Heritage beauty meets modern installation: Alpha60’s Chapter House

Clothes, art and more bask in the glow of heraldic light in Alpha60’s newest space at Chapter House; a reverent experience to behold. The 150-year-old building is heritage listed inside and out, with 14-metrE high ceilings, grand stained glass windows and over 400 square metrEs of floor space – a world apart from the fashion label’s other more traditional brick-and-mortar stores Australia-wide.

The decision to open a concept store in Chapter House came almost at an impulse says Alex Cleary, one half of the brother-sister duo responsible for the inimitable Melbourne-based label.

“It sort of jumped at us, really,” Alex recalls. After already retailing from the shop downstairs, Alex and sister, Georgie, heard one evening Chapter House was up for lease, and knew that if they wanted to secure the space they’d need to move quickly.

“We had an appointment with the real estate agent at 10 o’clock the next morning, and we had signed a deal by 1 o’clock that afternoon!”

And so began a whirlwind two month period of refitting and renovating – made even more difficult due to the heritage listing on the building, which meant that all existing structures had to be retained, and could not be modified in any way.

At this point the Cleary siblings engaged Jen Berean, New York based architect and artist, and together with Light Project they developed a new concept to visualise ways around the heritage restrictions.

These parameters forced the design intent and purpose into one focussed thought. However, what was most difficult in the process, Alex said, was finding a way to light the space without being able to suspend anything from the cathedral height ceilings.

It quickly became clear that they would need to introduce freestanding modules. It was important that these modules could be adaptable to the many different needs and purposes that the space would serve, as in addition to creating a gallery of sorts to house their collections, Alex and Georgie wanted the space to exist also for exhibitions, events and openings.

They decided rather than compete with period style and ancient grandeur, to instead “go really modern” to create a dynamic contrast.

Modular shelving units that are almost sculptural in their own right were constructed by the team working to find lighting solutions from within the racks themselves. LED lighting was interweaved into the cubic structures, which reflects off panelling before being diffused onto the clothing. This functionality means customers can approach the light source directly without discomfort to the eye.

Light works alongside a larger than life projection at the rear of the store. An obvious first point of reference, from the projection the eye is then drawn naturally to the illuminated clothing racks, and then to the garments themselves.

“It’s exciting what we can now do with light,” Alex explains. “Things are developing so fast that we can use interesting lighting to do things that just weren’t an option for us a few years ago. The technology is changing with LEDs and everything is becoming really accessible.”

Despite his involvement from inception to design and construction, Alex still finds joy in the now completed concept store at Chapter House.

“I get that wow factor every time I walk up the stairs and open the door,” he says.

 

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