Karen & Co. Undefined

Karen & Co. store
Photograph by Eric Tadsen

It’s the urban mixed with the natural, lived in but unsettled, that inspires comfort in exploration and discovery at Karen & Co. Exposed brick walls and warm wood tones of cherry and teak add dimension to a cream backdrop, and riveted leather armchairs soften the cool glow of white track lights to a coffee-lounge aura. All under a clay-colored tin ceiling, earthen vibrato.

Karen and Dan Fix, owners of Karen & Co., don’t take any design choices lightly when it comes to their space on State Street. Getting the color palette down provided opportunity to focus on creating a living display room, which is able to shape into whatever they need to best showcase their apt-infinitum attire and accessories. The resulting spaces can be experienced time and time again by regular customers.

Everything really came together when Dan and Karen made a discovery of their own some time ago: a wide hidden doorway in the wall of their two adjacent stores. Now the store could be experienced without customers having to retrace their steps. “I think it just opened up the potential,” says Karen. “It created more space.”

Dan talks about a good customer of theirs who had experienced the store before they knocked out the wall covering the doorway. “We were nice and busy, a lot going on, and he sat there after shopping, and he said, ‘This is a good example of where one plus one equaled three because you have the two elements going front to back, but then you have the third going this way.’” It also does something else. When viewing from one room through the opening to the other, the brick-walled sides and old knotty header frame well-lit merchandised outfits.

There’s a lot of framing going on in the store. If you enter the east door, the straight lines created by a rack coming off the wall and partition toed by the jewelry case outline a central floor display. For those who aren’t looking to shop but are just along for the ride, the aforementioned effect is essentially a bullseye to a pair of inviting armchairs. Walking through the store and looking at items from different angles often leads to intrigue in interpretation. Dan says, “Here it becomes more an experience, and it might open customer thoughts to something fresh and different.”

In order to get the most out of possible perspectives, places where dead space is problematic, often in corners, were utilized to create tiered, backlit showcases for shoes, purses, and other pieces. Dan says, “It isn’t as though this bag is any more expensive than it would be in another store, but the joy of it is making the bag special and making someone almost want to become attached to it because this is their vision of it now as opposed to having it on a table somewhere with 25 other bags.” After deciding what to include for each season’s lineup, Karen and Dan rely on the design choices they made for their store to enhance the value of a piece, increasing the customer’s confidence in their purchase.

But not all blank space is dead space. Dan is a firm believer of giving his customers’ eyes a chance to rest. Clean gaps between products not only help with showcasing, but show respect to the individual journey each customer takes, encouraging finding surprises in plain sight.

The final interaction the customer at Karen & Co. has commonly occurs at the register. A conscientious decision was made to have nothing at the counter. No place for you to run your card or little items to tempt a last-minute purchase. Dan says, “We’ve always been conscious of the counter being an area to further interact with our customers.” After the exchange, the item is placed in a woven polypropylene bag—its look and color an echo of the store’s—the icing on an authentic experience.

What Dan and Karen have ultimately done is synthesized something intimate woven with guided discoveries that feel a little like chance. The organic way they envisioned the space breeds intuitive navigation for visitors that feels seamless—a natural progression from end to end. “This should be an experience that you want to repeat,” says Karen. “It’s a recreation to go shopping.” There’s an often-hidden fun side of clothes shopping the two unveil while providing an atmosphere of calm feathered under serenity—no expectations. “Come in and relax and make it home.”

Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor and writer for Home Elements & Concepts.

Photographs by Eric Tadsen.

Karen & Co.
307-309 State Street
Madison, WI 53713