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The Design Challenge:


We set out to make a functional space that celebrates good design and craftsmanship. Loyal is a retail shop for home and office goods, a letterpress print shop, and a classroom where people can learn about making things. We needed to design a space that accommodates each of those activities while also creating a shop where people feel like they are free to share in our work and creative energy. If someone stops in to buy a nice pencil, we want that person to leave excited about the design of the object itself and about how it might be used to design something else. If someone is curious about printing or design, we want that person to feel like Loyal is a place to observe and ask questions. When designing the space, we knew that if we could create a space that feels this way to others, it would feel good to us too.

The Constraints:


A lack of floor area was our most difficult constraint. We wanted to display our products in an organized, appealing fashion, and we needed to be able to convert the retail space into a print studio without too much fuss. With only 280 square-feet of floor space at our disposal, this was a challenging pair of requirements. The printing press itself was our second constraint. The press weighs 1100 pounds and occupies valuable floor space. We knew we wanted to position it prominently so that it can be appreciated and used, but how could we do this without it crowding the shop? Circulation provided a third constraint. We needed to position all of the necessary components in a way that allows people to easily and comfortably explore the shop.

The Process:

We asked our friend Mark Lewis from Unlikely Creatures to help us with the planning process. Together, we created a series of sketch layouts of the store. Then, we crumpled them up and tried again and again to get the layout right. We walked around the empty space with a laptop and a roll of tape, skyping with Mark to communicate our vision and our concerns. Mark worked these ideas into drawings and images of a coherent layout concept, which we then tested at full-scale using cardboard boxes, tape and scraps of wood. It was a cyclical process: design, prototype, refine, design, prototype, refine. Even with the build-out complete and the shop open, the process of refinement never really ends.


Now that the sawdust has settled, we asked Mark to recall some of the design process with us.

LSCo: Why did you help us with Loyal Supply when the confines were so tight. We had 280 square feet, a 1100-pound printing press, and a 40-pound dog. What was the upside of working within these constraints?


UC: People say that necessity is the mother of invention. I agree, but I think it's worth adding that constraints are the crazy aunts and uncles. We often assume that total freedom from constraints is ideal, but in design, constraints can be very helpful. They force us to innovate and to discover unorthodox solutions. For this reason, projects that come with constraints are among the most interesting to design.
A small, multi-functional shop like Loyal provides constraints and opportunities in spades. In a limited space, how do you organize activities as diverse as working, learning, and shopping in a way that feels comfortable? Addressing this difficult question head-on pushed us to do our best work for Loyal. And once we had determined a convincing layout, we discovered another advantage to Loyal's size: when designed well, a small space can communicate a feeling and a brand with a power and purity that tends to be diluted in a larger venue.

LSCo: After a few initial conversations, it became clear that the workshop model would be a very useful one for Loyal. What did you like about it and how did it develop?


UC: The workshop aesthetic was present from my initial involvement in the project. I believe it was something that you all developed early as a promising visual direction for the kinds of goods and services Loyal would offer, and I was excited to develop an interior from that rich tradition. But things started to get really interesting when I realized that there are some conventions of workshop architecture that could be really useful in a small space. Workshops are nothing if not efficient, and that efficiency stems from a few basic rules:
- Large machinery sits in the center.
- Long workbenches and roll-away storage sits on the perimeter
- Smaller hand tools arranged on the walls.
We began to realize that these rules correspond well with Loyal's three main space requirements: the letterpress (machinery), product arrangements (workbenches), and inventory display (hand tools). Having established the workshop as a conceptual, visual, and organizational direction, the design began to coalesce into something really special.


LSCo: For the perimeter wall-display, an oversize pegboard solution emerged as the clear winner. And people really love it! Tell us a about the thought process behind the design.


UC: Pegboard is a classic workshop icon. It's also a pretty useful system. Whether you use it to organize merchandise, tools, or some hybrid of the two, it allows for endless reconfiguration. We wanted to make use of it in some way; we just had to figure out how to make it work with Loyal's "tools", which are actually beautifully designed products. A secret designers' trick is to take something common and make it interesting again simply by changing its scale. I thought that if we could increase the size and spacing of the pegboard holes, we could create a display system that is both traditional and fresh.


LSCo: In addition to being oversized, the pegboard features a diagonal grid of holes. Why did you do that?


UC: One nice feature of the Loyal space is its generous height. We knew that our oversize pegboard in a tall space had the potential to make people feel small and childlike. In a small space devoted to inspiring curiosity and creativity, that seemed like a very good thing. In order to reinforce this sense of smallness, we wanted to create the illusion of one enormous pegboard panel rather than a system of standard-size panels. Of course, we were constrained by the realities of constructing such a panel, so we designed a diagonal hole-pattern that visually blurs the seams between adjacent panels.


LSCo: You also designed the furniture for the space. What was your approach?


UC: I got into design by making furniture, and I love small spaces because at some point the distinction between architecture and furniture starts to blur. In the case of Loyal, the product design, product display, furniture, and architecture all work together to create a unified place.  All of the furniture in the store was designed to fit around the pegboard system, and it was designed to allow circulation in the floor plan to work as we intended. So, in a sense, the furniture is indistinguishable from the product display but equally indistinguishable from the interior architecture. Functionally, the furniture performs a variety of crucial functions that allow Loyal to exist in a small space: it displays products, stores inventory, and acts as a work surface.


LSCo: We've talked about small spaces and design constraints, but sometimes you just need things to break in your favor. What is something that helped to enable the Loyal Supply Co. design?


UC: The real secret to Loyal's existence lies under a trapdoor behind the sales counter. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the first floor, but the basement is 700 square-feet of woodshop, photography studio, and staging area. This space is where we built the sales counter, jewelry case, roll-away cabinets, gift wrapping station, desks, and dozens of hooks, shelves, and product displays. As functional and visually appealing as the pegboard is, it requires a fair amount of upkeep and customization, all of which happens downstairs. If you didn't have a workshop below you couldn't have a workshop above.


Mark Lewis operates the one-man design firm Unlikely Creatures. You can see his work at unlikelycreatures.com.