Apple is set to reopen its flagship London Regent Street store to the public on Saturday with a fresh design after more than a year of refurbishment.
This was the first Apple Store in Europe when it opened in 2004, but these days it's one of a hundred or so across the continent. The former mosaic and glassmaking workshop is positioned in the heart of London on a grand, sweeping crescent famous for playing host to luxury shops.
Apple is known for taking the design of its products seriously, but it puts just as much effort into ensuring its retail environments are aesthetically pleasing. They tend to be gleamingly bright spaces and Apple pays great attention to detail to even the most seemingly insignificant of features. Heading up the makeover of Regent Street is Apple's design chief Jony Ive, who worked with renowned London architects Foster and Partners to ensure the redesign was in keeping with the building's historic character and its Grade II-listed facade. The new look follows the , which was completed back in May.
The exterior of the store has been given a good clean, showing off the marble columns and mosaics put in place by the original occupants. "We wanted to pay homage to the street and its heritage," said Wendy Beckman, Apple's head of retail for Europe. Inside though, the store is classic Apple. It carries the stone details through from outside, but keep them simple, minimalist and modern.
Ive's team and the Foster and Partners architects are also working together on, the company's new spaceship-shaped Cupertino headquarters. Some of the features from the London store such as the silky stone handrails handcrafted in Bologna, Italy, will be carried over into Campus 2, which is slated to be completed later this year.
CNET took an early look around the store on Wednesday, ahead of its official opening. The mezzanine level that previously cut the grand atrium with its seven meter-high arched windows in half has gone. Now the space has been opened so that the ceilings are effectively double their previous height and the benches are divided by lines of ficuses.
The oak, bronze and stone palette has also been broken up by living walls, planted with real greenery to lure in weary shoppers. "We want it to feel a little bit like a town square, a little pocket park," said Rafe Bertram, partner at Foster and Partners.
The focal point is a stool-strewn area called "the forum," that sits between the two staircases leading to the mezzanine, which is now only at the back of the store. The forum is the hub for Apple's outreach and educational workshop program and will also play host to events including acoustic gigs.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the store is that when it opens to the public at the weekend the devices won't be tethered to the tables as they were previously, and are in other stores around the world. Apple says this is to allow people to hold them properly, try cases on them and even see how they feel in your pocket. It's a bold move, especially given the lack of visible security in the building. We couldn't spot a single CCTV camera, although any phone taken out of the store will set off an alarm. If not returned, the phones will also be rendered unusable.
Tucked away at the rear of the store is a boardroom for Apple to deliver training and advice to developers and business customers. Decorated with artistic blueprints of the Campus 2 mothership and shelves lined with heavy design bibles, it has the feeling of a fancy home study. Anyone invited in here will be able to help themselves to chocolates from luxury London department store Fortnum and Mason. Campus 2 is set to have an identical room itself, but there's no guarantee that the chocolate will be up to the same standard.
The store is set to open this Saturday at 10 a.m. If you can't make it down to see for yourself, be sure to check out our gallery for a close look at all of the key details.