Industry professionals identify what's in store for 1998 retail design.

As Thomas Jefferson once wrote in a letter to John Adams, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."

As designers and merchants continue to refine their retail environments, many "dreams of the future" are likely to be made reality over the course of 1998. Among them, interactivity and theming will continue to affect store design; the choices for flooring surfaces will continue to expand; and bulky fluorescent bulbs will give way to small lamp lighting with better efficacy.

As is the case with many business sectors, a healthy economy and confident spending attitudes among consumers will give store creators more reason to stay aggressive in their designs. A healthy charge from 1997 holiday sales and traffic is likely to give the industry even more momentum as the country rings in the new year.

Within seven categories -- theming and interactivity; fixturing; lighting; display and image; flooring; advertising and promotion; and retail construction -- INStore has polled industry experts to help bring into clearer focus some major design trends for 1998.

Theming and interactivity What's In: Low-key, upscale themed environments What's Out: Nothing, as of yet

Theming and interactivity seems to have taken on some more mature characteristics; some of the latest examples do not employ Hollywood cartoon characters, 1950s rock stars or outer space. Such is the case at New York's Rockefeller Center, where visitors find 12,000 sq. ft. Tuscan Square, a multi-format, themed marketplace. Tuscan Square features no space craft or pulsating MTV video screens overhead; in place of larger-than-life images is the unmistakable stamp of an Italian marketplace.

Developed by Tuscan-born retailer and restaurateur Pino Luongo, Tuscan Square comprises a 120-seat restaurant, bar and wine cellar plus a retail selection of prepared and packaged foods, bath and home products, and regional fashions from Tuscany. The design is reminiscent of a Tuscan country marketplace, with a dramatic circular staircase built around a preserved cypress tree.

Fixturing What's In: Flexible fixtures on wheels; light materials, such as metal mesh What's Out: Dark wood, fixed-position showcases; solid shelves and fixture backs

"Our specialty store clients want them," says Charles E. Broudy, a Philadelphia-based store planner and architect of wheel-mounted floor fixtures. "They likethem because of their flexibility; merchandise positioning on the selling floor can be changed with minimum effort." He adds that cost differential is minimal between wheel-mounted display fixtures and traditional floor-anchored models.

>From convenience stores to high-end specialty shops, trends are moving toward openness and airiness on the selling floor, says Broudy. Materials such as perforated metal mesh for shelves and fixture backs are being translated into showcases, shelving and freestanding units, he notes, adding that wire-front fixtures effectively display a maximum amount of product without interfering with overall design.

Lighting What's In: Small, efficient lamps; higher light levels What's Out: Big and bulky fluorescent bulbs; prismatic globe HID fixtures

Cynthia Turner, vice president and lighting design director for New York-based FRCH Design Worldwide, enthusiastically supports the trend toward diminutive, high-performance lamps for retail application. She says smaller lamps -- for example, new MR11 lamps that are 1 1/4" in diameter -- offer expanded store lighting design opportunities.

"More than ever, we're integrating lighting into architecture," she says. "Lighting is a huge part of overall design, not just something that [is an offshoot of] the ceiling."

Turner reports that more of her clients want to incorporate colored lighting to achieve a more theatrical store design. For the 1,850 sq. ft. On Stage shop at Harrah's in Las Vegas, Turner specified Philips 35W metal halide PAR lamps (the equivalent of 150W incandescent) and added colored gels that fit into a slot in the fixture's housing.

A bold statement also can be made with higher light levels, as is the case with Bloomingdale's. The department store chain's California stores -- as well as the renovated New York City flagship and a new location at Aventura Mall in Miami -- feature light levels that are approximately 35 percent higher than typically specified for store interiors. Design consultant for Bloomingdale's is Dallas-based Robert Young Associates, along with the retailer's in-house staff headed by Jack Hruska.

Display and image What's In: Higher end exteriors; special interest stores within stores What's Out: Wide-open store fronts; undifferentiated mini environments

"A number of our tenants are developing their image by utilizing the store's portal with the exterior signage," says Marc LaPointe, tenant design manager for New York-based Corporate Property Investors (CPI). "They're willing to have a 50-50 share between the opening and the display windows, and are selecting higher quality finishes for their store fronts and portals."

LaPointe advises store owners to visualize the effect of the store front through the eyes of the mall shopper. "The traditional, boutique-type store front that is more suited to a street-level location doesn't allow mall shoppers to see what's going on inside," LaPointe notes, adding that CPI encourages tenants to avoid materials such as plastic laminates, drywall or stucco. "We look for quality, hardwood finishes," he explains.

By earmarking GLA for new concepts, retailers also can generate traffic by adding special interest sections within a store. For the Hudson News shop in Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, South Norwalk, Conn.-based Silvester Tafuro Design Inc. designed a 1,500 sq. ft. Kid's Corner book and activity store that was carved out of the overall Book Corner space. Architect Rosemarie Rawson, project designer Tafuro Design, says the kids-themed nook encourages children to browse on their own and select books and games to take with them on their trip. Kid's Corner has the same triglyph and metope mouldings used in the rest of the bookstore, as well as a lively, patterned carpeting and child-scaled tables and chairs.

Flooring What's In: Hard surface flooring materials; patterned and accent carpeting What's Out: Low-end vinyl; carpeting for large installations

According to many surveyed in the industry, hard-surface flooring is enjoying a renaissance. Variations for such traditional materials as ceramic and porcelain tile -- as well as new materials such as wood grain laminates -- have given retailers and store designers an expanded design palette.

Laminate flooring, for example, is an "exploding industry," according to Leonardo Fiaschi, president of Englewood, N.J.-based Abet (the U.S. headquarters of Abet Laminati, a Milan, Italy-based laminate manufacturer). "[Laminate flooring] provides the look of natural wood without the need to be refinished or waxed and has an impressive record in outwearing wood," says Fiaschi.

Advertising and Promotion What's In: Projection technology What's Out: Marginally profitable catalogs

In a time when attention spans are shrinking to new lows, retailers continue to search for ways to make their messages pop to the consumer. Graphic projection systems can help retailers succeed in that endeavor by beaming a logo, brand name, message or other patterned image on interior or exterior flat surfaces. A gobo -- which is a customized, traced template though which light is beamed -- is created from camera-ready art to project the image onto a flat surface in the retail area.

Michael J. Puehse, president of Orangevale, Calif.-based Derksen (USA) Inc., says the text or image can be changed easily quickly and easily with a new gobo. "It's faster and less expensive than traditional sign making," he asserts, adding that systems can be programmed to fade images and create special effects.

In New York, the Sony Style store on Madison Avenue was part of a major repositioning project by designer James Mansour. With the objective to create a consumer-friendly shopping experience for Sony's international customer base, Mansour created a spiral of text that read "Welcome to Sony Style" in many languages; the message is projected from the ceiling onto the floor.

Retail Construction What's In: Combining aesthetics and practicality with proven materials What's Out: Ultra-modern, minimalist design

Characterized by open spaces and expanses of concrete floors, the industrial look appears simple to construct. But this is deceptive, according to Michael Ratner, president of Richter & Ratner Contracting Corp., a Maspeth, N.Y.-based retail construction firm. He notes that, in their quest to create a unique look, designers may opt to incorporate new or unproven materials or use materials in new ways.

"Sometimes the end result is terrific; other times unproven materials make a tight schedule more difficult," he says. Concrete and concrete substitutes, such as those used for warehouse floors, he says, can be tricky to work with and may not meet the expectations of the owner or the specifier.

"Aesthetics and practicality cannot be at cross purposes," says Ratner. Joan & David stores, he explains, successfully combine unusual yet proven materials. Richter & Ratner built 40 of the chain's stores that feature limestone floors and sheet rock ceilings.

Thomas Jefferson's "dreams of the future" share an important parallel with the retail industry, in that forward thinking always has been the primary way designers make their projects fresh and exciting. And if economic growth and consumer spending patterns continue to be strong, retail design in 1998 -- and in each year following -- is certain to be as exciting and unpredictable as the next.

Vilma Barr is a New York-based freelance writer.