The sophisticated retailer upgrades its Madison Avenue flagship store with an American industrial aesthetic.

When Coach, the manufacturer and retailer of upscale leather goods, decided to redesign its stores to herald a revamped and expanded product offering, it called on the design talents of New York-based S. Russell Groves. Coach chose to refashion its Madison Avenue flagship — located in the landmark Fuller Building on the premier retail corner of Madison Avenue and 57th Street — as the prototype for a new design incorporating distinct American aesthetics.

“They wanted a warm, handcrafted feel to the space — not European or overly slick,” notes Groves, principal of the design firm. He found inspiration in the 1940s industrial aesthetic of Coach's original 34th Street factory, now the company's offices.

Endblock wood bordered by colored concrete creates a factory-floor look, and a palette of milk-painted pine, ebonized mahogany, white-painted steel, ribbed glass, and brushed nickel reinforces the industrial theme.

Groves expanded the store from 4,000 to 6,500 sq. ft., punching out a 20-ft. by 20-ft. section from each floor to create a light-filled, three-story atrium. An open-riser, metal-and-concrete staircase in the center of the atrium dramatically links the three levels.

“One of our biggest challenges was to open the whole space to the customer,” says Groves. “The old staircase was hidden in the back of the store and people didn't even realize it was there. This stair adds a sculptural element and is even visible from the street, so shoppers see right away how big the store is.” The white, glazed-brick wall spanning the atrium is another nod to Coach's factory origins.

In order to accommodate Coach's expanding product lines, including shoes, accessories, and home and pet items, the fixtures chosen needed to be flexible. In response, Groves put a system of geometric display units in place including recessed wall niches, freestanding metal shelves and square floor fixtures. The crisp, uncluttered fixtures are made of indigenous American materials such as milk-painted pine and mahogany. Most units are individually illuminated with recessed fluorescent lighting. Wall niches use a system of cantilevered shelves and other components that accommodate varying sizes of merchandise.

Lighting is also key to the design, explains Groves. “We wanted to create a high level of energy, so it was important for us to wash the overall envelope with light.” He shied away from using spot fixtures requiring frequent adjustment and maintenance, particularly since the store's ceilings are high.

Instead, Groves specified a grid of recessed quartz halogen ceiling lights to provide an overall radiance. He then added track fixtures, parallel to feature walls, for extra punch. The general feel for customers as they enter is bright and warm.

Since the Madison Avenue flagship opened in November 2000, the S. Russell Groves design firm has adapted the new signature look to two other New York stores — SoHo and Rockefeller Center — as well as flagships in Boston and San Francisco. With as yet undetermined dates, Coach is planning a chain-wide rollout of the new design.

Contact: S. Russell Groves, New York, 212.929.5221 or (F) 212.929.4463.

Pat Matson Knapp is a Cincinnati-based writer.