With only several days to go until the first floor launch, the project is coming to a close! We’ve introduced inspiring new colleagues and revealed the construction process behind the floor, but what about the – not entirely unimportant – design? We sat down with Group Property and Facilities Director Barry, the first floor's mastermind in charge of the main view, to give you the scoop on the look and feel. Barry has a thing or two to share about what the first floor looks like and not only that… he also spills the beans on our global design strategy and exciting international expansion!
What’s your role all about?
As the Group Property and Facilities Director, I am responsible for looking after anything that is property-related. I manage the whole project process, from producing an acceptable budget, to selecting the design team, to establishing the brief and soliciting support from brands. I also head up the team that looks at international expansion.
Tell us about your background and journey at Harvey Nichols?
I was actually in private practice for half of my career and then I moved into commerce and retail, becoming head of property for C&A, a global fashion brand. I moved to Harvey Nichols in 2001, as the company was embarking on an expansion strategy… When I joined we just had Knightsbridge, Leeds and Riad and now we have 15 sites worldwide! I’ve been involved in all the oversea stores and it’s great to have seen such a large transformation – I really have a legacy to look back on.
What’s the status of the first floor project?
The first floor was actually in horrible condition when we first started. We encountered a lot of physical problems in the existing building. We had to unexpectedly add in a new ceiling, a new sprinkler system and so on – all without compromising on the 15-week programme. But as intensive as it has been, we’re well on track. Construction is going fine and I can’t wait for the opening date on 29th June!
What have you been doing to the space of the first floor?
We have sought to physically improve the layout of the first floor, which had not been tackled in 20 years! We’ve taken the side walls of the escalators and the division walls down, exposed the windows and made more use of natural daylight. The floor to ceiling height is much more generous than before. We’ve made the space less compartmentalised, improved sight lines and provided more open space. We’ve also created very generous fitting rooms, twice the size of previous fitting rooms. The floor has been designed in such a way that it’s incredibly flexible – we can move new brands in or take existing brands out overnight because there has not been much personalisation involved. This flexibility makes this floor unique from other floors.
What materials and colours have you been using for the first floor?
We wanted everything to look luxurious with ceramics, stone and a marble effect on the floor. Meanwhile, we’ve adopted a subtle and neutral colour palette. We’ve also used materials such as coppery bronze for the generic metal work and a pale gun metal finish in the boutiques. However, we’re also going for a surprise effect, integrating more out-of-the-box materials such as concrete!
What has working on this project been like for you?
It's been fun and exciting but also challenging. Working in an existing building is a bit like peeling an onion: you peel the layers of an onion and you reveal stuff – good and not so good stuff. Then you have to be able to jump on whatever it is and come up with creative and practical solutions that don’t cost extra time. Another challenging thing has been negotiating the space with 21 different brands. They all have their own preferences and one brand doesn’t want to sit next to another - this makes filling the space with 21 brands a complex jigsaw puzzle.
What is the Harvey Nichols design strategy?
It’s about finding the sweet spot between having a distinct Harvey Nichols story as well as having some local identity. For example, our new Doha 80,000 sq ft store – which we've worked on for 4 years – is very different from our London store and has elements that only Qataris would recognise from their culture. At the same time, we always try to incorporate a Harvey Nichols identity that is sophisticated but also accessible and playful in attitude. Our brand can get away with things others can’t and this translates into the physical form as well: you would expect to see luxury materials such as marble, but you wouldn’t expected to see more out-of-the-box materials such as concrete…
Following the first floor, what next for Harvey Nichols in terms of expansion?
Our focus is now on working on the Knightsbridge flagship store, with the exciting fourth floor coming up next! However we're keeping our eyes on the international front and we're actively looking for new locations, as we are growing our presence internationally. Our brand resonates well with people in more niche regions, so we would not open a store in Paris, but the Middle East is on our radar for example. Who knows what’s next? The boundaries are limitless - literally and figuratively!