Westfield London’s head of design on the mammoth retail project

With the opening of Westfield London just weeks away, its retail design chief Paula Wyllie is not hanging around. Clare Dowdy goes on-site at the massive new shopping centre with its design head

Paula Wyllie peels back a bit of plastic sheeting to reveal how the glass panels of this particular facade are propped together. She then crouches down to show that the glass sits daintily on a stainless steel rim in the floor.

‘These things excite me,’ she says of the shopfront’s construction. And that’s as it should be, as Wyllie is in charge of retail design at Westfield London, our latest and greatest – as in biggest – shopping centre.

Scheduled to open on 30 October, the vast building – originally designed by Ian Ritchie Architects – on the outskirts of Shepherd’s Bush is a hive of activity. Some 5000 construction workers are doing eight-hour shifts. However, as general manager of retail design, Wyllie can only dream of an eight-hour working day.

Wyllie relocated from her homeland Australia to the UK with Westfield Shoppingtowns, to set up a retail design team in 2005. She’s now got 14 retail design managers to oversee and about 320 food and retail tenants to manage. Every day she speaks to two or three of them directly. On the day we met, that had been Karen Millen and LK Bennett.

Westfield London will comprise five anchor stores (Debenhams, Next, Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Waitrose), more than 265 luxury and high street brands, and nearly 50 so-called eating concepts. The enormity of the 150 000m2 shopping centre becomes apparent in the developer’s office, where the retail design floor acts as a wall-to-wall visual aid. Every tenant’s design scheme is pinned up alongside their physical neighbours in the mall. This allows Wyllie’s retail design managers to check that facias and colour palettes work together.

Despite the workload, there seems to be a good atmosphere, and plenty of cake, on the retail design floor. Her staff – 11 of whom happen to be women, which perhaps explains the cake – are all interior designers or interior architects, and come from consultancies including Dalziel & Pow, Fitch, JHP, 20/20 and the now defunct Din Associates. Wyllie, too, is a designer by training. Before joining Westfield Shoppingtowns in 1992, she was with Sydney design consultancy Mary Brandon By Design, where one of her clients was Westfield competitor Lend Lease.

‘We are one of the first [such] companies in the UK with an in-house design team,’ she says, and Westfield operates in this way because ‘we can’t afford for tenants not to be successful’.

Plenty of tenants have raised their game, she says, and are creating something special for Westfield – exactly what happened when Kent’s Bluewater opened with much fanfare in 1999, peppered with fancy flagships. Wyllie cites Beaverbrooks the Jewellers, Clinton Cards, Office, Ted Baker and Zara as doing something different.

Meanwhile, the ‘food concepts’ on the Balcony level are given a palette of finishes ‘so that it feels like a single restaurant with four food offers’, she says. Wyllie also suggests design groups to those tenants who need something extra. That’s how Cards Galore’s outlet here came to be designed by the young consultancy Third Space. But despite all the in-house design expertise, her team would never actually create a space for a tenant, as for one thing, that could be viewed as favouritism.

‘The UK is very proud of its retail design,’ she says. ‘People think of the experience, like is there enough room in the changing room to turn around. And the retailers are competitive.’

No more so than in The Village, Westfield’s luxury ‘street’, where LV and Tiffany rub shoulders with Mulberry, Dior and De Beers. Rather than having their schemes pinned up on the wall, ‘there is a secret folder for “The Village people” so they can’t see what the opposition is doing’, says Wyllie.

While there might be some frustration for a designer no longer designing, she prefers being client-side. ‘I can see it all come to fruition quicker on the landlord side.’ The opening of Westfield will soon be upon us.

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