Vast, mysterious and unfathomably deep, the world’s oceans are at the heart of the new boutique for jewellery brand Sarah & Sebastian, located in Melbourne’s upmarket Armadale. But expel any visions of a twinkling Tiffany store or crystal-cut Cartier shopfront. This eerie cave of wondrous delights is sooner compared to Davy Jones’ Locker or Ursula’s lair over any glitz-and-glam engagement ring dispensary.
Designed by local Australian architecture firm Russell and George, the captivating commercial design was inspired by an underwater cave that Sarah Gittoes, creative director at Sarah & Sebastian, experienced while travelling. The architects also referenced a quote from Japanese manga creator Naoshi Arakawa: “Even in the depths of the darkest oceans, some light always pierces through”.
Naoshi’s words were brought to life by Russell and George through a complex palette of all-black materials, where subtle shifts in sheen and intensity of pigment represent the mostly unexplored world beneath the waves.
The piercing light that Naoshi speaks of is expressed by streams of targeted rays from overhead spotlights. Captured by the gleaming jewellery and mirrored surfaces, the light is brought to the fore with an intensity that’s all the more amplified by the numbing surrounds. “The store design creates a moody, immersive and playful experience where light can be focussed on even the smallest of elements,” says the design team, led by practice directors Ryan Russell and Byron George.
Enveloped by a “cave-like landscape installation” made from crinkled sheets of aluminium, three mirror-lined joinery pieces are arranged in the blackness, each housing jewellery alongside essential point-of-sale components. The timber floor is coated in satin-finish Black Japan, adding another layer of depth to the spatial composition, while a hidden consultation room that is reserved for private conversations and commissions completes the organisation of the small footprint.
Overhead, hand-blown glass pendants that resemble bio-luminescent creatures bobbing in the deep are fitted with colour-changing bulbs. These luminaires emit uplifting effects when the store is closed, amplifying its connection with the ocean through a carnival of coral reef-inspired light.
“The store is considered as an urban gesture and an artwork, giving back to the street and the city of Melbourne,” says the architects. “It is a retail space that is designed to prompt a sense of discovery, and through its use of biophilic design principles gently reminds the customer of larger issues to do with the fragility of our planet.” On that note, it’s worth mentioning that 98% of the store’s fit-out materials can be recycled for use in another life.
While some onlookers might comment that it’s “so Melbourne” to unveil a hole-in-the-wall jewellery store – swathed in black, loaded with grungy appeal and accessed via a discrete side lane – Sarah & Sebastian in Armadale is an invigorating redefinition of the jewellery shop as we know it. Skillfully manufactured by its architects Russell and George, the abyss-like burrow delivers an experience worthy of abandoning the online cart, reminding style-savvy shoppers to rediscover the allure and lasting impressions that thoughtfully designed bricks-and-mortar storefronts have to offer.
Subtle shifts in sheen and intensity of pigment represent the mostly unexplored world beneath the waves.