NYinc writes about the new showroom we designed for an Italian cosmetics giant

October 01, 2009

BY: NYinc

Chromavis, the Italian cosmetics research and development firm, has opened its first U.S. office—1,500 square feet at 24 West 57th Street. The move establishes the company in the heart of the Plaza District, long the home of many of the world’s top cosmetics companies. The showroom, located in the New York Gallery Building, has been converted from a conventional art gallery to a space suitable for showing and testing product as well as for business meetings.

Although Chromavis’ move to Manhattan has come in the midst of an historical economic downturn,  “the real estate is not a big risk,” says Steve Andersen of Montroy Andersen DeMarco, the New York City-based architectural and interior design company that created Chromavis’ new space. “The cosmetics business is virtually recession-proof,” says Andersen, “because even when the economy is bad, people don’t stop spending on relatively low-cost personal items.”

Montroy Andersen DeMarco’s design is minimalist with a distinctly Italianate ambiance, including the reuse of existing materials as well as the preservation of the space’s original design elements. According to Andersen, the conversion from gallery to showroom/laboratory presented various challenges, both practical and aesthetic.

“In theory, it was a fairly simple project,” he says. “The client wanted something clean and contemporary, with high exposed ceilings and pendant lights, and tasteful, discreet wall displays for the product.”

However, the project also involved “a couple of fairly major issues,” Andersen adds. “For one, all of the windows had been closed off; for another, there was no water source. You need windows for an application like this so that the space doesn’t feel so confined, and the client wanted a kitchenette with a bar and a lounge area so that they could entertain visitors, and so employees could feel more at home. As for the design objective, it was to create a modern, clean-looking space that was well suited to the needs of Chromavis clients, who come to the showroom to test out new formulations.”

The completed showroom features a small entry space with a glass door and rounded wall, where the Chromavis logo is prominently displayed. It’s an open, airy, light-filled space with product samples enclosed in black frames and displayed on white walls. The HVAC is concealed for a cleaner look.

“It’s a nice volume of space,” says Andersen. “It’s a homelike space, which is good for the employees, some of whom come back and forth from Italy pretty frequently, and there’s plenty of room for visitors to test and discuss the products.”

Chromavis is the kind of company with which Montroy Andersen DeMarco has had ample experience, says Andersen. It is “a manufacturing company that works with the top brands, producing the latest fragrances, flavors, and colors. A company like Estée Lauder might provide a brief for a product, describing it, and ask Chromavis to put together a product and presentation, probably in competition with other companies, and whoever comes up with the winning presentation gets to manufacture the product. These operations spend a lot of money on research and development, but if the product is a hit, they’ll make a lot of money.”

In addition to the showroom, the space houses an office and a conference room.  The project’s green elements included the rejuvenation of the space with modifications tailored to the client’s program, rather than simply throwing old materials away. For example, the architect retained the original flooring, while adding a diamond finish.

“We’ve worked with similar companies from Italy, France, the United Kingdom, China, Japan,” Andersen says. “Each one wants a design that reflects the corporate culture as well as their national characteristics, but the basic idea is pretty much the same wherever you go: high contemporary design, clean, mostly white. These clients want their products or their art to bring color to the space.”

Some of Montroy Andersen DeMarco’s cosmetics firm clients are looking for “a warmer atmosphere in their showrooms” while others “prefer a cooler feeling,” says Andersen. However, all of them “generally want loft-like space, more like a retail store than a corporate office.” As Andersen notes, “In the beauty industry, you have to go beyond the basics to ensure that an environment’s appearance conveys the quality of a firm’s products.”

Mary Ann Guarino, Chromavis’ key account manager for North America, emphasizes that her company decided to enter New York City’s priciest neighborhood because Chromavis is continuing to grow in sales and profits despite the current economic downturn.

“We had to be in this neighborhood because this is where our most important customers are,” she says. “We incorporated design elements that illustrate Chromavis’ style, including clean lines and all-white fixtures and walls, so as to display the cosmetics in the purest way possible. Our color and texture library, which we use to brainstorm for new development, is the single most important component of the showroom.”