Jeffrey Hutchison: Built To Last

Architect reimagines the history of shopping.

It’s less than two hours to the grand opening reception and Jeffrey Hutchinson is still making last minute adjustments. “I put back the mannequin,” he quickly informs one of his assistants, before continuing my walkthrough, seemingly unfazed. “So much thought goes into each detail,” he explains when we reach menswear, “there’s endless planning for a decorative accent, a grill, the staircase. So much consideration went into placing the shoe section, or integrating a pattern and expanding it on another floor.” A veteran architect, specializing in retail for over two decades, Hutchison has worked with the best in the frock business, tailoring shopping spaces that are both innovative and functional, striking but alluring. Clearly, it’s all about luxury and details—two words that are music to the ears of powerhouse retailer, Barneys New York. Over the last few years, the luxe department store has entrusted Hutchison with crown projects, including its Madison flagship and an outpost in Ginza, Japan. Each time, the man’s delivered an inventive and unique space that expands, rather than eclipses the brand’s lexicon. “It’s one thing to whip out your own visions, but quite another to really know a brand’s identity and produce something that’s true to them and to yourself.”

Hutchison was once again the no-brainer choice when Barneys decided to open its doors in San Francisco, taking over a dusty corner in Union Square—a relic of shopping days of yore, best remembered as the former FAO Schwartz. Soon, instead of stuffed teddies and giant keyboards, the site will offer the best in high-end prêt-à-porter, showcased down to the last hand-sewn sequin. But a quick stroll through the refurbished space reveals much more than a shop-a-holic megaplex; the new incarnation is accented with graceful touches that honor a rich history—bringing it, in a different form, to the present moment. An art nouveau inspired staircase, Miro-like stained glass windows, Deco paneled walls, these are the ingenious details of a man who has more on his mind than shiny merchandise.

SOMA catches up with Jeffrey on the eve of the store’s unveiling, as he brushes past caterers and servers to inspect every final rivet.

This building dates to 1907 and it certainly has a fin-de-siecle feel. Were these origins important? Did they effect the present incarnation?
I think it’s important to respect and respond to a building’s history. But you also have to make it relevant for today, make it new. We tried to inject resonances and nods, whether through decoration or different motifs. But it was really about bringing that history into the present, as something relevant, engaging. So many department stores are impersonal. I wanted to create something that’s dramatic, luxurious, but also invites interaction.

Do you plan a building within its contemporary moment, or is the future always hovering on the horizon?
The future is always, always important, especially in retail which can have a potentially short lifespan. Sure, I want a building to be around for a while, but I want it to age gracefully. Obviously, you have to be aware of the trends and shifts currently going on, but you can’t be fully of the moment. I want to present something that’s in dialogue with its present moment, but I also try to integrate timeless elements into the design. I want something that in a few years time, people will still walk through and experience with a sense of relevance

Is it more difficult to reinvent an existing site or start from scratch?
I don’t know which is easier…well, this is probably much harder and definitely more expensive. But I almost prefer it…working with an existing building. I think good design is about a push and pull. I enjoy that. A building like this has of built-in set parameters, and it

– Franklin Melendez

Reading by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Jeffrey Hutchinson.

1. As a child, was inclined to explore with his hands rather than analyze with his eyes, exploring objects until they broke or were otherwise no longer of interest to him.

2. Can see God. Can’t tell you about it, but sees it quite clearly.

3. Has a King’s Ring which indicates great leadership ability—ability to command, charisma. This requires a good second in command to “make it so.”

4. An innovator, but not mechanical—machines have too many details in their innards. An excellent designer—he can design anything, but needs someone else to assist with the niggly bits of bringing the creation into fruition.

5. Intelligent, creative and practical—until emotions and gonads become aroused, at which point, all logic departs and the most interesting fantasies arise instead of the practicality.

6. Life force is really good as is the health in early life. A tendency towards sensual indulgences is likely to catch up with him during his second 50 years.

7. This is someone whose basic bent is friendly and optimistic. Occasionally, especially when love affairs go wrong, will be inclined towards depression. This will pass when a new love interest enters his life.

8. Has great dreams and vast ambition—without a clue how to make it come to pass. Fortunately, Fortune will compensate here and greatness is possible. Fame is likely.

9. Loves deeply with the entirety of himself, passion of the moment, in the moment. Will prefer lovers who are discreetly insane—likes ‘em crazy on the inside as long as the outside appears normal.