Oklahoma City is enjoying a renaissance, with boutiques and quality stores returning to neighborhoods in and around downtown. The latest manifestation of this trend is Classen Curve, an upscale retail development of 13 buildings with 13 tenants, located 6 miles north of downtown. Commissioned by Chesapeake Energy, an oil and natural gas company, Classen Curve was designed by Rand Elliott, FAIA, and his firm Elliott + Associates Architects as a contemporary version of a traditional Main Street.
“We wanted to revive the idea of window shopping, which I remember from when I was a child in the 1950s,” says Elliott, whose Oklahoma City–based firm has designed a number of buildings in the area. “Chesapeake has been our client for 22 years and wanted us to create a place that was intimate and one-of-a-kind, drawing a lively mix of local tenants that would feel lost in a mall.”
Reinventing the business
That retail concept had strong appeal to the owners of Balliets, a women’s fashion store that is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary. “We wanted to reinvent our business from the ground up as a fashion store of the future,” says Robert Benham, a veteran retailer who acquired Balliets in the 1990s. “I had never met Rand before, but we had a meeting of the minds. His emphasis on openness, natural light, high ceilings, and classic proportions was exactly what I was looking for. The store was designed from scratch within an architectural framework that was already half completed.”
Classen Curve marks a sharp departure from the generic boxes of large-scale retail and the faux-antique look of many neighborhood developments. The exterior is composed primarily of industrial materials: black steel, glass, and Manganese Ironspot brick, which looks striking with its dark charcoal color, blue-gray tint, and slight sheen.
For Balliets, which anchors one end of the development and shares a courtyard entry area with a stylish bistro, Elliott incorporated 12-foot-square shallow glass bays on all four sides of the building. Used as display windows, the bays also allow natural light to penetrate the interior spaces. Mesh screens behind the merchandise displays filter in daylight; at night, they become scrims for projecting still and video images. A row of windows near the top of the building provides ample light for the second floor.
Before the move, Balliets struggled to survive on the third floor of an office building in a dark, low-ceiling volume. Thus, the new store interior is an upscale, luminous, and airy turnaround. “We gave them a space of timeless elegance that wouldn’t go out of fashion,” says Elliott. “Women are much more attuned to color, texture, aroma, and light than men will ever be, so we tried to offer a sensory experience.”
The store had to feel luxurious without intimidating because Benham was determined to reach out to a younger, less affluent clientele without forfeiting the loyalty of regular customers. The architects achieved these goals by employing soft textures and a creamy palette, which are both tactile and soothing. Walls are paneled in sandblasted pine, display cabinets are white oak, and the floors are polished travertine. Recessed fluorescents provide
ambient lighting, alternating with MR16 halogen accent lights. The combination of fixtures with different lamping and natural daylight balances out perfectly to ensure accurate color registration of the merchandise.
The 10,000-square-foot main floor, open in plan, is an 18-foot-tall space. Mobile display units can easily be reconfigured to accommodate
the ebb and flow of the fashion business, and an axial concourse serves as a runway for trunk shows. The jewelry counter is positioned close to the main entrance to make it easily accessible to male shoppers. A central staircase of broad travertine treads, an oak handrail, and glass
balustrade invite shoppers to ascend and bring a note of ceremony to the experience. A 30-foot-tall central atrium allows for a spacious and light feeling, as well as a glimpse of the second floor.
The 7,000-square-foot second floor includes cosmetics and fragrances. The cosmetics area is configured into a studio concept, offering an intimate, more private beauty experience with its own elevator, restroom, refreshment area, covered terrace, and a spa boasting travertine showers and river-rock floors.
Learning from Mies
Elliott shares Mies van der Rohe’s belief that details are crucial. The stockroom door is painted lipstick red, a color accent that picks up on the red dot in the Balliets logo. Richly patterned granite countertops in cosmetics add another subtle focal point. A brushed-aluminum double canopy over the sales counter encourages customer and staff interaction. Elliott imported a New York music consultant to calibrate sound for different times of day.
The new location has allowed for the Balliets store to exceed Benham’s optimistic expectations in a variety of ways. “Sales are up 40 percent,” says Benham. “Different ages cross-shop the store to a greater extent than we had imagined, and the readers of Oklahoma magazine voted Balliets as the city’s best department store.”
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 17,000 total square feet on two floors. Cost/sf $198.
Architect and interior designer: Elliott + Associates Architects. Architecture and interior design project team: Rand Elliott, FAIA; David Jetch, AIA. Contractor: Smith & Pickel Construction Co., Inc. Lighting consultant: Smith Lighting Sales. Civil engineering: Johnson & Associates, Inc. Structural engineering: Engineering Solutions, Inc. MEP engineering: Determan Schierman Engineering consultant: Total Environment Nursury, Inc. (landscaping). Graphic designer: ASI Modulex. Acoustician: AVD Design.
Paneling: Contemporary Cabinets (white pine). Paint: Sherwin-Williams, completed by Statewide Painting. Laminate: Formica. Dry wall: USG, installed by Nail Specialties. Flooring: Young Brothers (travertine). Carpet: J+J/Invision. Acoustical ceilings and suspension grid: Armstrong. Lighting: Ross Electric. Decorative lighting: Hivemodern (Tizio Micro table lamps); Surroundings (Noguchi table lamps). Doors: CR Lawrence (entrances, door hardware, fittings); Curries (metal doors and frames); Marshfield Door Systems (maple-wood door frames). Glass: The Glass Specialists; Old Castle Glass; YKK (skylights, framing with fritted glass). Window treatments: Lutron Fabrics; Graphic Eye Monitor Controls. Furniture: Andreu World (Valeria armless chairs); Belson World (Valeria chairs); CMI (Ole chairs); Design Within Reach (Nexus leather cubes); Girsberger (Nanu chairs); Loewenstein (Cubic loveseat and chair); Neinkämper (Pullman couch); Sandler Seating (Wave barstools); Simply Benches (Waverly bench); Spaces (Bernhardt Design bench); The Chair Factory (Magis Steelwood chairs); Unica Home (Pawn stools); Workplace Resources (Eames plywood chair and walnut stool). Upholstery: Blair’s Upholstery. Tables: Design Within Reach (Saarinen side table and Rubik service tables); Lacuna Modern (Richard Schultz coffee tables and side chairs); Spaces (Laccio Side Table); SR Hughes (Schroeder 1 table); Unica Home (Tod side table); Seattle Luxe (vanity mirrors). Architectural Woodworking: Contemporary Cabinets. Signage: ASI Modulex. Plumbing fixtures: TOTO. Hardware: Faye.