Designing Woman

September 1998


Designing Woman

After a quarter-century designing jewelry stores, the president of GRID 3/International reflects on how store interiors have changed and where they're headed

In the nearly 25 years Ruth Mellergaard has been designing jewelry stores, she's seen trends come and go. Take fancy ceilings, for instance. Jewelers used to go wild decorating ceilings in all kinds of extravagant ways. "When I look at them now, I think, 'Oh God, all the money we spent,'" she says with a laugh.

Since then, jewelers have come down to earth – literally and figuratively – and store design has become more practical and focused on comfort.

Mellergaard is president of GRID/3 International, a New York City design firm that has made jewelry stores something of a specialty. Many jewelers know her from her participation in trade show seminars.

Mellergaard's first major project in jewelry retailing began in 1975, when she joined the Peoples Jewellers account as assistant to a partner in Design International Retail of Toronto. She and colleague Keith Kovar opened a DIR branch in New York in 1980. They subsequently bought the parent firm and named it GRID/3.

New Rules
Jewelers have been liberated from the interior design canons of yore. "We and our jeweler clients used to be very conservative," she says. Showcases had to be at a certain height, arranged in a particular way. Lighting had to be just so. That's why jewelers used their ceilings as canvasses to paint their own identities; they felt everything underneath was off limits. "Now all those rules are gone," she says.

One example: high showcases, once thought to intimidate customers, are now seen as a good way to bring jewelry closer to customers so they don't have to bend over.

Another example: wall showcases, once regarded as a near-necessity behind each horizontal showcase, are used more judiciously today. They're better for watch or designer jewelry lines where brand identity is important and for categories such as gold earrings or charms, where there's a great deal of product to choose from, she says.

In addition, technological advances have made custom carpet designs, counter and showcase laminates and other design elements more affordable to small retailers.

Technology also has transformed lighting. While the choice used to be limited to incandescent and fluorescent, today's lighting mix includes tungsten, halogen and fiber optics (which she says are still costly but worth it sometimes).

This is only the beginning. Systems that alter the light level based on the time of day are becoming more affordable and easier to operate. "You can change the character within a store even if there are no windows," says Mellergaard. "You can emulate our circadian rhythms in the store. It's even perhaps a subtle way to entertain."

Creature Comforts
Store design also reflects a retailing trend toward making customers comfortable. Seating arrangements, for instance, are being fine-tuned to suit particular types of customers. "Younger people may not want to sit down because it's too much of a commitment – they'd rather perch. They are more comfortable on bar stools," she says.

Similarly, service counters are being refined so the sales transaction is less perfunctory. "We finished a store last fall in which transactions are completed sitting down rather than standing in front of a cash register at a sales counter." Coffee bars in stores are another sign of the trend toward hospitality.

Design themes – a hot item for jewelers for the past few years – are changing rapidly. A year or two ago, some retailers showed a strong interest in Las Vegas-type theme stores, with flamboyant, often far-out designs that took customers into a completely different environment. Now regional flavor is becoming more important, a trend she expects to continue. One example: GRID/3 recently designed stores with geometric patterns, light wood and terra cotta trim to evoke a feeling of the American Southwest for the Mati jewelry stores in Albuquerque, NM.

The stores also illustrate a trend away from cool, hard-edged fortresses and toward friendly oases that invite customers to come on in and sit a spell. Shiny surfaces and lots of mirrors have given way to matte surfaces, especially in white metal, which is as hot now in fixtures as it is in jewelry. Palettes have become richer and wood, wood laminate and wood simulants are everywhere. "Stores have become warmer," Mellergaard says. "The whole character has changed."


Gently curving showcases, wood and a lighting system that draws attention via contrasts are all trends in jewelry store design. They're demonstrated here at Braunschweiger Jewelers in Warren, NJ, designed by GRID/3 International.










Comfort is important in store design. The bar stool-type seating shown here at Austin Maxwell in Millburn, NJ, is particularly suited to younger customers, who prefer to "perch" rather than sit in more formal chairs. Also note the custom carpeting.








 Enticing Interiors

Here are some store design tips for professional jewelers, courtesy of Ruth Mellergaard, president of GRID/3:

  • Arrange showcases in a gentle curve or angle rather than straight lines, inviting customers to pause and examine the merchandise.
  • Rejuvenate stores occasionally. "I don't mean a complete redesign," she says. "There are many ways to freshen a store so it looks like a lovely place to be." Examples include new paint every five years or so and occasional updating of lights.
  • Study fashion and interior magazines, see what's featured in furnishings stores and take note of what young staff members wear. Use this information in choosing colors and other design elements.
  • Create lighting contrasts. More light on showcases and less in other areas creates variety and is easier on the eye than one lighting level.
  • Be prepared to pay enough for lighting. "Too many jewelers use only fluorescent lighting, which is inexpensive and energy-efficient but takes the sparkle out of jewelry,"
  • she says.
  • Ancillary image-enhancers such as packaging, signs, letterhead and business cards contribute to the impression your store makes on customers.
  • Keep functionality foremost in your mind as you make remodeling plans. "Often jewelers jump to the end [of the project], to the pretty picture of how it will look" without thinking enough about how the design will work, says Mellergaard.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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