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EQUIPMENT & DESIGN: 'Mona Lisa' smiles

Design Services Group (DSG), a division of Minneapolis-based Supervalu that specializes in supermarket design, didn’t have the NASFM Retail Design Award in mind when it drew up the plans for a new unit to be opened by Highland Park Market, a six-store independent chain based in Manchester, Conn.

It did, however, have just as lofty a goal. "When Tim Devanney, Highland Park Market's owner, asked us to design his newest store, he told us he was looking for something really special -- the 'Mona Lisa' of grocery stores," explains Harry Steen, DSG's creative director. "And that's just what we gave him."

The award came as icing on the cake. DSG's design for the South Windsor, Conn. store was the winning entry for the grocery store category in the 2006 NASFM Retail Design Award competition, held at the annual Globalshop conference in Orlando, Fla. this past March.

Highland Park Market's sixth store was a ground-up 22,000-square-foot project set in a new lifestyle center. DSG took an upscale approach to classic New England design, including a copper barrel-vaulted entrance one would expect to see in a five-star hotel lobby. For dramatic effect the designers added skylights, chandeliers, a sculpted waterfall, and unique wall tiles to the store. Also included were robotic wildlife display components and jungle sounds in the produce section, to add some whimsy for Highland Park's shoppers.

"We wanted to carry the theater of food prep into all aspects of the building," says Bryan Slattery, client team leader for DSG. "We used a higher percentage of day lighting than is typical for a grocery store, because we wanted to have that visual connection between inside and out. Having more windows also makes for a more dramatic exterior at night. The store is like a beacon that draws people to it."

The facade, a contemporary take on the classic arts-and-crafts motif, features a standing-seam copper barrel-vaulted entrance. "We were looking for an exterior with real 'curb appeal' that would project the richness of the store's interior, and yet still fall within the owner's budget," notes Slattery. "To achieve that end result, the stone and stucco facade is rich in appearance yet cost-conscious, while the real standing-seam copper roof and accents are beautiful, durable elements that will add to the drama of the store."

Inside, the store's layout was designed around the concept of "department theaters," featuring a different vignette for each department. "With the chefs as actors, the vignettes are truly like renaissance stage sets," observes Steen.

And like a stage set, lighting is a key element. Terry Bright, DSG's lighting designer, sought to give the store a "painterly quality" that would showcase the merchandise as an artist would showcase the fruit in a still life.

Stop and linger

Overall, DSG wanted to create an environment where shoppers would want to spend as much time as possible. "Highland Park Market is the kind of store for which, due to spatial constraints, a large seating area wasn't possible," says Slattery. "Instead we attempt to engage the shoppers' senses and encourage them to take their time via the store design. The dynamic ceilings juxtaposing open structure with traditional tin; the dramatic lighting emphasizing the product and the theater of food preparation; the rich appearance of the floor tile, the custom cases, and the fixtures; and the playfulness of the animatronic wildlife display -- all contribute to creating a shopping experience that feeds the senses."
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