17 Wonderful shops to visit (even if you don’t buy anything) lifestyle
A Gothic church resurrected as a bookshop, a ceramic workshop in a tree house, Elvis’ former home converted into a concept store, or a clothing store-cum-art gallery.
Analysts say that online sales have doubled in recent months. That even the baby boomers, who saw the birth of the internet when they were coming out of their thirties, have become used to buying at the click of a button. And that, in the new order, e-commerce will emerge as the ultimate king of retail.
We’re sorry to disagree. Before the pandemic made its appearance, these same experts were talking about the so-called “experience economy”: a concept coined by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore back in 1998 to explain consumption that is based less and less on the ownership of things and more on the experience that goes alongside the act of buying. Browsing a website, although a convenient alternative when half the planet is in lockdown, will never be the same as walking through a brick and mortar store. And less so if the space through which we wander is itself an object to be enjoyed.
A Gothic church resurrected as a bookshop, a ceramic workshop in a tree house or Elvis’ former home converted into a concept store are just some examples that make up this list, which has sent us all over the world in search of shops worth visiting, even if we leave empty-handed. Because sometimes the vessel is just as important as its contents, or more so.
1. United Cycling, in Lynge, Denmark
Conceived as a futuristic laboratory –focused on taking advantage of the cutting-edge technology for which the brand is known– in a 1,650-square metre warehouse in the small town of Lynge, it has a showroom, workshop and an area where visitors can get their hands on a tailor-made bike, as if it were a suit.
2. Glossier, in New York, USA
The firm with which Emily Weiss revolutionised the world of cosmetics in 2014, with a catalogue of refined products and matching packaging, also did the same for how said products were bought. Instead of a standard shop, they created a kind of “apartment” where customers could try creams, lipstick and mascara as if they were at home. The New York space that opened in 2018 is exactly that, but enhanced to the nth degree, with the “millennial” pink as its hallmark, and instagrammable to the last nook and cranny.
3. Alquema, in Sydney, Australia
Located in the Queen Victoria Building, built at the end of the 19th century as a town market and declared a National Heritage Site, the historic building that houses this multi-brand store –the place where you can find brands from all over the world before anyone else– contrasts with a futuristic interior that exudes the taste of its owner, Virginia Rouse, thanks to the gallery spaces and Japanese minimalism.
4. Jins Eyewear, in Ageo, Japan
To celebrate its 12th anniversary, in 2016, the Japanese eyewear giant completely renovated its Saitama store, which created a totally open-plan floor and replaced the exterior walls with Low-e glass –a low-emissivity wall covering that filters ultraviolet and infrared rays without jeopardising light– to delight the eyes, in every way.
5. To Tsai, in Athens, Greece
Two hundred wooden panels and backlit shelves create the Japanese atmosphere of this tea shop in the heart of Athens, where you can enjoy being steeped in tea of all varieties: cast iron teapots, strainers in all colours, exotic blends like banana matcha and a table at which to celebrate the tea ceremony in the Japanese style.
6. Flùr, in Toronto, Canada
The minimalist and somewhat industrial nature of this Canadian florist –with linoleum furniture, neutral walls, aerodynamic shelves, brick walls and ventilation ducts that have been converted into part of the decoration– is no coincidence, but rather a scenario intentionally designed to give prominence to the plants. The highlight of the mezzanine studio, where you can create your own bunch of flowers.
7. Espai Mietis, in Barcelona, Spain
Designed as a store, customisation atelier and multidisciplinary gallery to help collaborations with local artists, the space that the young Spanish bag firm Mietis has just opened in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Poblenou –its first flagship store– is intended for us to delve into the universe of the brand. From the access tunnel to the arches, the coloured walls and the red velvet curtains in the fitting rooms.
8. Porcelanosa, in New York, USA
Six floors and a private roof terrace, set the scene for Porcelanosa’s flagship store in the Big Apple. Located in a building from the year 1857 that once housed the headquarters of the New York Club, Madison Square Bank, Cosmopolitan magazine and the Berlitz language school. Right at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, opposite Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building, the enclave, which opened in September 2015, kept Foster + Partners bust for two years: from the restoration of its neoclassical façade to the remodelling of a cutting-edge interior –the perfect backdrop for the latest and most innovative materials and products from Porcelanosa Group– as well as the special attention they paid to sustainability, which earned them the LEED Gold Certificate.
9. Aesop in Seoul, South Korea
From the façade to the walls and even the counters, the brick –recycled, even better– is the protagonist of the Australian cosmetics firm’s boutique in the Korean capital. This alongside the infinite variety of soaps, creams, masks, balms, fragrances, shampoos and conditioners that have made this brand world famous, a pioneer in sustainable cosmetics.
10. Selexyz Dominicanen Boekhandel, in Maastricht, the Netherlands
Or the Dominican bookshop to its friends. Unanimously acclaimed as the world’s most beautiful book shop –with over 50,000 books for sale– it is a must-see whether or not you are an avid reader. The door, a 1,234-kg steel mass with the word “book” written in 25 languages, precedes an interior that still retains the 13-the century arches from what was once a Gothic church and which today receives 800,000 visitors a year.
11. Forte Forte, in Madrid, Spain
All of this Italian firm’s stores are different, and they all make you want to remodel your home to resemble them, even just in the slightest. So, when Forte Forte opened its first boutique in Spain, in the heart of the Salamanca neighbourhood, it became a must-see. Thanks to the geometrical interplay between straight lines and curves, the combination of green marble and golden brass, the contrast of stone and velvet… And because it was designed and decorated by the owners themselves, Giada Forte and Robert Vattilana.
12. Casa Perfect, in Los Angeles, USA
Visits are by appointment –now a given in the new normal, but a practice they had adopted beforehand–, above all because Casa Perfect is actually a travelling space halfway between a show house and a gallery. Its latest location is a mansion in Trousdale Estates, in Beverly Hills, built in 1971 by the architect Raul F. Garduno and once the home of Elvis. When inside, everything you can see is for sale, from the decoration to the crockery and furniture.
13. Illuminum Fragrance, in London, United Kingdom
Antonio Cardillo’s idea when he redesigned the perfume company’s shop in a Georgian building in Dover Street was to create a sensory space. Reconfigured as a single room, the walls, which look like cement, are actually covered with Vesuvius volcanic ash to create a neutral, almost aseptic setting, in which the 37 fragrances of the exhibition, hanging from the ceiling in transparent glass bottles, become the main feature. Smell it to believe it.
14. Raina Lee, in Los Angeles, USA
It was already there when she bought the property in 2013, but until last year, the writer and ceramist Los Angeles-native never thought of putting the tree house to another use beyond the occasional yoga session or reading a book with a cup of tea. Then she had the idea of making it into her own showroom. She had an advantage: her partner, architect Mark Watanabe, helped her design the space, the glass and the wooden staircase for the entrance. The shelves were built with recycled local wood. And the vases and jars that fill them have that same rustic, hand-made touch.
15. Weinhandlung Kreis, in Stuttgart, Germany
It all started because the Weinhandlung Kreis wine franchise did not have a warehouse. They had to squeeze 70,000 bottles of wine in just 70 square metres, and they thought to create a design halfway between shelves and wine racks, soldering together metal plates that they painted different colours to enhance the visual effect.
16. Celine, in Paris, France
The concept was born with the firm’s boutique in Madison Avenue, New York, in 2019, but it has since been extended to Dubai, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris. The latter is where are favourite one is located, in the exclusive and ever-popular rue François 1er, in the heart of the Parisian Golden Triangle and one of the most luxurious streets per square metre on this side of the Seine. Half gallery, half fashion store, you could come away with the latest Heidi Slimane design for the maison as well as a David Alamo sculpture. That’s because the catalogue at the other stores includes James Balforth, Paloma Bosqué, Jose Davila, Paul Gees, Eli Ping, Fay Ray and many more.
17. Wrong Marfa, in Texas, USA
Located in what was once a church, Wrong is like a cool glass of water in the middle of the desert. Almost literally. Where you least expect it, and with the only clue a sign with big red letters under a carved door and neon orange steps, you have this space, painted white from the wooden floor to the ceiling. It serves as a shop and, since this year, also a gallery exhibiting the work of local artists and countless objects and curious books, curated by Buck Johnston and Camp Bosworth.
- 1 1. United Cycling, in Lynge, Denmark
- 2 2. Glossier, in New York, USA
- 3 3. Alquema, in Sydney, Australia
- 4 4. Jins Eyewear, in Ageo, Japan
- 5 5. To Tsai, in Athens, Greece
- 6 6. Flùr, in Toronto, Canada
- 7 7. Espai Mietis, in Barcelona, Spain
- 8 8. Porcelanosa, in New York, USA
- 9 9. Aesop in Seoul, South Korea
- 10 10. Selexyz Dominicanen Boekhandel, in Maastricht, the Netherlands
- 11 11. Forte Forte, in Madrid, Spain
- 12 12. Casa Perfect, in Los Angeles, USA
- 13 13. Illuminum Fragrance, in London, United Kingdom
- 14 14. Raina Lee, in Los Angeles, USA
- 15 15. Weinhandlung Kreis, in Stuttgart, Germany
- 16 16. Celine, in Paris, France
- 17 17. Wrong Marfa, in Texas, USA