Senses and sensibility in design Question of the Month: If money were no object -- and you had your choice of store category -- what would your concept of the ideal retail store be? What would the store's setting be? What types of design themes would you explore? How would your design concepts and layout attain and hold customer attention?

Wow, a "sky's the limit" budget, in any category, and in any style for my ideal retail store. How would I choose?

It would be nearly impossible to select just one merchandise category or design style because each project I've encountered turns into my newly chosen favorite. From dog bones and cat toys, women's golf attire and fresh flowers, to bidets and bathtubs -- there seems to be something for everyone in every category.

The character of the product and the brand's identity -- its image, its personality, price points, its consumer and competition -- drives the overall design strategy. So every product gets its own solution, whether it's for a new store design, a special fixture, a display technique or packaging. The design style could be anything from minimalist, traditional, eclectic or themed, as long as it reinforces the product's and the brand's "personality" and the merchant's mission statement.

Successful retail isn't only about handsome stores, however. The principles of sound, accurate planning; application of the design elements; and attention to detail must be taken seriously before layout solutions and decor themes are discussed and implemented.

That early planning process provides the building blocks for a successful plan, design concept and, ultimately, successful business for the store.

A shop with an air of confidence that reflects the owner's philosophy of service and quality offers the best experience as a shopper. I love being in a store that has a marked element of surprise or freshness; perhaps it's a little off-beat and dramatic, or it provides unexpected features that ends up making the shoppers' time well spent.

As a consumer, I look to concepts that will save me time: for example, a store that you can have a cup of gourmet coffee and search the Internet while getting the oil changed in your car. With a little more research and planning, a store that offers these services under one roof could very well come to light.

Easy transitions between departments or store categories, sensible signage and messaging and cross merchandising all are pieces of the ultimate design solution. A design that prompts all senses -- including touch (hands-on interaction with the product), smell (aromatic coffees, floral scents, bath and body products) and sounds (rushing water, background music) -- give the store's products the best chance of leaving the shelves and going home with the consumer.

The point is to create a level of comfort and an interest to stay in the store and shop by providing a little bit more for the consumers' money than they expect.

* Favorite retail store(s) Pottery Barn and Banana Republic: "They have a confidence about who they are and represent it well."

* Favorite restaurant design Provisions: "Tastes great, smells great and has great stuff to buy; the lighting, colors, materials and layout are super."

* Most improved retail image JCPenney: "They kept the value in the products; the visuals and overall environment have the look and feel of an upscale department store."

* Most admired industry figure(s) John Pils (John Pils Design Studio), Tim Tinsman (TFW Interior Consultants), David Robillard (Sverdrup Architects), and Caren Vredenburgh (Brown Shoe Co.): "They stand for uncompromised excellence in their area of expertise, regardless of the project's scope or budget."

Beth Florsek, Florsek Design Services 529 Golfwood Drive Ballwin, Mo. 63021 (314) 394-9425

* Number of years in the industry: 15

* Recent retail project(s): Architectural and construction design services for Country Acres Kennel and Cattery in St. Louis; themed accessory decor for The Living Room at 1014, a lounge/dance club in St. Louis; and lighting, finish/material consultation for women's fashion designer John Patrick's retail store in Ladue, Mo., the designer's first retail store.

* Upcoming project(s): Multi-faceted services for Christynes Hair Salon in Ladue, Mo.