Funky transport stalls short

Compared to its stunning hi-fi products, Bang & Olufsen’s store is a weak afterthought, says Mike Exon

When David Lewis, the top designer at Bang & Olufsen, showed a waiting world the latest incarnation of the Beo range, he secured another room in design heaven for the Danish audio giant. His Beo Lab 5 speakers (pictured above) are spacey and avant-garde, blending art and technology in delicious tandem. Listening to music with them might be life-enhancing; I bet owning B&O’s self-optimising audio technology – which takes acoustic readings of your environment – must give you uncontrollable, smiley shivers. Lewis’s designs inflict shock and awe.

B&O was never about anything as ordinary as ‘hi-fi’. Hi-fi is something oblong and heavy, bought in a brown cardboard box. It generally comes from dusty discount showrooms under the railway sidings of the Northern Line. There are no spaghettis of pink striped cabling emerging from the Dansk Design Center in Copenhagen, you know.

So when it became clear the coolest brand after Alexander McQueen (it’s official) was leaving Harrods to open a flagship showroom, we took a stroll in to see what B&O had to say in the retail innovation department.

B&O could do a lot, lot better than its new compact glass box of a store that lets in the traffic noise of London’s Brompton Road. Apparently, the store was designed by an in-house team, with Lewis and Italy’s Elica creating a kitchen area for displaying products in situ. It beggars belief to think that designs of such impressive quality could be sold in these cramped conditions, when they have the potential to transport you into a parallel physical plane.

Though the upstairs of the shop is used to display the B&O product in a contemporary, domestic scenario with kitchen props and shelving, it’s only the magic of the audio and visual demonstrations that distracts your attention from the paucity of the space. The two listening rooms are the only treats for the customer, who can briefly sit in imagined luxury for a few seconds to sample the goods before being rudely distracted by someone walking up the stairs.

Downstairs, the retail design simply fails. The product is just not given room to breathe. If neighbouring B&B Italia can create a slick, meandering gallery of a store for its furniture pieces, surely B&O should be thinking about flattering its own products in a similar environment. Why couldn’t these breathtaking designs have been given a budget worthy of their design achievement?

Bang & Olufsen of Chelsea, 147 Kings Road, London SW3

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