James Allen Case Study
In 2015, we worked with the Dean Lederman, founder and COO of the jewelry design brand James Allen in New York to create a private showroom for their customers. Dean wanted a small but sophisticated space that would improve brand-perception both online, and in the retail world.
Though their specialty is jewelry, James Allen consider themselves a technology company: each diamond is precisely rendered in three-dimensional computational space and uploaded onto the website. The customer browses their online catalogue and decides upon a perfectly suited jewel for them.
Before 2015, James Allen did all of their business online but, just as Warby Parker, Indochino, and others, Dean began to consider the advantages of a physical showroom in which their customers could try on and feel their chosen diamonds for themselves.
Dean knew that he could improve sales by converting James Allen's online catalogue into a fantastic real-world experience for its customers. Dean found Sergio Mannino Studio online, and after a few emails back and forth, we met up to discuss his ideas.
A successful retail business needs more than just products to sell, it needs a vision. As interior and architectural designers, we aim to translate a company’s conceptual values into tangible design which can be both felt and seen.
We needed to come up with a vision for the showroom that incorporated all of this.
In order to determine a unique, exciting, but realistic vision, a designer and a client must be on the same page regarding the priorities of the project at hand.
Together, you should figure out: What is the most important part of the project?
If this is hard to think about, a good heuristic is: Why are you doing the project anyway? This should answer that first question and bring you onto practical ground.
Dean and his team at James Allen wanted a space that would elevate the customer’s experience of the brand and increase sales.
We thought it would be apt to create the feeling of being inside a jewelry box - elegant, soft and refined.
Dean’s plan was to have the shop as part of his 5th avenue office. This was going to be a challenge: the room was courtyard-facing with big windows letting in street noise. It was also adjacent to both a mechanical engineering studio, and a busy, aroma-filled kitchen.
With the vision and the location out of the way, we could begin on the next challenge: the physical planning. One of the most common difficulties for a designer is negotiating what the client wants against their budget, spatial limitations and time. For this project, these difficulties were as follows:
Firstly, how can we transform this noisy space into a pristine, isolated environment; one that demonstrated the James Allen brand values in a very small room about 250sqft?
And secondly, how to have this project completed as soon as possible?
We began with competitor analysis. We wanted to find out more about James Allen as a brand and a company and understand how it is unique from its competitors.
We did a detailed survey of the space and then produced CAD files that showed the existing conditions. Following this, we produced some schematic design plans and created sketches that illustrated the layout of the space.
We sent Dean two design proposals for him to choose from: one simple, and one complex. The brief and descriptions for these were sent to along with photos of objects for the interior, and pricing estimates in line with Dean’s budget.
Both options could be modified or added to, depending on what Dean wanted. Together, we decided on the simpler design - as it would mean we could open the showroom to his customers sooner.
Initially, Dean was certain that the furniture should be laid out symmetrically: a desk, cabinet and chairs with a screen above it, on both sides of the room.
We discovered that the space wasn’t big enough to fit both sides comfortably, so we adjusted the design concept - instead of two desks, we’d have a single large desk with a cabinet and a screen above it in the centre of the room.
This design was not only simpler and less expensive, it was also better for the customer. Permitting only one customer at a time suits the product, the customer feels special as all the attention is on them.
This aligned with the overall vision that we had established: that the customer should feel like they are in a jewelry box when they enter the showroom.
Having multiple customers in the small space would not create this exclusive atmosphere.
We developed the construction documents - which consisted of detailed drawings for the construction of the project and prepared quotes for the fixtures and furniture.
One of the aspects that Dean appreciated about working with us was the architectural knowledge that Sergio had, on top of his understanding of design and aesthetic.
Dean was pleasantly surprised by the additions and changes we had made. He admits that he had to take a few leaps of faith - but confirmed that our choices ended up being absolutely right for the space.
An example is pink carpet. When we recommended light pink carpet for the floor of the showroom, Dean was naturally skeptical. However, we knew that because of the showroom’s minimal and pristine aesthetic, it would work.
Another example is our preference for soft edges in this project, which we applied to the chairs and table, as well as various other shapes in the space.
Dean was also initially unsure, but as soon as he saw it in the space, it made sense. For it to feel like the inside of a jewelry box, it needed this softness.
We generally recommend our own construction workers for the final building stage of the process, as we have several with whom we’ve established a trusting relationship based on their hard work for us over the years.
However, if a client wishes to enlist the services of another builder, they’re more than welcome to - this was Dean’s choice.
So we reviewed and approved the shop drawings together, and then it was time to enlist the services of their chosen construction workers to start work on the space.
It’s always exciting to see plans finally come to life. One of the delights of working with Dean was our open flow of communication. We would keep each other updated on plans at all times and talked about it a lot, constantly reviewing the plans in light of the budget and deadline.
We supervised the production space, visiting about once a week, and we would call most days. Dean regularly sent us photos when we weren’t there if we needed to check up on certain parts of construction.
At Sergio Mannino Studio, our job never ends simply with the design of the interior space. In a time when retail is going through strife, we have to make sure that the brand and store is going to be profitable and successful.
We make this happen through encouraging creativity and quality in the making of each and every individual store. Dean was thankful for our confidence in the decisions we made and learned a lot about the constraints and challenges that the design process entails.
“Sergio is not only a designer who has an understanding of graphics and aesthetic presentation, he also has architectural expertise - he’s a professional. This wasn’t just a room he said he’d make pretty, this was a room he said he’d make aesthetically pleasing, functional, sound-proof and a room that would capture our brand identity. And he gave us exactly what we were promised. He also clearly enjoys what he does and puts his whole heart into getting it done right.” - Dean Lederman, James Allen.
It was a real joy to work with Dean and his team.
After two years, the showroom has contributed to making James Allen one of the most well-established and respected diamond retailer in the country.
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