The Modern Shop: Architecture & Shopping between the Wars

Design for interior of a salon for Helena Rubenstein, Grafton Street, London, 1926

Design for interior of a salon for Helena Rubenstein, Grafton Street, London, 1926; Ernö Goldfinger. RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collection

In the 1920s and 1930s architects produced a number of striking shop designs in Britain. Influenced by the 1925 Paris Exhibition and other Continental examples, many shops and chain stores rebuilt their premises, or at least modernised their façades. Architects became interested in shop design, using marble, neon and chrome, and critics praised the way in which the Modern Movement revitalised this sphere of design. Many of these innovative interiors and façades are now sadly gone.

The Influence of the 1925 Paris Exhibition

An international exhibition was proposed for Paris in 1914 but postponed because of the First World War. The proposal eventually became the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in 1925. French department stores such as Printemps and Galeries Lafayette joined in enthusiastically, building pavilions in the exhibition grounds. Many of the visitors were entranced by the luxurious French Moderne design. They quickly and cheaply copied the look, using motifs like stylised flowers, frozen fountains and angular outline shapes in their own designs.

V&A exhibition, 2 March - 4 June 2006.
Archive Curator: Eleanor Gawne
Supported by the Drue Heinz Trust

 

Diversity in Shop Design

Shop owners in the early 20th century had an ever-greater amount of merchandise for sale and display. Also, the growing number of department stores needed taller buildings and large open-plan spaces. Architects used the latest technologies of steel frames and large sheets of plate glass to meet this demand. Electric lighting and reflectors, concealed above the ceilings of display windows, replaced gas lighting, making window displays more attractive. Fashionable styles, from Beaux-Arts classicism to neo-Georgian, and even quirky styles like Art Deco Venetian and Tudor Revival, were used.

Liberty’s, Great Marlborough Street, London. Edwin Hall (1851–1923) and Edwin Hall (1881–1940), 1922–3. Perspective by Hanslip M. Fletcher from the booklet Liberty’s New Shops Argyll Place, Regent Street, London, about 1924. Print of pen and ink drawing.

Liberty’s, Great Marlborough Street, London. Edwin Hall (1851–1923) and Edwin Hall (1881–1940), 1922–3. Perspective by Hanslip M. Fletcher from the booklet Liberty’s New Shops Argyll Place, Regent Street, London, about 1924. Print of pen and ink drawing. City of Westminster Archive Centre. With kind permission from Liberty plc.

 

Selfridges, Oxford Street, London. Robert Atkinson (1869–1923), with Daniel H. Burnham (1846–1912) and Francis S. Swales (1878–1962), with later work by Sir John Burnet

Selfridges, Oxford Street, London. Robert Atkinson (1869–1923), with Daniel H. Burnham (1846–1912) and Francis S. Swales (1878–1962), with later work by Sir John Burnet & Partners and Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, 1908–29. Photograph by Sydney W. Newbery, 1929. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Daniel Neal, High Street Kensington, London. Ernest Berry Webber (1896–1963). Not built. Perspective by H.L.G. Pilkington, 1930. Pen and watercolour. Presented by Berry Webber

Daniel Neal, High Street Kensington, London. Ernest Berry Webber (1896–1963). Not built. Perspective by H.L.G. Pilkington, 1930. Pen and watercolour. Presented by Berry Webber & Partners, 1977. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

 


Multiples & standardisation

Many multiples in Britain in the interwar period adopted a standard or uniform design in their shop branches. This was done to promote corporate identity and encourage brand loyalty in their customers. Distinctive lettering and recognisable motifs on the façades were used to achieve this. Standardisation also saved on design costs, as a single design could be adapted to fit a number of different sites and locations. Many companies used their own in-house architects to do this work, rather than employing expensive outside architects.

Marks & Spencer, Murraygate, Dundee. Robert Lutyens (1901–72), with Monro & Partners executant architects, 1936. Photograph, 1936. Marks and Spencer Company Archive

Marks & Spencer, Murraygate, Dundee. Robert Lutyens (1901–72), with Monro & Partners executant architects, 1936. Photograph, 1936. Marks and Spencer Company Archive

Marks & Spencer, Pantheon, Oxford Street, London. Robert Lutyens (1901–72), with Lewis & Hickley executant architects, 1938. Photograph, 1938. Marks and Spencer Company Archive

Marks & Spencer, Pantheon, Oxford Street, London. Robert Lutyens (1901–72), with Lewis & Hickley executant architects, 1938. Photograph, 1938. Marks and Spencer Company Archive

Boots, Regent Street, London. Fritz Landauer (1883–1968). Not as built, preliminary design for new shop front, 1933. Charcoal and pencil on tracing paper. Presented by Mrs N. Fried, 1969. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Boots, Regent Street, London. Fritz Landauer (1883–1968). Not as built, preliminary design for new shop front, 1933. Charcoal and pencil on tracing paper. Presented by Mrs N. Fried, 1969. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Jaeger, Victoria Street, London. John Duncan Miller (active 1930–47), 1931. Photograph by Dell & Wainwright, 1931. Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Jaeger, Victoria Street, London. John Duncan Miller (active 1930–47), 1931. Photograph by Dell & Wainwright, 1931. Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection


Developments Abroad

Schocken, Chemnitz. Erich Mendelsohn (1887–1953), 1928. Photograph by Francis Yerbury, 1928. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Schocken, Chemnitz. Erich Mendelsohn (1887–1953), 1928. Photograph by Francis Yerbury, 1928. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Bata, Wenceslas Square, Prague. Ludvík Kysela (1883–1960), 1927. Photograph by Francis Yerbury, 1929. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Bata, Wenceslas Square, Prague. Ludvík Kysela (1883–1960), 1927. Photograph by Francis Yerbury, 1929. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Through the 1920s shop fronts, and shop design in general, became of increasing interest to British architects. Magazines and books provided new ideas in shop design, often taken from examples in Holland, France, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Later, in the 1930s, an influx of émigré architects to Britain, including Erich Mendelsohn, Ernö Goldfinger and Walter Gropius, brought a further proliferation of European ideas. American retailing methods and shop design were another source of inspiration, for both architects and entrepreneurs.

 

 

The Emergence of Modern Shop Design in Britain

The 1925 Paris Exhibition and the coverage it received brought to public attention many new ideas in shop design from Europe. These first appeared in elite one-off shops, but later filtered down to provincial level and to multiples. There was a move towards cleaner and simpler lines. Façades were smooth and curved without fussy mouldings. New materials like Vitrolite, a type of opaque glass, gave the glossy finish of polished stone without expensive craftsmanship. Block or box letters, some in stainless steel, were applied directly to the fascia, often as the only decoration.

Helena Rubenstein, Grafton Street, London. Ernö Goldfinger (1902–87), 1927. Design for the interior, 1926. Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Helena Rubenstein, Grafton Street, London. Ernö Goldfinger (1902–87), 1927. Design for the interior, 1926. Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Simpson’s, Piccadilly, London. Joseph Emberton (1889–1956), 1936. Photograph, 1936. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Simpson’s, Piccadilly, London. Joseph Emberton (1889–1956), 1936. Photograph, 1936. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd, Wimpole Street, London. Ernö Goldfinger (1902–87), 1937. Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Paul and Marjorie Abbatt Ltd, Wimpole Street, London. Ernö Goldfinger (1902–87), 1937. Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Peter Jones, Sloane Square, London. William Crabtree (1905–91), with J.A. Slater & A.H. Moberly and C.H. Reilly, 1935–9. Sketches of the finished design by William Crabtree, 1936. Pencil on tracing paper. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Peter Jones, Sloane Square, London. William Crabtree (1905–91), with J.A. Slater & A.H. Moberly and C.H. Reilly, 1935–9. Sketches of the finished design by William Crabtree, 1936. Pencil on tracing paper. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

John Lewis, Oxford Street, London. Slater, Moberly & Uren, with Franz Singer, 1939. Photograph, about 1955. John Lewis Partnership Archive Collection

John Lewis, Oxford Street, London. Slater, Moberly & Uren, with Franz Singer, 1939. Photograph, about 1955. John Lewis Partnership Archive Collection

John Lewis, Oxford Street, London. William Crabtree (1905–91) and C.H. Reilly (1874–1948), 1939. Perspective of Cavendish Square front by Raymond Myerscough-Walker, 1937. Ink, pencil and watercolour. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

John Lewis, Oxford Street, London. William Crabtree (1905–91) and C.H. Reilly (1874–1948), 1939. Perspective of Cavendish Square front by Raymond Myerscough-Walker, 1937. Ink, pencil and watercolour. RIBA Library Drawings Collection

Cresta Silks, Brompton Road, London. Wells Coates (1895–1958), 1929. Photograph of isometric drawing by Wells Coates. Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Cresta Silks, Brompton Road, London. Wells Coates (1895–1958), 1929. Photograph of isometric drawing by Wells Coates. Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Peter Jones, Sloane Square, London. William Crabtree (1905–91), with J.A. Slater & A.H. Moberly and C.H. Reilly, 1935–9. Photograph by Sydney W. Newbery, 1939. RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Peter Jones, Sloane Square, London. William Crabtree (1905–91), with J.A. Slater & A.H. Moberly and C.H. Reilly, 1935–9. Photograph by Sydney W. Newbery, 1939. RIBA Library Photographs Collection


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