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Sense & Sensibility, Pt 2 

Image © Maeve Larkin

This is part two of Maeve Larkin’s blog Sense & Sensibility, exploring how good interior design evokes the senses to forward a brand message. Read part one here.


Scent is an extremely important sense because it is wired to the emotion-processing part of the brain. “All of the other senses, you think before you respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think,” says Pam Scholder Ellen, a Georgia State University marketing professor. It is also powerful, as it can trigger associations and draw upon memories of other smells, an important quality for most brands relying on repeat customers. Ambient scenting is becoming hugely popular with certain brands; customised distinctive well researched smells are used subtly in retail interiors, restaurants and hotels. The purpose for this is to increase customer spending, attract new customers and above all create a memorable brand experience.

Coco Chanel created the signature Perfume Chanel Number 5 in 1921, but initial sales figures of the fragrance in her boutique at 31 Rue Cambon were not very good. I’ve heard she told all the sales girls to spray the perfume all over the interior from the changing rooms, to the displays and most importantly the entrance. Such a strategy was very forward thinking on Coco’s part, because it made this scent instantly relatable to the Chanel Retail experience, which all women already adored.

Jimmy Choo stores uses a combination of spicy cardamom and ivy; the Sony Store uses combinations of orange and cedar; Thomas Pink opts for tang of fresh linen and the Lexus Showroom uses a scent of chocolate chip cookies in the waiting room and green tea and lemongrass at the front entrance. All these interiors are appealing to a different emotion and help in making a sale.

Last year the biggest M&M store in the world opened in London’s Leicester Square. The shop is a chocolate lovers heaven with four floors of everything M&M’s related. One would expect this retail interior full to the brim of chocolate to be oozing with a chocolate aroma, but initially that was not the case. "What they sell comes pre-packaged," says ScentAir UK's managing director Christopher Pratt. "So although it looked like the place should smell of chocolate, it didn't."

Well it does now thanks to ScentAir, which created a special scent for M&M’s interior to ensure customer get the expected smells of beautiful chocolate.

Image © Maeve Larkin


Sound is probably the third most considered sense after sight and touch. The fact that music has the ability to affect the mood of customers is something designers tend to use to their advantage. However designing the sounds that people hear is just as important as designing the sounds that people don’t.

The Soundscape of an interior can support a retail brand and can make that connection with desired target markets by using appropriate demographics, such as age, gender and income, mixed with psychographics, such as personality, lifestyles and attitudes. By understanding these target markets, interiors can be designed with matching soundscapes that put customers at ease, make them comfortable and entice them to stay longer and hopefully spend more.

Beyond Retro is a vintage retail boutique which is located around London. Walking into the space to the swinging sixties tunes playing in the background immediately sets the scene for the experience ahead. Vintage clothing and accessories are becoming more and more popular and these interiors celebrate them for all their unique qualities.

Image © Maeve Larkin


Taste is a sense which is not applicable to most retail environments. When you think of a high end fashion boutique or a sports store, the last thing you’d expect to find is an incorporated café. However, if you were handed a glass of champagne or given an energy drink to enjoy while you browsed the collections, this would probably make you more relaxed within the space.

Taste can make an environment more inviting and welcoming; it can make the shopping experience less rushed and more enjoyable. Large department stores have long featured a café for people to take a time out, but in recent times smaller boutiques have begun to include a café area within the design.

The Rapha Cycle Club in Soho, London has created a unique space within which people can hang their bicycles on the walls while they check out the store for cycle wear, grab a coffee or watch the live racing shown on the surrounding screens. This space is an ideal example of how taste can open up opportunities for the retail environment.

Pitfield London is a retail and exhibition space that was opened last December by Interior Design Shaun Clarkson and Textile Designer Paul Brewtser in Shoreditch London. This ‘curiosity shop’ as it is dubbed is an interior space which has a cafe, community space and shop all in the same space. The shops stock and exhibitions are constantly changing making this space super exciting to visit. There is a beautiful mix of local designer and branded goods, vintage pieces and classic designs so whatever you’re after your sure to find here. The unique space is bold and eclectic, welcoming you with beautiful tastes and once you’re in, actually giving you the opportunity to buy anything you see even down to the chair you’re sitting on.

The journey of a customer in a retail interior is a simple journey.

A retail interior is predominately a space dominated by visual content and this can be enough for some retail spaces to create an impact. In a day and age when we’re faced with such high end technology and advanced knowledge of how the human brain works it seems silly for interiors not to take advantage of this and enabling us to create spaces which become more than just retail interiors but destinations, memorable experiences which create distinct personality for brands and products.

Maeve Larkin is passionate about life; she loves style, people and places. A lifelong cosmopolitan, she has travelled worldwide and worked in Dublin, Sydney and now London as an Interior Designer. Her flair for fashion keeps her on top of all the latest trends. Individuality in design is something she seeks out and aims to achieve in all her projects. Hugely inspired by the close relationship between the retail and hospitality design—a combination of two of her great passions—she believes their integration is the way forward for Retail Offers. Currently she is a team member of Gensler London’s Retail and Hospitality team. Contact Maeve at Maeve_Larkin@Gensler.com.

References (3)

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Reader Comments (2)

The subject of sense and sensibility caught the attention of my eye and my nose as well I must admit. Creating spaces that are like a 3 dimensional layered library of rich and delicate experiences that add to our internal recall and memories is a wonderful way of thinking about our profession. Keep in touch with everything...
10.10.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Wittnebel
works it seems silly for interiors not to take advantage of this and enabling us to create spaces which become more than just retail interiors but destinations, memorable experiences which create distinct personality for brands and products.

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