Situated within the historic Change House, a local landmark that bears the influence of the Art Deco era and the early skyscrapers of the Chicago and New York schools, the new Aesop Wellington store was designed in collaboration with Auckland-based designer Rufus Knight.
The space makes abundant use of natural timber to create a pleasing juxtaposition with the structure’s imposing 1930s exterior. Upon entry, alabaster-painted walls offer an immediate contrast to this façade, investing the space with a sense of depth and softness. Large street-facing windows allow a muted light to filter through, effecting a play between light and shadow.
Oiled timber wraps the point-of-sale counter and shelving, which curves gently along the rear wall. Here, a large sink fitted with aged brass tapware offers a place for product demonstrations; the space beyond houses the Aesop New Zealand Head Office and online retail store.
Formally, the interior aimed to reflect on this collage of European influence and reference the fluid yet tactile forms of the Modernist period within which Change House was built. “We wanted to establish a robust but sensitive practicality; a measured balance between the industrial and the domestic,” explains Knight. The curving shapes of the space—the rounded brass-edged shelves that follow the form of the central display wall—are offset by the linear product display, and by dark timber.
The materiality of the store aims to reflect the inherited history of law and commerce practised at Change House. Basket-weave parquetry, oiled timbers, polished brass and specialist plaster finishes propose a layered sense of history in concert with a contemporary retail experience.
Importantly, the exterior portico has been restored to complement the original Granite plinth and decorative brick masonry to both the Featherston and Brandon Street facades. The reinforced concrete structure of the interior has been retained and expressed to emphasise the generous ceiling height and encourage available natural light, creating a clean, warm atmosphere.
The store’s centerpiece is a large demonstration sink fitted with polished brass tapware. The interior display wall references the skillful positioning of the building on its corner site but introduces a Modernist spirit through the interplay of a large unbroken gesture where function is recessed, and form remains absolute. Conversely, a classicist material simplicity contributes to a feeling of nostalgia as if the retail display has occupied one of the building’s original bureaus.