When Ulla Johnson started blowing up in the fashion world, she knew she needed a flagship space beyond her eponymous website. Though the designer was responsible for dressing the fashionable L.A. crowd, from Kate Bosworth to Jennifer Lawrence, in chic boho garb in recent years, her brand was missing the experiential element of its own retail space. That's until she came across an available retail space perfectly tucked away on quiet Bleecker Street, just a hop and skip away from the bustling shopping streets of SoHo.
It wasn't love at first sight between the designer and her now flagship store. Once a consignment shop, the space had seen better days. But with the brilliant vision of her architect, Elizabeth Roberts, her interior designer Alexis Brown, and an insanely talented group of friends, late last month Johnson opened a flagship store so chic and inviting, we'd happily move right in. As the architect behind some of Brooklyn's most stunning townhouses, Roberts knew a thing or two about transforming a bleak retail space into a masterpiece of textures and midcentury treasures just as fitting for a chic boho home as it is for the designer's unique sartorial style.
We chatted with Roberts about every last detail of the design. Find out how she transformed this space into the flagship store that will no doubt overtake all our Instagram feeds this summer.
It took a lot of imagination for Ulla Johnson to envision that a dark retail space on Bleecker Street could become her flagship store. "We were hired by Ulla Johnson to transform a 100-year-old, ground-level commercial space into the first-ever flagship store," explains her architect, Elizabeth Roberts. "Ulla knew that she wanted a unique space, that the location on a relatively calm and serene block in an otherwise busy shopping neighborhood just north of Manhattan's SoHo felt 'right.' Though she liked the location, she was not inspired by the interior of the space—it felt dark, and though it was previously a clothing store, nothing inside the space seemed right to her."
The previous tenants, a consignment store, had left the space grim and uninspiring, but Roberts's team saw the potential. "This was a total gut renovation including all new flooring, walls, ceiling, lighting, as well as sprinkler, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems," she says. "Since this was Ulla's first store, the project was an opportunity to develop the first environment that represented her brand. We designed the space to be a clean but warm backdrop for her bright and eclectic clothes.
We introduced handmade elements throughout the space to reference the brand's commitment to craft and incorporated a few personalized pieces from Ulla's creative friends."
An expert in townhouse design, Roberts quickly noticed the potential in dividing the space into two perfectly proportioned parlors. "The retail space is very long with tall ceilings," she explains. "In order to create more personal spaces, we proposed that the space be broken into two rooms with proportions similar to a front and rear parlor in a typical New York townhouse. The front parlor is open to the street and has causal seating, most of the retail display, and the sales desk. It was important that even necessary retail elements like the sales desk felt like furniture and not commercial.
The rear parlor is more intimate. A large, vintage daybed sits in the center of this space and provides a place to sit while trying on shoes or waiting for a friend outside of the two fitting rooms."
No detail was spared in the design of the space. All the elements—from the marble baseboards to the Danish cord sales desk—came together to create a warm and inviting boho space. "The walls were covered in textured, polished plaster, and a bold marble base wraps the space," says Roberts. "Natural white oak parquet floors laid in an unusual, imperfect chevron pattern were installed throughout. The fitting room walls were upholstered in pink fabric with golden carpet. Brushed and polished brass details were added throughout the store."
Equal attention was paid to the selection of furniture in the space—a juxtaposition of warm midcentury pieces with 1970s glam items. "I love the teak daybed and sheepskin chair against the brass and glass Pace consoles and stone Mario Bellini table," says the architect. "There was an emphasis on tactility: mohair and sheepskin upholstery, shaggy wool rugs, Danish cord sales counter, and rattan wrapped racks." Every texture came together to warm up the space and make it feel more akin to a home.
"Our goal was to create a retail environment that matched Ulla's taste and created a flattering background for her products," explains Roberts. "Early in our conversations, we agreed upon a more residential feel for the store. We would create a relaxed and comfortable space that was a reflection of Ulla's taste. She loves warm colors and the combination of shades of pink and yellow together—similar to a sunset. Ulla has great intuition about color and texture, so it was a lot of fun working with her to translate those ideas from fashion to architecture." Thanks to the architect's residential background, the team managed to give the space a unique welcoming homey feel.
Though her architect had the overall vision for the space, the interiors evolved as a collaboration between the architectural team and the designer's vast circle of friends: "The interior design team found a lot of great vintage pieces that are important to the space, but the majority of the space is filled with custom pieces created by talented makers," explains Roberts. "Custom pieces were created especially for Ulla by her friends Lindsey Adelman, Rogan Gregory, and Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua. The space is in many ways an expression of all these relationships of Ulla's coming together."
"Timing was a challenge," says Roberts of the strict timeline for the project. "The construction schedule from start to finish was only 10 weeks." In the end, the space came together beautifully and has quickly become one of the most Instagrammed retail space in New York City.
"Though I love the feeling of the whole store, without a doubt my favorite thing about the space is Ulla's satisfaction with the project," admits the architect. "It seems to me that her satisfaction is a great indicator that our job was a success in every way we hoped that it would be—a successful collaboration and a flattering space for Ulla's creations."
Next up: You need to see these 16 stunning fashion flagship stores around the world.