stores+shops März 2017

Open and intimate moments  Ι stores+shops 03. 2017

Visual permeability – or closed facade and interior design? Shop designers have the choice, depending on the condition of the building, industry, genre, brand and objective. The current trend is transparency, not only for smaller areas, but increasingly also for larger houses and higher-value ranges.

The decision wasn’t easy. But the design idea of Nom-nom Retail & Interior Design seemed so attractive to André Gunselmann, Managing Director of Bottroper Mensing Holding, that he agreed to her proposal to glaze the 250 sqm area on the ground floor of the Bottrop flagship store with young fashion. As a result, the window fronts were virtually integrated into the salesroom and the rear walls, which were no longer required, were replaced by individual stands with 360-degree playability and a large merchandise capacity. The conversion took about two and a half years. Has Gunselmann regretted the decision? “On the contrary,” he says, “I’m really grateful for the transparency.” The completely visible situation was unusual in the beginning, because “the absence of the arena principle, the sudden absence of back walls, and the customer feeling as if he is standing in the shop window – we had to get used to that”. But the leaps in sales right at the beginning and the continued positive development prove this radical step right.

Total transparency in the window and entrance areas, the play of transparency up to maximum opening with generous glass fronts, the integration of natural daylight and its conscious staging: all this is considered a huge trend – as long as it suits the industry, the genre, the product quality and the customer structure and is conducive to the brand identity and general objective. And, of course, the decision for or against transparent facade design depends first and foremost on the conditions of the existing property. Where does the widespread tendency towards glass stores come from? Apart from the fact that “our entire society has become more open”, as Simone Schödlbauer from the Schödlbauer fashion house in Bad Kötzting states, there are also solid reasons for this. According to general opinion, the front reliably lowers inhibition thresholds with a clear view, because, according to shopfitting architect Ansgar Hellmich, “the customer knows what to expect when he enters the store.

Ecco Schaufenster in München

Foto: Heckhaus
This closed presentation of the shoe brand ECCO in the Sporthaus Schuster in Munich aroused curiosity about an atmospheric small “manufactory” on the ECCO surface, where customers could make even small objects out of leather.

Looking in und Looking out

Budgets and the business model also play a role, because “limited resources often no longer allow many shop windows to be used regularly,” says Anna Trunk, Key Account Manager Retail Projects at Michelgroup. But it’s also a question of philosophy and aesthetics. “A freely visible window area is very attractive from a design point of view, because the front is related to the interior and at the same time the interior world is transferred to the outside,” says Ansgar Hellmich.

It’s about a Looking in and Looking out,” says Anna Trunk, “the advantage of not only looking into the store from the outside, but also interacting with the location from the inside and incorporating local factors such as the beautiful view or the particularly exciting pedestrian zone. However, one is not released from the obligation to create reference and focal points for the outside observer in the interior and to structure the room. “To do this, you can draw in different heights with different product carriers or set highlights with different heights of pedestals with figures,” says Anna Trunk.

In general, with an open design you can “play better with the entire facade,” says Ansgar Hellmich. Thomas Mai, Head of Project and Construction Management at F&M Retail, believes that the façade is often “underestimated in its potential” and that it is not only “a physical separating element between interior and exterior space”, but also the framework for the approach between brand and consumer at the POS.

It always depends

Nevertheless: “There are no fixed parameters that fundamentally lead to the assessment that a transparent execution would be preferable to a closed one,” says Jaromin Hecker, founder and Managing Director of the Munich design and planning agency Heckhaus, “Both variants and also possible ideas in between, such as working with semi-transparency can be sensible and correct. Alexander Plajer also considers the semitransparent window, i.e. the window that is opened halfway or sideways to the salesroom, to be an exciting variant, for example “to generate photo motifs for instagra and the like”. The transparent shop front also has its pitfalls. “The reflecting glass is the basic problem”, says Alexander Plajer, “you have to constantly fight against the sunlight and work with plenty of additional light so that the open façade doesn’t look like a black hole”. The fact that exposure to the sun can damage the goods is an additional factor. Mensing solves this problem by frequently changing the goods in question.


Despite the trend towards transparency in store architecture, the closed design of windows or interior worlds is of course still justified, especially when it comes to dramatically staging a single product or brand. In the premium and luxury genre, closed or at least semi-closed concepts are therefore the preferred choice.

Certain product groups are also predestined for closed situations – in the salesroom, for example, laundry, because the customer does not want to expose herself while she is dealing with this very personal product. Even outdoor, sports and fitness ranges, “emotional” or small-part products can usually be better staged in closed worlds of experience.

shop window interface

The “excellently designed window” is essential for closed concepts, says Alexander Plajer. “The window must convey the message of the assortment,” says Thorsten Winkelmann of Winkelmann Impulse, “and vice versa, the expectations that the window arouses must be fulfilled in the store. In principle, Winkelmann is more of a proponent of closed worlds, and likes to recommend semi-transparent concepts for small items such as shoes: “The customer then sees what world of experience opens up behind the shoe staged in the window and is thus guided into the store via the product.

However, the product can not only be celebrated in closed worlds, but also with total transparency. Cristina Bradaschia, Head of Design at F&M Retail, addresses the significance of the “second facade”, namely the scenario directly behind the glass front. Fashion brands in particular are investing heavily in the design of this second façade, “by using selected materials that reflect the identity and philosophy of the respective brand,” says Bradaschia. The product is then not placed on a pedestal against a background that is as neutral as possible, but consciously “placed in a creative setting” – and thus itself part of the second façade. Transparency or unity – does that have to be a contradiction? Or is transparency and closeness also possible? Cristina Bradaschia says: “The game with showing and concealing, visibility and illusion – this is what ultimately makes the attraction between product and consumer so attractive”.

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