For their fifth flagship, and first foray into the Washington, DC market, the nation’s largest consumer co-op and specialty outdoor retailer, REI, chose a space at the historic Washington Coliseum (Uline Arena), in DC’s emerging NoMa neighborhood. The 51,000 sqft flagship represents the culmination of an 18-month process to completely reimagine REI’s store experience.
Designed to be a humble, honest and eclectic expression of REI’s Northwest heritage, the DC flagship brings outdoor life into an urban, and historic, context - from the interior courtyard that encourages local outdoor enthusiasts to hang out and share stories, to the posters that pay homage to Washington Coliseum’s musical history, to the collection of destination shops that connect customers to experts in the activities they love.
To break down the cavernous, single-level 51,000 sqft floorplate, while increasing the ceiling height to accommodate REI’s diverse mix of outdoor gear, multiple terraces flow down into the store upon arrival, creating not only great vistas across the entire store, but naturally break down the space into a collection of smaller, intimate shopping zones. A loft-like mezzanine space housing the footwear shop was added in the rear of the store to add additional visual interest.
The use of conventional interior finishes, such as drywall, was purposefully minimized, keeping with a “gear garage” aesthetic. The architecture and material palette is simple, raw, and utilitarian – the walls are lined with exposed plywood and concrete backer board, the wood flooring was salvaged from dunnage (wood used for packing cargo on shipping trucks), large steel garage doors let in light and air, and kilim rugs and eclectic seating groups help to soften the overall experience.
REI’s eclectic mix of found objects, hand-finished graphics, furnishings, vintage outdoor gear, and local artifacts add a human touch and moments of softness within the vast assortment of gear and apparel. Highlights at the DC flagship include a 1965 VW wagon, complete with a keg on the roof, to one-of-a-kind props such as the lime green ceramic fireplace anchoring the Snowboard shop.
The fixture design for the DC flagship is uniquely tailored to the specific needs of each of REI’s product categories, or “shops”, while sharing common aesthetics and design principles. Simple materials such as raw plywood, steel, scaffold pipe and industrial casters provide the utility and durability that REI requires while making the high-tech products they support, look their best.