Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Interior Design for Churches – Check Out The Local Anthropologie Store

This is a re-post from a few years back when my wife Kathleen noticed an interesting interview with Ron Pompei from the popular women’s store “Antropologie” in a supplement to Time magazine. As I read about his philosophy of store design, it clicked that we should be thinking this way when it comes to how people experience “church.” In the past, a church was an artistic expression of the community, and from small chapels in the woods, to magnificant cathedrals in major cities, houses of worship reflected meaning. From the overall design, to the smallest details, they told the story of the faith.

But today, we build churches out of metal buildings, or coverted, bankrupted supermarkets. And when a church does do something spectacular, we criticize it as a useless extravagance. But as Ron Pompei talked with interviewer Caroline Tell, I couldn’t help but think of the religious possibilites if we could adapt this thinking to the environment of worship:

What is different about the retail design of Anthropologie stores?

Most stores are obviously all about the product, but this is a shift. Instead it’s a space for you and the product.

What is your retail-design style?

Any environment that gives you the “Aha!” moment. It might be the Cloisters; it might be Anthropologie. People walk in and take a deep breath. It’s a garden in a city, not somewhere to be hyper but a place for repose. My whole inspiration came from my experiences. So I wanted to differentiate. It doesn’t matter if you have an experience if it’s not a transformative experience.

How does the transformative experience affect shoppers?

The reason you like Anthropologie is because the space is saying, “Stay. Wander. Make yourself comfortable.” There aren’t aisles telling you where to walk. You have a kinesthetic freedom. You can make choices and discoveries. You develop a relationship with the space, the context, the experience and therefore with the brand. That’s more interesting to us, rather than a grid telling us how to move and how to shop.

How will the transformative experience evolve?

In the future, we will see the merging of commerce, culture and community into a richer content landscape where people can make acquisitions in a framework, where people can share similar values. Commercial entities are going to have to be more cultural entities and vice versa. We’re all looking for a community in a global world.

What is the biggest sin a store designer can commit?

When retail establishments see a shopper as a consumer, and they see what they have as a commodity. They are not creating much added value there, no enticement.

Do you agree?  Shouldn’t a church design reflect more meaning?  I wish the designers of most churches had as much passion as the designer of Anthropologie stores…

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  1. In design terms, I’m really impressed with Apple stores. I’ve told clients who are unfamiliar with creative atmospheres to go and just hang out. These outlets provide solutions and a sense of engagement I don’t find anywhere else … I wish churches could reflect the same kind of empathy and discovery …

  2. There is something called the rhetoric of space, which is a sub-discipline of the field of communication. In it, scholars look at activities, such as architectural design, and analyze how its elements point to or testify to something beyond just the function(s) they serve. Those living in medieval times understood this, which is why the spires of cathedrals direct the eye towards heaven and why their footprint is always in the shape of a cross with the top of the cross pointing east toward Jerusalem. Check out the satellite image of St. Andrews, Scotland on Google Maps and find the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral. Only two sections of the walls are still standing, but one can still make out the pattern of a cross on the ground. Apparently, due an error in engineering design, a tower and wall collapsed in the late 1500s and the cathedral fell into ruins. But the imprint on the ground – the shape of the cross – still remains. Perhaps it is a lesson that testifies to the fact that even in error, calamity and ruin, the visual and physical elements of the Church can still point to the Cross of Christ.

  3. On a similar thought how we do sound and sound systems needs to be thought through from a worship style as well. Doug Jones has a great book on sound from this perspective, “Sound of Worship”

  4. Form should follow function. “Anthropologie’s” function is to slow you down to engage with their products so that you develop a relationship or affinity with their product style and wish to own them.
    So, what is the function of your church building? Worship? Fellowship? Education? Community? Ministry? Outreach? Social services? Does one design allow any, or all, of these functions to not only coexist, but to strengthen one another? Is the goal personal worship or corporate? Is the fellowship an integral component of education? Do they build community? Is the focus attractional or missional? Does a launching pad make a good docking station?
    This is the reason that many of the modern congregational spaces are metal boxes or converted storefronts. They are multipurpose structures. The ministry must determine their focus and design the tool that best fits their collective hand.

  5. I agree that a church building should have meaning and should take “User Experience” into account.

    The funny thing is I just came home from Anthropologie where I went to exchange a gift. The space was interesting, but didn’t wow me and I wound up not buying anything. I don’t mind aisles. If a shop’s got a layout where I can quickly find what I need and can offer some ideas in the way of style through displays, I’m good.

    The key (and I don’t know if Anthropologie did this) is to work with the people who’ll use the space, not necessarily specialists, just a range of your community, existing and hoped for.

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