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ROBERT YOUNG: Designing for a gold standard

Question of the Month: If you had to select one project in your career that you feel best exemplifiers Robert Young Associates' overall resume, which one would you choose and why?

In fall 1991, Neiman Marcus opened its then- newest branch store at Somerset Collection in suburban Troy, Mich. This store, more than any other project, represented the culmination of a companywide repositioning effort begun in 1988 by Allen Questrom, Neiman Marcus' chief executive officer. The Somerset location became the "gold standard" by which to gauge all future Neiman's facilities.

Questrom's design brief actually began in 1988 and called for a small, two-level store for Cherry Creek Mall in Denver. From the initiation of that project and continuing through projects in Houston, Scottsdale, Ariz., Washington, D.C., and at Somerset, every element contributing to the Neiman Marcus environment was subject to scrutiny.

The retailer's new, upscale philosophy became Robert Young Associates' touchstone in developing the selling environment. The first area of focus was merchandise presentation in fixture design, with emphasis on a fashion presentation and ease of use. Later, the specifics of color and materials were added in order to integrate the retail presentation within the overall design concept.

Coordinating the project's visual presentation was an ongoing process during the planning and design phases. This, of course, is critical to any proje ct as it strives to present a seamless image to the customer. The visual display element should never be considered as an afterthought to the overall design concept.

Architectural elements impacting the interior were given a high priority. For the overall concept to work, the space's total volume, ceiling heights, high vs. low walls, natural light and primary circulation are critical in determining the design direction.

Because Somerset was a new building, the ability to control the interior architecture was greatly enhanced. A large center escalator coaxes shoppers' eyes up the full, three-level height; natural light bathes each of those levels from the 200-ft. long clerestory in the roof. This vertical space is further enhanced by significant artwork viewable from each floor as well as the escalators.

The combination of all these elements combined with quality materials results in an elegant yet comfortable retail atmosphere. Subsequent projects in Dallas, Chicago, Boston, and Beverly Hills, Calif., continue to refine the Somerset standard. With a consistent drive toward design excellence, the RYA organization is proud to be a part of the Neiman Marcus tradition.

* Favorite retail store(s) Harrods Department Store: "An international bazaar, constantly changing, with something for everyone. A completely unique retail powerhouse."

* Favorite restaurant design The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas

* Most improved retail image JCPenney

* Most admired industry figure(s) Stanley Marcus, chairman emeritus, Neiman Marcus: "He embodies an incredible consistency of design philosophy spanning more than half a century. A true gentleman."

Robert C. Young, Robert Young Associates 3100 McKinnon St., Fourth Floor Dallas, Texas 75201 (214) 220-9050 [email protected]

Number of years in the industry: 40

Recent retail project(s): Full interior planning and design services for Bloomingdale's in Aventura, Fla.; Beretta Gallery at Highland Park Village in Dallas; and Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Upcoming project(s): Full interior planning and design services for the New York flagship of Bloomingdale's; Neiman Marcus at North Avenue in Palm Beach, Fla.; and Fabricas de Francia in Mexico City.

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