It’s not every day that you bump into a skateboard ramp while browsing through the racks in your favorite clothing store. Which is one of the reasons why the designer of Beach Access decided to include a ramp in the South Coast Plaza shop. She wanted to shake up the customers.
But it’s not just the skateboard ramp that commands attention at the 2-month-old operation. A surfboard serves as a counter, jagged faux concrete walls march down one side of the store and frothy blue waves are painted against a back wall. Video cameras dangle from the ceiling and a spray-painted Elvis bust is posted in the window. The store looks more like a high-tech hot-dog shack in Balboa than a top-of-the-line beach shop.
The designer who is making a specialty of shaking up customers is Sandee Young, 39, of Newport Beach. Her Tustin firm, S.K. Young Associates, has created two of South Coast Plaza’s wildest stores: Beach Access and the Disney Store. With its revolving ‘50s scene in the window, old-fashioned “Daisy’s Diner” sales counter and giant video screen against the back wall, the 2,800-square-foot Disney Store is a delight for window shoppers, drawing constant crowds with its “Mickey Mouse at the Movies” motif.
“The point to that space is to really develop the characters and excitement of what Disney is all about,” Young says. “It’s important to develop the show value of the merchandise and this store gives us a place to stage that.”
As important to Young as her ruler and grid paper is that element of drama she designs into her creations. Raising retailing to high art is her goal.
“It’s been an idea of ours to accentuate the theatrical notion of the merchandise. In all the work we’ve been trying to do, with the Disney Store, Beach Access and Georgiou (a women’s clothing store in Seattle), the owners were all very receptive to trying something different.”
As for Beach Access, Young wanted the surfers to feel at home. “We wanted a rustic beach look but not a sloppy look. It’s very clean, but creates an excitement, like a place where people would feel like they really could surf or skateboard.”
Stores should provide a showcase for the merchandise rather than a stage for architectural design, she says.
“Stores are a design statement for the merchandise, so it’s very important that we really understand the merchandise. For Beach Access, we were concerned that we wouldn’t get too designed, so that the kids would feel comfortable.”
Retail design is only one of the capabilities of the company, which Young launched in Pasadena in 1978 and moved to Orange County in 1985. S.K. Young designed the Japanese Pavilion at Disney’s Epcot Center in Florida, several Pritikin longevity centers and the Hotel Ibis in Carson.
But its knockout store designs are the ones that seem to be getting all the attention. Two Los Angeles-area stores--Greta Too in Beverly Hills and Emser International design showroom in West Hollywood--won awards recently from the Institute of Store Planners and National Retail Merchants Assn. The Disney Store in Glendale (part of the Disney Store chain) received a design award from Chain Store Age Executive Magazine last year.
The company’s other recent retail projects are Seegerpeople--an unusual portrait chain that sells cardboard cutouts from photographs and has stores at Fashion Island and Glendale--and four other Disney Stores that have opened nationwide in the past few years.
Young’s design palette includes favorite motifs as well as pet peeves, especially Post Modern architecture. “I’m very anti-Post Modern,” she says. “It’s such a dead issue now because it’s so overdone.”
Architects should be innovative here because the county is ripe for them, says the designer, who for this interview wore a black silk blazer with gold flowers, five gold bangles and gold earrings.
“Orange County is a perfect example of a place where people want all the new toys. People here are growing, and they’re not interested in safe New England-type styles.” She cites the MainPlace/Santa Ana shopping center and the Joan & David shoe store at South Coast Plaza as two successful, innovative local designs.
“I think with retailing there is an evolving nature. You have to keep the stores exciting. But we don’t do trendy or stylish designs. We do things we hope will look terrific for years. I think the Beach Access store, for instance, will wear well.”