For most large design stores an important part of their real estate is the shop frontage to the street … for that all-important area of shop window display. The Normann store in Copenhagen is rather different. It has a relatively tight frontage onto the busy shopping street of Østerbrogade and that is mostly glass doors. These lead into a square area, almost like a lobby, before it narrows down further to a long entrance, almost a wide corridor, to the shop proper. There the space opens out into a wide, bright and interesting space with changes of level, including wide steps down to a lower retail area and steps up to a wide and higher area at the back that is often used for specific displays and presentations.
The explanation for this slightly unconventional arrangement is that the main part of the building is actually in the courtyard areas, in the centre of the block, and in effect the long entrance is the way through the apartment building on the street. This site has a complex and interesting history being at different times a water distillery, a theatre, a sound studio and a cinema. Was the slightly unconventional premises seen as a gamble when Normann took on the building as its flagship store in 2005? Certainly it has to be an asset now rather than a liability … with a well-established and growing reputation, the company is well beyond the stage of needing to draw in passing trade and is very clearly a deliberate destination store for its customers.
This long entrance has deep, well-lit shelving along one side that can be used for more traditional displays of items for sale but the area is also used for important and carefully focused displays on various themes including a sophisticated and very well presented exhibition here when they launched the new Form range of chairs and tables at the beginning of the year. That included detailed design drawings and an explanation of the design process along with small but significant displays of construction details … all really important to encourage buyers to understand and then appreciate the product.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped off at Normann and caught the second period of residence here of the American-born but Copenhagen-based potter Eric Landon. His own studio, Tortus, is in a courtyard off Kompagnistræde in the centre of Copenhagen and his Tortus Boutique is on Badstuestræde at number 17 but for the day he had set up his potters’ wheel in the entrance area of Normann where he worked producing a growing number of unfired vases but there was also a good display of the finished, glazed and fired wares.
Further along the entrance were displays of glass and pottery of the full Normann range giving the demonstration and the shop display a clear theme.
Events like this are not a gimmick. Food stores have long seen the value of having specific demonstrations of cooking to promote new products or new producers but this is much less common in design stores. Talking briefly to Eric Landon it was clear very quickly that he is passionate and articulate about his craft. A customer can see not just the end product and not just the processes and the skill that lead up to the completed piece but also the thought processes, the design work, the exploration of the possibilities of the materials and forms used in different ways or how slight but deliberate changes can change the character of a piece.
For design at a wider level it begins to break down the false divisions between designers, makers and manufacturers. Initially, industrial production was seen as inferior to craftsmanship but it produced glass, ceramics, textiles and tableware, among other things, that were cheap and readily available. At first the wealthiest buyers preferred their furniture, like their suits, hand made. But gradually, machine-made goods have for most, become synonymous with consistent quality and crafts with something that is inconsistent, looks “hand made” and is not as good as the machine made item.
What the ceramics by Eric Landon shows is that the care and consideration given to each vase is an important selling point but more than that, the intellectual process involved in deciding on the shape, form, colour and so on of an individual piece is the same intellectual process involved in designing a good chair or a good piece of glassware.
In exhibitions or with an event like this but also in their online catalogue, that profiles individual designers, Normann reconnects the objects with the very real people who conceived them.