Residential-style furniture creates a home environment at the mall, providing comfort while significantly raising a retailer's average sale.

If your customers weren't born into the lap of luxury, at least they can experience it at Atlanta's Perimeter Mall. Henry Beer, co-founder of Boulder, Colo.-based Communication Arts says the furniture his company used to adorn Perimeter Mall increased the "Husband Dwell Time," or HDT. This means the husband more willingly waited an additional 15 to 25 minutes while his spouse made additional purchases. "So, the degree to which you could increase the dwell time of the companion had a direct and salutary effect [on the sales]," explains Beer.

When renovating the interior of the 1.4 million-sq.-ft. regional mall for Columbia, Md.-based The Rouse Co. in 1994, the designers were not only concerned with sales, but also appealing to the customer. The design team consisted of Beer, design principal; Mike Doyle, senior designer; Todd Cail, designer; Cambridge, Mass.-based DAIQ Architects; Larry Whitman of The Rouse Co.; and Kathy Bazemore, an independent contractor.

The team's first objective was to look at Perimeter's clientele. "The concept grew out of the southern woman's lifestyle. After looking at this customer, we recognized Atlanta as the headwaters of traditional American femininity," says Beer.

The team wanted to create an environment of ease and comfort. They combined this idea with the tradition of hospitality and graciousness in the South, and came up with the "metaphor for the southern home," says Beer.

The southern home effect gradually unfolds as shoppers walk through Perimeter Mall. Just as in a home, the ground level is treated as a public space. As patrons make their way upstairs, things become more intimate, quiet and soft. Beer believes a well designed home is an instrument for fostering love, affection and intercommunication among the family. To encourage conversation, designers chose the tables, chairs and couches carefully, creating warm, cozy seating groups.

In addition, the design team again looked at the patron profile. "We believed it would be a sign of respect for the customer, because of the levels of civility exhibited in that particular area of the world, that the furniture would not be institutional but rather it would be made of quality materials not usually seen in malls," says Beer.

Beer realized the residential settings would need to exhibit the highest levels of durability in order to withstand the traffic. Before long, visitors were asking where they could buy the particular couch or rocking chair used in the project. For Beer, it was the ultimate compliment.

"I think there is rarely a retail project in which we're involved where the lessons we learned at Perimeter have not been implemented. Without the guidance of Kathy Bazemore, the leadership of Larry Whitman and the cooperation of a great design partner like DAIQ, all of it would have been stillborn."