Retail spaces will have a big role to play in reviving the visitor experience sector. Callum Lumsden, director of Lumsden Design, looks at four venues, what they’re doing right – and where they’re missing a trick

It was Andy Warhol who said: “I’ve never made the separation between, say, the museum and the hardware store. I mean, I enjoy both of them, and I want to combine the two.” With that quote he put retail and exhibitions together, joining them as one experience, rather than seeing them as separate entities.

Successful museum and gallery retail spaces do the same. They complement the exhibition experience. They provide an opportunity for consumers to get close and personal with prints and souvenirs, thousands of objets d’art, home accessories, books and jewellery. They provide an opportunity to step over the metaphorical rope and make that exhibition experience their own.

But how do they achieve this? What sets an inspirational retail space apart from a dusty old corner by the exit filled with outdated books and dog-eared postcards?

Ecommerce has provided salvation over the past year, but as we look forward to visitor attractions re-opening, people’s interest will need to be piqued once more, and inspiring retail outlets go a long way to achieve this. They offer an opportunity to enhance the visitor experience, act as a marketing tool, and swell the coffers.

Turda Salt Mine, Romania

The Turda Salt Mine in Romania has to be one of the world’s most spectacular manmade underground formations. It was created by miners digging into the salt deposits left behind after ancient seas evaporated millions of years ago.

It’s a mysterious and awe-inspiring place, and visitors are encouraged to go on a voyage of discovery, learning about its secrets, such as how it’s always been regarded as a source of wellbeing and good luck.

The retail space leans into this magical atmosphere, complementing it perfectly. It’s located in one of the vast carved-out ‘galleries’ and provides visitors with well-curated products to purchase. On brand, well considered, and unexpected.

Abbey Road Studios, North London

Developing the Abbey Road Studios retail experience was as much about capturing the spirit and magic of the studios’ heyday as anything else. Millions of fans make a pilgrimage to the North London spot every year, posing for pictures on the famous zebra crossing.

We were commissioned to create a unique commercial space at the studios, opening up the much-admired building for the first time to music fans from around the world. It was imperative that the store lived up to the high expectations of passionate fans.

Our design took its inspiration from Abbey Road’s Studio Two – the home of landmark recordings by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

Abbey Road Studios’ rich history is apparent throughout the store, reflecting not only the who’s who of artists, but also the many technological breakthroughs that took place inside the Grade II listed building. It’s not a pitstop shop before you’re shown the door, it’s part of the rich experience.

The Louvre, Saadiyat Cultural District, UAE

The Abu Dhabi Louvre’s giant domed canopy appears to float over a series of box structures containing curated objects and cultural stories. It allows the desert sunlight to create constantly changing dappled patterns, sheltering visitors from the heat. It’s one of the most sublime examples of museum architecture I’ve ever seen.

Why, then, has this iconic building, been allowed to host a shop that has all the appeal of a budget supermarket concession?

The merchandise is undefined, the space is characterless, there is no temptation to buy and the staff look completely disinterested. It’s a great shame that the quality and beauty of the exhibition rooms hasn’t been carried through to the retail space. An opportunity has been missed to enhance the visitor experience and tell stories that relate to the products on offer.

Architect Jean Nouvel said he wanted visitors to the museum to ‘visit unique collections, to linger in tempting bookstores or to taste the teas, coffees and dishes of the local gastronomy’. How sad that the retail space doesn’t deliver on his vision.

Freemasons’ Hall, Central London

At the end of last year, we created a new visitor experience and retail space at Freemasons’ Hall in Central London. It needed to respect Masonic heritage but also align with modern thinking about the once-mysterious centuries-old organisation.

Freemasonry has long been regarded as the world’s ultimate secret society, but there has been a significant drive in recent times to move away from its reputation as a closed club. The organisation goes back to the 1600s and is far more inclusive and philanthropic than many people realise.

Previously confined to a dark corner on the ground floor, we positioned it in a more central location on the first floor, where it serves as both gentlemen’s outfitter and shop, and can take full advantage of footfall from members and visitors to the Freemason’s Museum.

The Grade II status of the building impacted on the design choices. Historic portraits had to be accommodated and there were strict rules around lighting, fixtures and fittings. The displays and merchandise needed to meld with the heritage – we couldn’t start drilling holes in the ceiling and walls. The result is a space that respects history and welcomes in the modern world all at once.

Long gone are the days when museum shops hoped to create income without also thinking about enhancing the visitor experience and telling the venue’s story. Every visitor attraction shop should celebrate its brand, and excite and inspire consumers. Only then can it reach its potential as a vital part of the marketing tool kit.