October 21, 2007

Blueprints

Breakfast on Wall St., Anyone?


Photographs by Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Tiffany’s new store at 37 Wall Street, left, is in the former
Trust Company of America Bank. The architect
George Yabu, right, used glass to separate merchandise.


By CLAIRE WILSON

WHEN it opened a store this month at 37 Wall Street in the financial district of Manhattan, Tiffany & Company was coming back to the old neighborhood. It was just around the corner, on Broadway, that the luxury jeweler was founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and a partner.

The new branch is housed in the former Trust Company of America bank, a 25-story structure built in 1907; the choice of the historic building was a nod to Tiffany’s roots in the area. But within the marble-clad interior, the architect George Yabu, a principal of the Yabu Pushelberg firm based in Toronto, has created a shimmering contemporary emporium that is a departure from other Tiffany stores.

The goal was to appeal to younger, wealthier customers moving into new residential units below Chambers Street and the area’s growing number of well-heeled tourists, according to Mr. Yabu.

“It needed to make some noise that it was down there in this new neighborhood and that we have all this high-quality stuff but we are also kind of cool and hip,” said Mr. Yabu, whose company also renovated the second floor of the Tiffany flagship at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue six years ago and designed the W hotel in Times Square. “It needed a little more spark,” he said.

Tiffany’s in-house designers and Yabu Pushelberg decided that a modern approach was best, with sleek glass fixtures and accessories that would highlight Tiffany’s diamonds, fine jewelry and gifts without obscuring the decorative details of the interior. Tiffany was prohibited from making major structural changes to the Beaux-Arts-style ground floor and mezzanine of the 11,000-square-foot interior of the building, which is recognized for its architectural significance by the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

“We had to respect the architecture of the space but create a contemporary retail environment that puts the focus on the product,” said Philip M. Bottega, the vice president for real estate services at Tiffany & Company.

Glass is used throughout to display merchandise and to separate categories on the selling floor. As shoppers enter, they see a 60-foot-long light sculpture created by the German designer Ingo Maurer from overlapping panels of wire mesh hung with tiny crystals.

“Glass is so ethereal and almost not there,” said Mr. Yabu, who has also designed fashion boutiques for Kate Spade and Carolina Herrera. “It is magical and dreamlike yet has a presence that defines space very beautifully.”

Mr. Yabu uses glass to divide the main selling area of the L-shaped footprint into small salons, each for a merchandise category, like items for men, fine jewelry, or designer lines by Elsa Peretti, Frank Gehry and Paloma Picasso. Salons are created by 12-foot-high double panes of glass. Between the two panes, smaller squares and rectangles of glass treated with platinum are fixed on the perpendicular, adding more shimmer to the room.

Preservation guidelines prohibited reconfiguring electrical wiring in the decorative ceiling, so lighting was designed to sit with security cameras on the stainless steel frames around the glass walls. These lights are trained upward on the architectural details and light sculpture, while additional halogen spotlights on tubular fixtures point downward on display cases.

Tiffany executives were skeptical at first about cutting up the space into boutiques, Mr. Yabu said, but they found that it was necessary to mitigate the potentially cavernous feel of the 35-foot ceilings. The move also added some seclusion for shoppers. “You don’t feel so exposed when you are trying on a significant piece of jewelry,” he said.

The divisions also helped avoid a lifeless floor plan of display cases around the perimeter, as well as helping to control customer traffic. “We wanted to slow people down to discover things and let the spaces unfold by giving them options to turn right or keep going,” Mr. Yabu said. “It will take two to three visits to understand the space, and it will be different every time you come.”

The boutiquelike areas extend beyond the main selling area to other corners of the store. Diamond engagement rings occupy their own private quarters at the back of the main floor, while silver items have their own space in the same location on the mezzanine level.

A designer jewelry and gifts department, adjacent to the silver section on the mezzanine, is separated by a series of two-panel, L-shaped screens made of alternating glass rectangles in contrasting black and white. Gift items line a second corridor along the mezzanine, at the end of which is an enclosed living-room-style area. Featuring lush velvets and dark Macassar furniture, the room is also equipped with a full-length mirror whose lighted frame lets customers see a particular piece of jewelry in various kinds of lights. The same style of furniture, with rich colors and dark finishes, is used in the mezzanine-level conference room and executive offices, as well as the customer service area on the lower level.

State preservation regulations dictated where the mezzanine balustrade could be cut to add a staircase, which was directly opposite the front door. Rather than building a straight structure, Mr. Yabu created a more inviting serpentine staircase that curves up in a gentle “S” shape along the rear wall.

Tiffany is among the first high-end retailers to expand into Wall Street, in what could become a luxury retail corridor. Store executives knew that the store’s design could be a benchmark for other luxury brands now looking to move to the area.

“They wanted to set a standard that was so high that if a competitor came in they would have to try really hard to top what we planned to do for them,” Mr. Yabu said.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company