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{D/R} the legacy of the Design Research store

{Exterior of D|R Cambridge building, photo by ESTO}

Last fall when we visited family in Cambridge, we happened upon an intriguing building at 48 Brattle Street in Harvard Square with five floors of floor to ceiling glass that appeared to be a store filled with eye popping Scandinavian design in the form of textiles, furniture and tabletop items. There was no entrance or any other info available besides some signs about it being an installation. Like so many other designers, I have always had an ongoing fascination with Scandinavian design, so when an article popped up recently in the NY times Style magazine, it was exciting to finally discover the history of this landmark building and its creator, Ben Thompson.

Ben Thompson shown in the D|R store in Cambridge, Mass. Photo by Design Research, Inc. Thompson is also known for his creation of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and South Street Seaport.

Architect Ben Thompson and chair of Harvard’s Architecture Department was the founder of a store called D|R which stood for Design Research. Inspired by Scandinavian textiles and design he discovered in Europe during the 50′s, he decided to open a retail store in 1953 with the sole purpose of making modern design accessible to American customers. The first store was located in a residential home, but years later when Thompson completed construction on a building of his own design, the store moved to its new location at 48 Brattle Street in 1969. Eventually the store opened locations in New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

{Above} The original D|R Cambridge store housed in a former residential clapboard home photos by Design Research, Inc.

{Above & Below} the interiors of the D|R store in Cambridge at 48 Brattle Street that opened its doors in 1969, photos by ESTO

{Above} left photo by Michael Proulx and right photo by ESTO

{Clockwise left to right:} The D|R store on 57th street in New York City photo by George Cserna, D|R storefront in San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Square photo courtesy of © Jane Thompson via Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, and the D|R installation in 2009 in the former D|R building at 48 Brattle Street photo by Richard Schieferdecker via NY Times

Perhaps the most lasting influence on American consumers is D|R’s introduction of textiles by Marimekko. Thompson met Marimekko’s founder Armi Ratia in 1958. By 1959 Marimekko’s bright textiles were displayed in D|R’s store, and by 1960, Jacqueline Kennedy was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in a bright pink Marimekko dress, creating national attention for the Finnish design house. Julia Child was also a huge fan of the store, forming a close bond with the Thompsons. For her show The French Chef, Child often used cooking equipment and furniture provided by D|R.

Life Magazine’s iconic spread on Marimekko, June 1966. Photographed in Finland by Tony Vaccaro

{The D|R installation, September 2009. Photos by Luster}

D|R’s legacy also paved the way for some of the most well-known retailers of our time. Most notably, Crate & Barrel is the closest follower with its original inception based on the impact it had on C&B’s founder, Gordon Segal. Segal began buying Marimekko textiles wholesale from D|R, and when D|R folded in 1978, Crate and Barrel moved into the storefront at 48 Brattle street for the next 30 years. If you go into any C&B store today, the retail concepts founded by Thompson are very evident in the merchandising and product choices as well as Marimekko’s textiles which they continue to infuse into their collection. Other famous D|R followers include Sir Terence Conran’s stores Habitat and The Conran Shop, Williams-Sonoma, Room and Board, MOMA Store, and Design within Reach.

For more information check out Chronicle’s book co-authored by Ben Thompson’s widow: Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes © by Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange.

{Images from Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes © by Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange, unless otherwise noted. All written content by ©Luster 2010}

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  1. Jane Thompson
    Posted October 27, 2010 at 1:34 pm | #

    As co-author of the D/R book, I appreciate your interesting comments, and your attention to photo and author credits. About the missing TAC information, Michael should know that there is a chapter illustrating the early TAC postwar houses that motivated Ben Thompson (TAC partner) to go abroad seeking new furnishing sources, thus importing many great mid-century classics into our permanent and timeless design inventory. For online availability: Borders Amazon,Crate&Barrel.

  2. Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:03 am | #

    That’s got to be an amazing book! Thanks for the article. That shot in front of the store with the baby blue beetle outside is pretty impressive. Cool stuff!

  3. jason
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 11:08 pm | #

    very cool.. good research!

  4. daphne
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm | #

    so cool!

  5. Posted October 24, 2010 at 3:38 pm | #

    Great post. I’m surprised that no mention is made of The Architects’ Collaborative.

    • luster
      Posted October 24, 2010 at 3:46 pm | #

      Hi Michael, thanks for mentioning TAC. I know it’s a direct influence on D|R, but I was trying to focus more on the D|R store itself and the legacy it has had on the last few decades instead. For more on TAC or The Architect’s Collaborative start here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Architects%27_Collaborative

  6. Posted October 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm | #

    I remember DR fondly and well – both the Cambridge and NY stores. It was a retail destination for all of us design junkies. I bought many a Marimekko dress there among other things. There are many other famous DR alumni such as Raymond Waites and Julia McFarland (who co-owned AdHoc in SoHo and is now the manager for Aero) as well as Pauline Dora who owns a store in my neck of the woods, Design Solutions. It was definitely an iconic place that many of us will always remember.

  7. Posted October 24, 2010 at 2:37 pm | #

    Luster is my favorite blog. TOP NOTCH!

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