A far cry from the large-scale multifamily housing projects that fill the portfolio of the Purple Ink Studio, Anil Drapes (AD) Retail is a drapery showroom in Bengaluru, India, tucked completely inside an old warehouse with no access to daylight, an element the design firm prizes. “It completely contradicted our approach and the openness that we love,” says Akshay Heranjal, principal architect at the local nine-person architecture and landscape architecture firm.
The project, commissioned by textile wholesaler Anil Drapes, would be the rare storefront with zero street presence. Purple Ink had to work around the warehouse’s existing structure and the owner’s desire to maximize the number of products that could be displayed within the 650-square-foot space. The owner, Heranjal says, was not interested in displaying “only certain fabrics and [making] it a statement."
Beyond this mandate, Purple Ink would have total creative control—but only two months to complete design and construction. “In India, there’s always an urge to finish everything yesterday,” Heranjal says. Because the client had been considering adding a retail space for more than a year, to him the project “was a year late already.”
However, the design freedom enabled Purple Ink to draw from pavilion architecture and art more than a typical retail project or residential project would allow. At the same time, with no street frontage, the store interior itself had to become a destination, Heranjal says.
Inspired by the history of drapery and the fact that many of the earliest windows were arched, Heranjal and his team designed a freestanding, wooden arcade and vault at the center of the store’s concrete shell. The 24-foot-long, 9-foot-tall structure partitions the store into reception and meeting areas while preserving wall space to display racks and shelves of fabrics. Finished in teak veneer and dramatically uplit, the vault brightens and warms the otherwise dark space.
It was the only idea the architects presented to the client. “We said, ‘This is what we really believe will work,’ ” Heranjal says.
The designers drew the vault, which includes a series of double-curved arches, first by hand and then in Trimble SketchUp. The contractor, Mumbai-based MM Interiors, then created a series of physical mock-ups. Made of indigenous Indian teak wood and Flexi Ply, a flexible plywood, the vault is supported by eight wood-framed columns that form a central aisle flanked by a series of three arches. Each arch varies slightly in dimension: The middle arch is slightly wider than its neighbors, creating a central space around which seating and meeting areas are grouped, while the arch farthest from the entrance steps down approximately 6 inches to accommodate an existing crossbeam.
Each component of the arcade, from structure to veneer, was manually measured, cut, and installed. Even power sanders were eschewed in favor of sandpaper. “It was completely handcrafted,” Heranjal says. “There’s no laser-cutting. There’s nothing done with CNC.”
To build the arches, Heranjal’s team worked alongside MM Interiors to form the curved profiles of the support ribs first in 0.5-inch plywood. Once the framework was completed to their satisfaction, the team duplicated the ribs in teak, about 0.5 inch thick, and attached them to 1-inch-thick teak battens nailed into the concrete slab ceiling. The team then cut a 6-millimeter-thick layer of Flexi Ply to fit the curved rib profiles and secured it to the teak framework. Finally, they adhered and nailed a 4-millimeter-thick teak veneer to the Flexi Ply.
Heranjal says the teak veneer, purchased in 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets, took the curves well but had to be spliced together. The contractor spent hours joining the sheets and painstakingly filling every nail hole so that the final surface appeared seamless. Lastly, the workers manually applied a polyurethane coating.
To meet the tight deadline, the workers lived on-site during the construction, which lasted approximately a month and a half. At any given time, between 15 and 20 people worked in the tight space—alongside the owner, who held client meetings there throughout construction.
Overall, the project was completed in 55 days, from the client’s initial call to final touches. Even more incredible, Heranjal says, is the fact that “nothing changed [from the original design]. Not a single line moved.”
Despite its obscure location, AD Retail is garnering foot traffic. The owner previously had to travel to his clients, taking fabric samples with him. Now, buyers from hotels and other clients are visiting his showroom, Heranjal says. “It’s a place that they want to experience.”