After successfully designing the ‘Blackwell & Sons’ bicycle store in 2018 for Mr Blackwell, we were delighted to be engaged by his better half, Mrs Blackwell, to help fulfill her dream of opening a bookstore. Mrs Blackwell’s extensive travels have led her to experience some of the world’s best bookstores – but her hometown of Greytown had been devoid of a dedicated bookstore for 30 years.

A small heritage building next to the town square was secured and served as a blank canvas to create an immersive, sensory experience, blurring the lines between bookshop and exhibition space. An atmospheric balance was important – making visitors feel like they are walking into a ‘storybook’ library – but with merchandise on display to tempt them.

The perimeter of the store is lined with dark plywood shelving to create a moody, rich atmosphere. Two central tables anchor the space, with a luxurious display of 11 handmade Mr Ralph glass pendants hanging above. The table acts as a dynamic book display space and gives the required flexibility for running events and workshops after hours.

Centred towards the rear of the store, a fireplace with corten steel hearth and backplate sets the ‘cosy library’ scene and adds ambience to the space. Behind this is the smaller stationery and games section. Adjacent to the fire, a small utility space required staff access, but needed to do so without interrupting the immersive experience of the store. The solution was a hidden door – a section of the bookshelf that can be pulled open on castor wheels – much to the delight of customers who are lucky enough to see it in action.

Continuous floor to ceiling shelving was designed in ‘banks’, each one dedicated to a specific category. The angles and depths of the height adjustable shelves were carefully designed to allow the books to be stacked front facing rather than a spine view. In the lower sub-prime space are push to open cabinets for storage of excess stock. Display cubbies at the top of the banks are reached by a rolling ladder on a track that curves around the entire front half of the store – a feature that delights booklovers.

The majority of natural light was deliberately covered by cabinetry so that drama and mood could be created and controlled with a custom, softer lighting experience without harsh fluorescents. Black ceiling tracks around the perimeter allow spotlights to be strategically positioned and aimed at the display shelves, allowing flexibility. The original tongue and groove ceiling was painted a dark forest green, which sinks into the shadows creating a sense of drama and space.

The curved pastel green counter features tongue and groove panelling with colonial architraves and skirting – a nod to the heritage of the building. Forest green is continued on any walls without cabinetry, with a lighter shade used for signage. The large front display window, accessed behind the counter, is based around a peg board that can be painted to reflect the theme of the window display, which changes seasonally.

Now in its fourth year, the store has become a destination in itself – with the owners even accommodating after hours bookings for people who want further immersion into the whimsical experience the store achieves.

Photography by Kirsty Stephenson (Tupela Studio)