Talking Shop: The design secrets behind Bang & Olufsen’s store

By Oliver Smith 20 February 2017

Get the inside story.

Not every shop is the same. Some are breaking with tradition, blurring the lines between the physical and digital, changing how we shop.

From Burberry to Dyson and Apple, our Monday fortnightly series Talking Shop explores how these smart stores are revolutionising retail, by meeting the people who designed them.

The high street will never be the same.

Today we’re talking to Johannes Torpe, the former creative director of Bang & Olufsen and co-founder of Johannes Torpe Studios, who worked on the original concept for one of the most innovative new shop designs in the world of retail: Bang & Olufsen’s store in Copenhagen.

Bang & Olufsen is a premium Danish home electronics brand known for the signature scandi design.

But it’s not just speakers, TVs and wireless hi-fi systems that Bang & Olufsen is innovating in, it’s stores are revolutionary too.

Working with Torpe, Bang & Olufsen created a “magical” new design for its hundreds of high street stores, with rotating walls that make devices literally appear out of thin air.

For his part Torpe has worked on interior design with global brands like Nike.

A busy man, with powerful design ideas, The Memo asked Torpe how he’s transforming the face of retail with Bang & Olufsen’s store.

How did you want people to feel when walking into the Bang & Olufsen store in Copenhagen?

Magic is the keyword for the concept.

Not magic in the sense of a fairytale story like Hans Christian Andersen, but in the very tactile way of creating a sensory experience that people feel when entering one of our stores.

So our focus is clearly on the theme ‘magical experiences’ while also looking at the feasibility of rolling out 600 stores like this around the world.

An early design sketch of what Bang & Olufsen's Copenhagen store would look like.

And what were the broad goals behind the design of this store?

It was a process of only five months from the first conceptual drawings until the first prototype store was finished.

At the same time, it was a fairly complex project to outline, as we wanted to create something truly unique to support the magical world of Bang & Olufsen.

Given my unusual double role as the Creative Director of Bang & Olufsen and my own studio at the same time, I created the brief myself.

Once this was clarified the message was quite clear: “Bang & Olufsen exist to bring you enduring magical experiences.”

The new retail design needed to communicate this legacy of creating innovative and foresighted product design.

What technologies make the Bang & Olufsen store unlike any other in the world?

As B&O is known to be a pioneer in the audio industry, the goal was to create a store with impeccable acoustics by using fabric covered sound wall panels throughout the store design.

We placed focus on creating elements of surprise and curating little magical moments in the product display.

The rotating walls displaying the different TV-solutions are a result of this focus.

The same can be said about the automated speaker wall, that simplifies the in-store sound testing while also giving you a moment of surprise when the speakers magically appear from behind the wall panels.

What challenges did you face designing this store?

Most of our challenges stemmed from the fact that what we wanted to do had never been done before.

Everything is possible if you have unlimited time and finances, and we didn’t have either.

Especially the very short time span we had to complete the first prototype was challenging, but the team pulled together and we always found a solution.

Which elements of this design have become synonymous with modern shop design?

On a personal note I don’t believe in a future of multiple retail stores rolling out for a luxury brand.

You have to build a Cathedral for your brand and do it in such way so your customers will make visiting your brand a destination by itself – otherwise the benefits of shopping online are so much more tempting for the future customer.

What I like most is that it is now a proven fact that every time one of the old stores are refitted with the new concept, the sales are shooting through the roof.

This, I guess, is the ultimate proof of a successful retail design.

A fun fact is that customers sometimes ask to buy the rotating walls to install in their homes. When people start asking to buy the display-design as well was the products, then I believe you have created something with a truly unique character.

Come back Monday week for our next #TalkingShop interview, and get in touch if you know a store or designer who’s also revolutionising retail.