Pioneers Of A Shopping Renaissance
ROMAN & WILLIAMS GUILD: A multi-dimensional, unique concept store, based in Soho, New York, encompassing furniture and home décor, a restaurant, library, florist and art gallery.
In recent times we have witnessed shop closure, after shop closure and with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic now global, there will inevitably be further movement. Those businesses that have already embraced the shifting bricks and mortar streetscape as an opportunity, have set the tone for how the future high street will need to think. The high street is not dead, but it is undergoing a huge cultural change. This Q&A with Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, the founders of international design studio, Roman and Williams, was carried out last year and highlights a great success story for their retail concept store, RW Guild. A brand that is embracing the need to think unique, community and personal. When I first visited this amazingly special shop, it literally took my breath away. It takes the notion of great retail to a totally different level. I look forward very much, to revisiting when travel allows.
How did it feel creating your own flagship retail store space for the first time, with no client involvement?
Liberating! We’ve done this with our homes and Roman and Williams Guild is an extension of our private life.
What was the vision behind the store?
The vision behind the store was to create a guild of the senses, a place where we could showcase our collection and bring all of the things we make and all of the things we love from objects to furniture, from food to flowers, under one roof – for everyone to share.
Located in a former bank, you are pioneering a renaissance of high street retail – how do you see the future of the high street vs the growth of online?
They will always have to work in concert. Human beings want a connection that is physical, as well as digital.
The Guild is multi-dimensional: a store, a restaurant, a library, a florist and art gallery within one – how did this evolve? Are the various elements crucial to driving optimal customer traffic?
The mix is crucial to creating a cultural experience. The combination of creativity and commerce in our minds required an animated environment. To elevate retail to revive is to recognize it as a reflection of how you live!
You have proven experts running La Mercerie and the flower shop – was know talent important to you?
Absolutely! Emily Thompson and Stephen Starr are treasured partners and collaborators - it takes a village!
Do you see the store as a community hub within the Soho district?
That’s our dream and our goal and it seems to be happening.
How has Soho retail changed over the last 5 years?
It’s become more commercial and lower Soho at Canal is beginning to become a new creative centre, as it was when it was developing in the 70’s.
Shopping in RW Guild is an experience – what emotions do you want to evoke with your customers?
Joy, beauty, desire, comfort, quality, and community.
You are known for your anti-minimalist style and love of imperfection. How does this manifest in store?
The Shop, as we like to call it, represents “Isness”; beyond the flashlight of creativity is something more subtle – something that achieves a solidity and objective wholeness that rises above individuality and inventiveness. The store is a physical manifestation of the fundamental values of us (Robin + Stephen) and of Roman and Williams.
Your retail offering is a mix of RW Guild Original Designs, Community and Found objects and furniture. Why is this mix important to you?
Because those three categories define the essential elements that create a home.
Favourite piece you have designed and why?
Hub - because it’s the heart and soul of the room.
Favourite pieces sourced and why?
KH Wurtz dishware because they are made by a family and are heirlooms of the future. They are an essential part of your life.
When I visited, your staff were incredibly well versed on the provenance of pieces and the story behind the makers (which I loved). Is this important to you?
Absolutely! We are devoted to narrative and our staff are a key part of telling our story.
Do you travel extensively looking for pieces?
What would your top piece of advice be to town planners looking to turnaround failing high streets?
Invest in these streets, activate them, revive them with proprietors who care about what they make, both high and low. This is the key to solving the problem. Embrace trade globally and allow the web to be an extension of our built world - not the other way around.
All images: Roman & Williams.