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How to Design a Retail Boutique

Updated: May 9, 2022

In late 2019, a client requested I design a retail space for them. The imposter syndrome immediately kicked in:

The first thing I thought was …’what they need is a retail designer, not an interior designer.’

But, after a couple of design meetings, I figured that using my experience in architecture and interiors actually made sense here. In making the decision, I also needed to convince my friend Bailey, a design stylist and experienced visual merchandiser, that this was a collaboration that we needed to pursue. In the coming months, Evoluxxy was born!

Construction Photos

Secret: the fitting room doors were designed to be arches...but they got value engineered out. Boooo

Check out this little video on this adorable space!

I designed their first space in 2020, but then the pandemic hit. Luckily, the client's smart merchandising and online sales presence kept the business afloat. However, they didn't enjoy that space for long. Two short years later, the landlord offered them a bigger, newer space across the street, and they seized the opportunity. Since the first space was successful, I was asked to design the new 2022 version.

The inspiration - boho, neutral and clean design

What’s the difference between interior design and retail design?

The intention behind retail design is to encourage commerce and there is a science to doing that. But we kept it simple:

  • Welcome your customers with the right aesthetic

  • Guide them through the store in a strategic manner

  • Inspire them to interact with your products

  • Encourage them to buy (and to come back!)

Retail design is typically associated with the way you merchandise and price your products. But retail interior design is about more than just merchandising. From the moment you walk into a store until you leave, everything can influence the path to purchasing an item.

How to Create a Welcoming Entry for Your Retail Store

One of the most important things we focused on was the 2 large window displays in the front. This window is usually the customer's first visual contact with the store and often determines whether or not someone will enter and see more, or simply walk on by.

It was important for the client to convey the boho chic aesthetic of the space but also not to be overly casual. It needed to grab customers' attention while they were walking down the busy sidewalk.

What Is The Best Layout for a Retail Store?

When walking through a store, having too much stimulation can disrupt a customers' concentration and make it confusing, even difficult, for them to make a purchase. A store's aesthetics must appeal to the customer if they intend to browse through it and buy something. For Evoluxxy we let the gorgeous clothing and jewelry speak for themselves.

Bailey adding final touches to the jewelry table in the center of the shop

Local shoppers in this area are usually busy and need to shop in a hurry. How could we design a space that encouraged customers to slow down? Our goal was to increase browsing time in the store and discover something new, leading them to a sale. That starts with a store layout that encourages this kind of shopping behavior. Here’s how we did that:

First, you have mere seconds to capture the attention of the shoppers. We achieved this by placing three tall mannequins about 6-8 feet from the store entrance. They are dressed in the most interesting and eye-catching outfits right at the front.

Entrance to store

Secondly, as customers enter and turn right, we designed this client's "jean wall" to showcase all of their high-end denim, which we displayed in an ombre pattern.

PRO TIP: Grouping products together is important. Keep the most popular stuff at eye level and the less popular at the bottom or above.

Lastly, research shows customers travel in a counter clockwise fashion around a store - we naturally gravitate towards the right when we enter a retail space then travel toward the back and around to the front of the store again. The next time you go shopping, notice if you go to the left or right. I bet you go to the right. :)

How Do You Merchandise Your Retail Store?

My client wanted to display a lot of great merchandise in her store, but we didn't want to crowd it. Leaving some breathing room is important. When stores are overcrowded, do you ever notice the products appear to be of lower quality? We designed gaps in the store to allow customers to move about and not feel crowded or cramped. Then we added visual breathing room techniques in the store, such as the circular jewelry table or the home goods section that visually breaks up the clothing racks.

Close up view of the pampas chandelier and the jewelry table
PRO TIP: Don’t overcrowd the space. Less is more. Leave some breathing room!
Small but adorable home decor section

Bailey and I designed full mood boards for each moment and 'mini shop’ within the store:

  • Cash wrap

  • Front window display

  • Jewelry section

  • Jean wall

  • Home décor section

  • Back area fitting rooms

Like most higher end retail shops, security was an issue for my client. It was important for the staff to be able to monitor everything from the checkout counter. So, the cash wrap area was strategically placed so the staff can see every corner of the space.

Vinyl decals and logo - both from Etsy

At Evoluxxy, the client also requested a cash wrap area be big enough for shoppers to place their bags and to be utilized as a workspace for the staff to steam new clothing coming into the store. We took advantage of the wall behind the counter to create an interesting logo wall and focal point with cool lighting and a large fiddle leaf plant.

Choosing Lighting for a Retail Store

Coming from a commercial architecture background, lighting these kinds of spaces is a specialty of mine! The last Evoluxxy location was a bit dark – a complaint of my client's. They needed bright light in this new space.

We designed a reflected ceiling / lighting plan that included a combination of recessed lights, sleek track and track heads, and hanging pendants and sconces. (The latter don’t give off as much light as they are more for ambiance and style.)

PRO TIP: Use lighting to guide customers around the space, highlight products, and set the vibe! We did that with a mixture of lighting types, including a pampas grass chandelier right at the entry.

We sourced lighting from CB2, Shades of Light, and locally sourced florals from Pennock Floral for the show-stopping pampas "chandelier" (created and DYI'ed by yours truly!).

See the pampas chandelier here:

Fitting room pendants

Sconces by fitting room

How to Choose Furniture for a Retail Store?

In a retail space, or any commercial space with high foot traffic, you want to install furniture and rugs that are maintenance free and durable. Makes sense, right? So when this client relayed their preference for on-trend white boucle, that presented us with quite the challenge! Luckily there are performance fabrics on the market that allow us to have the best of both worlds. Washable rugs from Ruggable were a great find for this space!

Ongoing supply chain issues delaying shipping and receiving, coupled with us being on a hard deadline for the store’s grand opening meant we had to get creative with where we sourced products. We found items that worked from Wayfair, Home Depot, Urban Outfitters (I adore that jewelry table and mirror!) and even some accents from Target.

PRO TIP: Adding a waiting area with comfortable chairs and benches to your store can also encourage customers to spend more time there. It is especially helpful for shoppers accompanied by a partner or child who isn't keen on buying.

In the end, I discovered designing this store for my client was educational and very rewarding. At the very least, it taught me how to make a grass chandelier! Lately, when I'm in the store, it makes me feel delighted and proud to see customers oohing and aahing over the new space.

One of my favorite views of the shop. oooooh aaaahhhh.

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