Before the age of mass brands, shopfronts were typically a thing of beauty. They combined good design principles with craftsmanship, much like the products on display, and represented a shopping experience that was highly personal to the customer.
Once commonplace, the traditional shopfront soon became an anomaly when the independent shoemaker, baker, haberdasher, and draper were replaced by large consumer brands. The needs of these companies quickly followed and our town centres became a battle ground for advertising. Shopfronts fought for the attention of passersby with bold colours and brash messaging in an approach highly unsympathetic to the local area.
With the battle for choice and low prices now being won online, the role of the high street must once again adapt. Fortunately, there is a growing demand for a shopping experience that returns to craft, location and now environmentalism. Much like that of times before, where you buy from people and not just the brand. To help support this shift we should look to the past for inspiration and revive the traditional style shopfront. By doing so we can once again create inviting retail spaces that are rich in character.
Most traditional shopfronts are what could broadly be coined as classically inspired. They combine the window and door as one feature and are characterised by a pattern of different architectural elements, often tailored for the local context. To create new shopfronts in this traditional style the following core principles should be taken into consideration.
Signage is generally hand painted onto a fascia board to create a strikingly beautiful facade. Creating signs by hand has a depth and quality that is hard to match with contemporary techniques. Today, the profession is still thriving and the process has changed very little from the Victorian and Edwardian craftsmen who perfected it. Ideally signage should be limited to the name and purpose of the business, rather than for the advertisement of products.
The balance of the traditional shopfront is achieved by good proportions of the different architectural elements. No one single element should dominate as they all have an important role to play. The general rule is that shopfronts are made up of a long horizontal section at the top (entablature) supported at either end on vertical sections (the pilasters). Usually wider than they are tall, this gives the impression of goal posts. The window is then raised up on a stallriser, bringing the window display up to eye level. Other details include the fascia, cornice and mullions.
There are plenty of historic shopfronts that are still with us today, 200 years after they were first created. This shows that if we use the right materials, such as high quality timber, and undertake the essential repairs, then the traditional shopfront can be incredibly long lasting. For best results, yearly checks are recommended alongside the general touch up of paintwork. Materials and craft skills should be sourced locally where possible and a reduced palette of materials should be employed.
Today, the surviving traditional shopfronts are often reimagined and repurposed as artisan delis, florists or independent bookshops. Their design sensibilities and architectural details help to create a unique shopping experience that can’t be replicated online. With a return to locally-based shopping and a renewed emphasis on independent shops with niche markets, the traditional shopfront may have found itself back in business. At Latis, we believe that by following some of the core elements of the traditional shopfront, we can once again create retail environments that are welcoming and enticing to the local community and visitors alike.