Retail isn’t dead, but it is dying from boredom—or is that the consumer? In 2018, it’s not enough for products to look cool; they have to live in a cool setting. Fashion and street-wear brands have been hip to this for ages, with luxury houses like Dior, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton enlisting architectural god Peter Marino to dress their spaces in mirrors, marble, sculptural lighting, and attitude for a high-gloss fantasy experience that happens to have things for sale.
One specialty store in Toronto does the same thing, only with less space. Situated in the city’s North York neighborhood in a mixed-use 42-story tower, Headfoneshop—a specialty store known for its vetted selection of high-end headphones, earphones, amps, and audio accessories—was designed by Batay-Csorba Architects. Principals Jodi Batay-Csorba and Andrew Batay-Csorba skipped the typical retail template and focused on creating an environment meant for serious audiophiles—a place that captured “the ritual of listening to music and the process of testing,” that wasn’t just a place for buying gear.
Encompassing just 320 square feet, the space already felt intimate—a natural effect that Batay-Csorba enhanced with dark, rich material choices. Rather than the zero-risk move of an all-white interior, the architects opted for smoked-oak millwork, velvet upholstery, and amber lighting, which created the sense of a sound lounge, not an audio retailer. It’s not uncommon for visitors to spend hours in Headfoneshop—something the store encourages—with the company website posting an open invite: “You can try almost anything, so bring in your own music player, tablets, laptops, headphones/IEMS, to get the right pairing.”
The serious design moment is obvious when stepping inside. A sweep of 255 powder-coated folded metal panels (secured with 765 patinaed brass screws) reach across the ceiling and walls, creating movement and visual interest—a sensation that’s furthered by the herringbone pattern on the floor. The architects wanted a contrast of light and dark, strong and soft with the installation, which becomes a sleek foil to showcase headsets from premium brands like Sennheiser and AKG. The design also operates on a higher level, giving both the aesthetic and tactile equal importance. “Instead of the product display system being a separate element with the architecture, it dissolves the boundary between object and architecture,” explains Batay-Csorba. Shoppers are invited to touch and try with zero obstruction in keeping with the entire Headfoneshop vibe.
This configuration also has the added benefit of spiriting away wires, a necessary tech evil, with metal plates bending into multiple configurations to hide the unsexy essentials. It’s a retail concept worth noting, especially when our attention spans seem to be shorter than our playlists.