designed the entire space as a kind of vitrine, with bright lighting and mirrored golden surfaces that draw the eye.
- Interior Finishes: Resyrok Sistemas (backlit ceiling); The Inox in Color (golden stainless steel)
- Furnishings: Paola Lenti (exterior sofas and tables, carpet); Lema (VIP room table); Republic of Fritz Hansen (interior lounge coffee table and lamp); Knoll (VIP room Executive chairs)
- Lighting: iGuzzini (downlights); JUNG (controls)
- Plumbing: Duravit; VOLA (faucets); Agape (washbasin)
To achieve this transparency, the architects concentrated opaque private spaces in three discrete volumes within the interior. These boxes support display cases and are wrapped in mirror-finished, golden-hued stainless steel, with curving joints that subtly distort reflections of the surroundings. Just outside the store, which is located in an open-air mall designed by Philippe Starck, low gold-hued walls (one wrapping a seating area, the other supporting signage) spill onto the mall’s covered circulation galleries.
Instead of attending to customers from behind a display counter, salespeople greet them at the door or in the outdoor lounge and settle them into a seating area in the center of the store, or in the VIP room, which is housed in one of the golden containers and features a hidden bar. The other two volumes contain an area for special product displays and an office. The boxes are distributed along the three perimeter walls, and display cases wrap around their corners, with one side facing passersby and the other presenting wares to shoppers inside, an arrangement that allows easy access to items from panels inside each box.
The architects have illuminated the cases from above with continuous LEDs set in a sawtooth diffuser of white Corian, a system strong enough to cut through the powerful reflections that hit the glass at sunset. Air conditioning returns are hidden in reveals above the boxes. All this careful detailing is the result of the architects’ training in retail design, for firms such as Louis Vuitton, in New York, where the couple met before moving on to Beijing to work for OMA on the CCTV complex.
In contrast to the hard, machined surfaces of glass, steel, and stone, the inside seating area features a hand-woven rug by the Italian designer Paola Lenti, with Arne Jacobsen’s Swan chairs upholstered in white leather, and a Jacobsen coffee table and floor lamp. The outdoor lounge, which the architects compare to the stern of a yacht, features Lenti’s deep sofas upholstered in natural tones, while the VIP room is finished like the soft interior of a jewel case, with walls and ceiling lined in blue-green suede. The furniture here again is classic modern: Eero Saarinen’s Executive chairs upholstered in gray-green velvet and Poul Henningsen’s playful Snowball pendant lamp. With its range of materials and textures, the space offers a surprising variety of sensory environments, both inside the store’s 1,100 square feet and out.
Founded in 1879, with three other stores on the island, the Relojería Alemana has thrived selling luxury goods to tourists from places like Russia, the Middle East, and China—a trade that is one of the few bright spots in Spain’s ailing economy. For the architects, who won the commission through a small competition organized by the client, the nature of the business caused a certain unease—Spain is, after all, best known for its public architecture, from cultural facilities to subsidized housing. Oliver recalls, “We started thinking about what the world of luxury means, and what commentary we could offer, almost on a social level. Luxury is a play of appearances in which things are not what they seem.”
Oliver and Hernaiz sought an outlet for their ambivalence through the design of the golden volumes—which are not actually finished in gold, they feel compelled to point out—and the distorted reflections they create. “They appear to be deformed, when they are actually perfectly orthogonal,” Oliver explains. “They reflect the surrounding marina as more golden than it actually is, if that were possible: more brilliant, glittering, shiny—and deformed. To take it to the limit, to the sublime.”
As the art, music, and fashion worlds have demonstrated, consumer culture has a remarkable capacity to absorb critical rejection and spit it back as new product, and so it is no surprise that the Relojería Alemana easily accommodates this mild rebuke. In fact, the rippling golden reflections are more effective in visual terms than pure surfaces would have been, touching on the allure and fascination we find in the glimmering facets of a gemstone, or the waves of the sea, or the imperfections of a beautifully crafted, centuries-old Japanese bowl. The young architects are now building a new boutique for the owners in Palma de Majorca, the capital of the Balearic archipelago, as well as consulting for Rolex; their future looks bright indeed.
Size: 1,100 square feet
Completion Date: August 2012
OHLAB / Paloma Hernaiz and Jaime Oliver
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Address: José Abascal 27 7ºI 28003 Madrid, Spain