At a time when many retailers are overstimulating the senses to attract customers, Basin is selling soaps, bath bubblers, shampoos and lotions in a simple environment reminiscent of the Shaker period.

Basin, which recently opened its first location at Mall of America, looks like a mercantile store from the 1800s, says co-owner Shawna Heninger. Products are displayed in bulk in a natural-looking and comfortable setting, she continues.

"The goal of the project was to have a store where customers would automatically know what was happening and what we were selling," Heninger says. "We wanted our product displayed in bulk. We wanted to use as little packaging as possible.

"We try to remind people of the time when a lot of these products were made by hand," she continues, explaining that most bath and body items sold in the store are made by hand without preservatives and chemicals.

Soaps are displayed in blocks and sold in pre-cut sizes or cut to order. The bath bubblers (ball-shaped items that are effervescent and soften the bath water) and shampoo bars (solid shampoo that is used similar to a bar of soap) are self-service and unwrapped, allowing the customer to touch, feel and smell the items. "We want people to interact with the product," Heninger says.

The products and how they are used inspired the store design concept. "It all starts with the products," says Gregory Rothweiler, design director for Shea Architects Inc., the Minneapolis-based firm that worked in conjunction with Duffy Design, also of Minneapolis, to create Basin's personality and store design. "Nobody out there has this kind of approach to bath and body products."

The setting is designed to be simple and unassuming and to highlight Basin's bulk products, says Robin Meredith, account director for Duffy Design.

Bill Sterna, a designer for Shea Architects, adds that because the merchandise itself is colorful, it was important to specify a neutral color palette so that "the product could hold its own in the store."

The fixturing, too, puts the products at center stage. Wood display boxes placed in open fixtures not only give customers easy access to soaps and shampoos but also highlight the products themselves. Concrete sink basins are used throughout to display items in bulk and suggest water without actually using it. The antique bathtub at the entrance to the store and the mosaic tile around the perimeter of the space, reinforcethe bathroom/basin idea and tie the product to the design.

"We wanted to make sure the store did catch the eye of the consumer and feel different so that it was intriguing and drew people in," says Meredith. The storefront, with its large windows and entrance, provides immediate access to the product through sight and smell.

Weathered pine flooring, neutral colors, a row of hooks like a Shaker chair rail at eye-level throughout the store, simplistic lighting utilizing classic dome fixtures, the use of muslin-type fabric in certain areas - all further the store's uncomplicated image

Displaying merchandise in bulk, enhancing this theme, also conveys a feeling that the products are fresh from the manufacturer. "It's as if we just got this [product] in, and we're unloading itnow," Sterna says.

The design of the 1,400 sq. ft. store, however, is only part of the Basin package. The products, materials, packaging, signage and overall identity work together to create the retailer's personality.

As Rothweiler says, "The environment that resulted is a mirror of simplicity, the utilitarian aspect, the accessibility and the tactile nature of the Shaker approach."