Colour & Materials: Pushing the Boundaries

Thoughtful material and colour selection can positively shape how customers think, feel and behave within a store, finds Retail Focus.

As any designer will tell you, materials and colour play a vital part in the creative process and it’s therefore important to stay up to date with the latest products, trends and innovations. In retail design, specifically, the material and colour palette of a store has the power to shape how customers think, feel and behave within the space.

‘Materials and colour define the immediate perception of a space and quality of the product being sold, and they can affect the consumer journey at every step, from the first product interaction to the final sales transaction,’ says Alexia Beghi, designer, associate at Gensler’s New York office. ‘Thoughtful material selection can enhance the conceptual narrative, evoke feelings of aspiration, and express a brand’s goals and objectives, giving customers a holistic understanding of a brand’s ethos, which is becoming increasingly important as customers expect brand transparency.’

‘Materials and colour define the immediate
perception of a space and quality of the
product being sold'

When Spanish accessories label Malababa decided to open a new store along Madrid’s Serrano 8, it tasked design and architecture studios Ciszak Dalmas and Matteo Ferrari with creating an interior that symbolises and reproduces the brand’s identifying features of light, texture, shape and colour.


The space celebrates the raw beauty of natural materials, from the walls which are rendered with a mix of Galican clay and white marble powder from Almeria, to the mobile furniture modules which are crafted using limestone from Seville, aged brass and beautiful moss agate.


Malababa master craftsman Osvaldo Ruben Thomas even made a pale pink-coloured curtain for one of the internal walls, using the same cowhide leather that is used in the brand’s Metrica accessories collection. The result is a space that has been built with the same passion, honesty and sustainability as the products themselves.

‘The colour and material choices here are in tune with the brand’s ethos,’ notes Laura Perryman, co-founder of colour and materials consultancy Colour of Saying. ‘Instead of showing off flashy brands and logos, the store embraces a philanthropic and empathetic palette as a new type of status symbol.’

Recognising the influence of colour — and combinations of colour and texture — on human psychology is incredibly key for any brand with a physical store presence, claims Perryman.

This year, she has noticed a huge wave of warm colour palettes and minimalistic materials such as concrete, glass, marble, and steel being used to create dramatic yet simple interiors. Vivid shades of yellow, it seems, are also proving a popular colour choice for retail interiors.


Take the Calvin Klein store on New York’s Madison Avenue, for example, which reopened last summer with a bright yellow interior. Designed by the brand’s creative director, Raf Simons, in collaboration with artist Sterling Ruby, the interior provided a striking contrast to the grey stone facade.

‘It is a perfect example of a retailer pushing colour and material boundaries,’ says Beghi. ‘The store is simultaneously a showroom, an art gallery, and a collection of some of the most Instagrammable moments on Madison Avenue. It is a huge shift from the pre-Raf CK days and has become a destination for designers and fashionistas alike.’

Calvin Klein, and also Gucci, are leading the way in a new direction that design agency Checkland Kindleysides calls ‘playful maximalism’. ‘This overtly visual approach is helping these brands appeal to a new generation of self-expressive consumers,’ believe Caroline Mitchell, senior insights researcher and Mike Tristram, strategic planner, at Checkland Kindleysides.

‘Some of the most interesting things we are seeing in retail design (and design in general) right now, is the progressive use of materials and colour,’ say the duo. ‘After years of minimalist design, service innovations and “fail fast, fail often” digital approaches, it’s great to see the artistry of design reclaiming the spotlight.

‘There is a real sense of creative bravery re-emerging,’ continue Mitchell and Tristram. ‘Brands know that they need to be bolder to capture attention and stand out from the crowd, and this is driving forward-thinking uses of colours and materials.’

Sonia Tomic, senior associate at Universal Design Studio, agrees that there seems to be a confident and bold use of colour within interiors, and design in general lately. ‘There is a sense of a post-modern “more is more” approach to colour and pattern too,’ she says.

Tomic references the new Gucci stores (under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele) which she claims are maximalist collages of luxurious materials, rich colour, traditional fabrics, patterns and furniture brought together under a contemporary lens. ‘There’s a real sense of abundance, irreverence and freedom from the serious and slick fashion norms.’


There is also now a strong focus on sustainable design. The Stella McCartney flagship store on Old Bond Street opened in the Summer with a design that moves away from traditional luxury materials towards more handmade, organic and sustainably sourced elements. There are bespoke decorative wall panels made from paper-mâché that has been recycled from the company’s office paper waste, foam furniture made of recycled materials and an indoor rockery that acts as a natural air purifier. The store also features warm, earthy tones which continue to prevail in retail.

‘Consumers are increasingly exercising an emotional awareness to the effect we are having on our environment, affiliating themselves with brands that share the same conscious responsibility to sustainability,’ note Paul Chatelier and Gemma McDonnell, design directors at FITCH.


Like the Stella McCartney store, the new Mulberry retail concept explores the beauty of contrasting materials. Unveiled on Regent Street in September, the store concept is said to pay tribute to the raw power of the British landscape in all its many forms.

‘The design encompasses the colour trends we are seeing with the earth tonal palette, with accents of rich colours reflecting the brand’s heritage,’ says Chloe Muir, associate at Gensler’s London office, on a recent visit. ‘The design is extremely tactile through its application of materiality such as suede, wood and velvet applied to different surfaces and used in a clever way.’

Looking ahead to 2019, Claire Dickinson, editor, visual merchandising at WGSN, believes we will see imaginative, disruptive, high-impact designs that evoke joy and pleasure. ‘It will be time to embrace hedonism in design, and find pleasure in imperfection,’ she says. ‘An energetic, upbeat palette will be key, bringing positivity to spaces and energising shoppers.’

Another trend that Dickinson is looking at for 2019 is set against a backdrop of increased anxiety in an always-on world, where consumers swing from obsessively switching on to opting out entirely. ‘As a result, there is a growing urge to reconnect with things that touch us emotionally and physically, with designs that are immersive and tactile. As we get more in touch with our moods and emotions, stores should be designed around how they make us feel.’

 Colours of the Year 2019



Taken from the backdrop of Graham & Brown’s Tori wallpaper, Tiru celebrates tranquillity, good luck and longevity and is the brand’s Colour of the Year 2019. The choice is said to reflect the consumer’s desire for opulent colours and luxurious finishes.

Spiced Honey


AkzoNobel has announced Spiced Honey as its Colour of the Year for 2019. The warm amber tone is a versatile and contemporary choice, complementing a wide variety of lifestyle and interior design preferences. ‘It’s a colour which can be calming or nourishing, stimulating and energising, depending on the light and colours surrounding it,’ says Heleen van Gent, creative director of AkzoNobel’s Global Aesthetic Center. The shade was selected following research into global trends, insights and consumer behaviour, and is being marketed under well-know decorative paint brands such as Dulux, Coral, Levis and Flexa.

Metropolitan AF-690


Comforting, composed and effortlessly sophisticated is how North American paint brand Benjamin Moore describes its Colour of the Year for 2019. Metropolitan AF-690 is said to reinvent the concept of grey with an easy going and flawlessly balanced neutral tone. ‘It’s a colour in the neutral spectrum that references a contemplative state of mind and design,’ says Ellen O’Neill, director of strategic design intelligence at Benjamin Moore. ‘Not arresting nor aggressive, this understated yet glamorous grey creates a soothing, impactful common ground.’

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