When the owner and CEO of Exclusive Books bought the chain in 2013, it was a homecoming to the brand of which he had been CEO in the 1980s. Passionate about books, he immediately set out to deliver his goal of reigniting a thirst for reading and intellectualism.
The brief to Dakota Design, the interior ar- chitects and retail designers for Exclusive Books at Ballito Junction in KwaZulu-Natal,was clear; design a space that would encourage likeminded patrons "to have conversations" in the store. For centuries, bookstores and coffee shops were spaces where people would gather to share thoughts, debate ideas and start movements that would shape the world as we know it today.
For too long in recent history, bookstores have been staid places where people are expected to be quiet and where consuming food and bever- ages is unthinkable. Not so with Exclusive Books. Here, they want patrons to interact with each other and with authors, to listen, to share, and enjoy coffee and a treat. But fundamentality, the space is about books and the conversations they evoke. For Dakota Design it was about creating the best environment for that vision to come alive in. In essence, no two Exclusive Books stores are the same. Dakota Design’s approach is to deliver stores whose designs have been tailored to suit the space and community in which they exist. Like the bookstores and coffee shops of old, they want people to develop an affinity and sense of belonging in their local store, precisely because it is different from anything else on offer.
At the heart of the Exclusive Books store-con- cept lies an ‘old-school’ style library or bookstore with a modern twist, one in which books are piled to the rafters, encouraging patrons to view the experi- ence as one that elicits fond memories of people and places, both real and imagined. The designers want patrons to explore the space rather than view the purchase as simply being transactional. This is achieved by introducing wall racking that reaches from the ﬂoor to the ceiling 4 250 mm above. And although this runs contrary to commercial thinking, the out-of-reach books support the illusion of an old- school bookstore or library, but also serve as attic stock, which is easily accessible to staff by way of a library ladder mounted to a sliding rail.
Once the backbone of the old-school bookstore is established, layers are added to enhance the experience. For Dakota Design, the real challenge was to find the perfect balance between the juxta- position of a calm tranquil reading environment and a lively hub for intellectual enlightenment, debate and expression. By designing a drop down bulkhead that runs around the perimeter of the store, they were able to introduce a downward facing mirror which, when you are standing beneath it, makes the books on the perimeter walls look as though they magically stretch upwards to infinity.
This illusion is further enhanced with the use of an undulating acrylic mirror that creates a slightly distorted and even more fantastical effect. The intention of this design element is to give patrons a not-so-subtle clue that in this space people are encouraged to let their imaginations take ﬂight and allow themselves to be transported to wherever their minds want to take them on their searches for knowledge, understanding and escapism.
Chris Pietersen from Darkroom Lighting Projects, the lighting designer for the project, notes that the original brief from the client and design team was for the lighting to push the envelope in terms of the aesthetic and functional application of light. “The lighting needed to best showcase the book shelves, whilst remaining functionally suitable for in-store reading. It was also a technical consideration from the outset that the lighting solution be glare-free and minimal, comfortable and inviting,” he explains.
The lighting design for the store is based on three elements:
Suspended linear lighting provides a symmetri- cal wash and task lighting in between the book shelves, whilst also providing a horizontal reference plane within the overall exposed volume.The linear lighting is further supplemented by stalk spots to provide localised accent for shelf ends, and cre- ate more differentiation on the general retail area. Perimeter recessed lighting provides the same localised shelf lighting, but also ensures that the vertical faces within the space are well illuminated to further contribute to a bright and uplifting interior.
Decorative lighting throughout the space further enhances the inviting and human-centric design ethos of the project. The authenticity of the interior treatment is echoed in the manner that these add functionality to key areas within the store.The timber lighting pendants – from a CapeTown-based lighting range – have been painted to match interior ele- ments, and lamped suitably to provide the required functionality to the children’s area towards the back of the space, as well as over the sales counter. A bespoke glass blower was commissioned by the interiors team for the glass spheres over the main coffee counter to provide a textured and crafted element, welcoming patrons to the store. Lastly, a world-renowned British-based company supplied the Anglepoise reading lights in a soft powder blue, at the central history table space, allowing for a tactile interaction with the lighting elements.
Signage and integrated lighting
The main graphic bulkhead within the space has been up-lit with a custom suspended linear channel to highlight the printed graphic face. This becomes a strong visual element within the space that draws the eye towards the children’s section at the back of the space. It adds a playful element which also lowers and defines the overall volume within the store. The Exclusive Books ‘E’ is rear-illuminated at the point of sale to provide the same textuality.
“Warm White (<3000 Kelvin) was a common lighting palette from the outset of the design de- velopment to provide a warm and comfortable at- mosphere to the retail experience,” says Pietersen, noting that warmer light relies strongly on accent and variation to avoid a ﬂat and one-dimensional space. The overall soffit height at the Exclusive Books Ballito store is very high and the heights of the perimeter (mirror) bulkhead, graphic bulkheads and the linear lighting layout, all had to be factoredand balanced to achieve a sense of infinity, whilst maintaining the sense of intimacy within the space.
In terms of natural light, Pietersen says, “The full height shopfront of the store lets in a large amount of daylight during the day, although the orientation of the store faces South-West, which tends to be more forgiving. Because all Exclusive Books stores respond to their locations, there was a conscious de- cision to allow daylight to supplement artificial lighting during the day, and the lighting levels at the transition area were increased to compensate for this”.
Because of the large shopfront, lighting levels towards the back section of the store – which receives less natural daylight – were increased. Lighting around the children’s area at the back of the store was increased to ensure this area remains a focal point within the space. “The strong perimeter lighting throughout the store helps to maintain the general ambience and functional lighting levels. In all instances, the decorative lighting is supported by architectural lighting to lift lighting levels without relying solely on the decorative elements to provide the required task lighting,” Pietersen says.
Dakota Design says the goal with this store was to create an environment that stimulates and challenges all the human senses, fostering differ- ent emotions and encouraging engagement by all who visit it.This sentiment was rewarded when the store received the 2017 Retail Design and Develop- ment Award (RDDA) for best Retail Store Design within a shopping centre in South Africa.
“Careful and sensitive application of light will always be integral to the success of a space that requires artificial lighting,” says Pietersen, looking back at the award-winning project. “The lighting plan was carefully considered and coordinated with the client and the design team and the client always had a hands-on approach to the interiors and a clear vision of how it wanted to position its brand and the experience it provided to its patrons. This client involvement and dedication to the process is clearly visible in the end result; a layered lighting scheme with a great deal of detail and depth. It was this continued engagement and dialogue within the professional team that saw the store winning the RDDA award.”
CLIENT: Exclusive Books
ARCHITECTS/INTERIOR DESIGNERS: Dakota Design: www.dakotadesign.co.za
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: Trossco Electrical: www.trossco.co.za
LIGHTING DESIGN & SUPPLY: Darkroom Lighting Projects: www.dark-room.co.za
HAND-BLOWN GLASS PENDANTS: Red Hot Glass: www.redhotglass.co.za
TIMBER DECORATIVE LIGHTING: Minima: www.minima.co.za
ANGLEPOISE READING LAMPS: www.anglepoise.com
BESPOKE STEEL WORK & FABRICATION: www.bluesteelprojects.co.za