Lifestyle Journalist

M. Astella Saw writes about travel, food, retail, design and trends in the lifestyle sectors. Contact me at m.astella.saw (at)

Simple Gets Smart

A 48-hour delivery turnaround is an obvious selling point for a brand, but it’s a curious candidate for design inspiration. Nonetheless, new Dutch furniture brand VilaSofa puts this very concept at the heart of its design.

The mid-range company offers fast design without aesthetic compromise – a philosophy brought to life in its recently opened Barendrecht store. The showroom, designed by Amsterdam-based studio Tjep., brings together elements of the warehouse and the home, and is pared-down and playful at the same time. While the warehouse aesthetic was the main inspiration – ‘We used the warehouse as a metaphor for speed,’ say the designers – the final look, more specifically, embodies the new trend towards an approachable simplicity. In its stripped-back approach, Tjep.’s work for VilaSofa, rather than exuding a stark, edgy minimalism, retains a cheerful charm.

Simple, dynamic forms are presented in place of over-designed fluff and frippery. Borrowing from the visual and material lexicon of shipping and storage, Tjep. designers used arrows and oversized lettering as decorative and organisational elements. Plywood, usually used for shipping crates, was punched up with high-gloss finishes. One long wall resembles a massive sheet of packing Styrofoam, its many cut-outs suggesting where various products may have been placed during shipping. But herein lies a design wink: the fanciful silhouettes include that of a giant chandelier, ornamented picture frames, a host of windows, and a sweet balcony, shapely balustrade included. As such, the feature wall conjures up a sense of home, real or imagined, and bridges the gap between characterless warehouse and personalised space.

Further adding a sense of whimsy to what might otherwise be too industrial a retail space, Tjep. has included a centrally placed picnic table where consumers and store assistants may sit to discuss the products at hand. Once purchase decisions have been made, consumers have no need to queue at a checkout counter. Rather, they sit pretty on their desired piece of furniture, and a store assistant brings over a mobile payment system – a toy-like cash-register tricycle-trolley on which the cashier sits.

Certainly, where Tjep. has most succeeded is in its clever mix of work-hard warehouse and play-hard home. While VilaSofa’s pared-down storeroom aesthetic conveys the brand’s affordable prices and efficient delivery system. The playful design elements inspire customers to imagine what the furniture could look like outside a showroom, and in their own home – be it a fourth-floor walk-up, a cosy terrace house or, indeed, a villa.

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01 April 2009