Interiors Awards 2017: Retail

The rotunda, an elliptical enclosure lined with stacks, features a mirrored ceiling that creates the illusion of a larger space and infinite books. Photography by Shao Feng

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Zhongshuge Bookstore
Designer: XL-Muse
Client: Shanghai Zhongshu Industrial Company
Location: Hangzhou, China 

“The procession through this extraordinary bookstore is a story in and of itself. As you move through the space, you can imagine that each area is like a different chapter in a book. The enveloping design captures a unique experience.” —Jury

The joy of reading is alive and well in China, and Jin Hao, a Shanghai school president turned entrepreneur, is determined to sustain it. “Friends have suggested that I must be crazy to open new bookstores when the small outlets I already have are struggling,” he says. “I decided to take a gamble and open a large store that would be a destination.”

Jin commissioned Li Xiang to design a beautiful interior in the historic city of Hangzhou, naming Zhongshuge after his second daughter, Zhongshu. Li, who heads the 20-person Shanghai studio XL-Muse, rose to the challenge. “We had to create an environment that was exciting yet serene,” she explains, “a place to stimulate the imagination and promote curiosity, drawing people away from their smartphones. We tried to create a virtual theater in which customers can imagine themselves as actors, interacting with strangers and exploring new territory.”

For Zhongshuge, Li and her team transformed a generic space within a bustling shopping mall into a cave of wonders. They divided the 10,800-square-foot interior into four distinct zones, each with its own unique character. There’s a simulated forest of white treelike shelving units interspersed with twisty benches evocative of rivers. These elements are clearly visible through the glazed facade, drawing passersby into the store. Beyond is a book-lined concourse with dark wood shelves and a row of reading tables lit by hanging lamps. To the rear, an elliptical enclosure is bordered with bookshelves and illuminated by a circular skylight. Cushioned benches with reading lights encourage browsers to linger. Also, a cafe is incorporated with a lively program of book signings and lectures.

The fanciful climax of the store is the children’s pavilion, where picture books are displayed on whimsically curved blond-wood shelving and the floor depicts a map of the galaxy that instructs and inspires. “It feels like ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” writes a parent who brings her children on weekends. “A carousel, roller coaster, hot-air balloon, and pirate ship all become bookshelves here.”

The store’s overall symmetrical layout with strong axes makes wayfinding easy, and the alternation of dark and light adds drama. Floors are paved with durable tiles, and the furniture and shelving units were custom designed and fabricated by local artisans. Li and her team worked closely with the construction crew, building mock-ups and carefully supervising the final assembly.

Mirrored glass is affixed to the low ceiling to add height to the volumes. The glass is securely attached with screws and shatterproof membranes at each corner, and inset pin spots add a sparkle. “The mirrors double the sense of space and draw people into a world of fantasy as they are caught up in their own reflections,” says Li. “Books become objects of desire, and [adults] rediscover the pleasure of reading that they had when they were young.”

Now months after opening, the store is doing well as a local business. “We’ve been gratified to discover that the Zhongshuge store in Hangzhou has performed as we hoped it would,” says Li. A customer comments, “To me, it’s not just a bookstore but a place for young people with lofty ideals to discuss books, communicate our thoughts, and make new friends.”

“It shows that people can be seduced by beauty,” says Jin. “My gamble has paid off, and Li has created another wonderful store for me here in Shanghai.”

who Architect and interior designer: XL-Muse. Project team: Li Xiang; Liu Huan; Fan Chen; Zhang Xiao; Tong Ni-Na. Contractor: Shanghai She Bao Decoration Design Engineering. Lighting: Shanghai Lai Li Lighting Equipment. Engineering: Shanghai Tang Shu Te.
what Paint: Dulux. Flooring: ERGON; Shanghai Yanya Industrial. Lighting/doors/ glass: Shanghai Lai Li Lighting Equipment. Seating/tables: XiangCASA. Closet systems: Rempp. 

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