Eschewing the staid clichés that cannabis is associated with, the flagship store of Canadian cannabis retailer Alchemy in Toronto is an immersive apothecary-like space that takes customers on a multi-sensory journey through artistry, nature and technology. Toronto-based Studio Paolo Ferrari have fused an organic design language of natural materials and sinuous forms with a futuristic aesthetic of high-tech ingenuity as a reflection of cannabis’ journey from naturally grown produce to high-end product. The result is a sublime sequence of serene yet energetic spaces that imbue the customer experience with both cerebral and visceral qualities.
Alchemy’s mission is to re-define how cannabis is perceived and used – Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2018 – but the brand also wants to define the future of in-store retail as an immersive, engaging and compelling experience that’s worth abandoning the convenience of online shopping for. In response to this brief, designer and Studio founder Paolo Ferrari has focused on the human experience, drawing from the brand’s “alchemical” transformation of naturally grown cannabis into highly prized products. “For us, the store is somewhere between a laboratory and temple,” Ferrari says. “It is a serene environment with energetic bursts. It is also about escapism, and experiencing something on a different plane.”
The store’s configuration reflects how various customers shop, from those who want to explore and obtain guidance about the brand’s Canadian-grown cannabis, accessories and other merchandise, to those picking up their online purchases. Stepping into the entrance lobby, where customers sometimes have to wait due to government mandates regarding the store’s capacity, a lush plant installation stands out against the austere interiors. Embedded on the surrounding walls, digital screens showing kaleidoscopic visuals function as “voyeuristic points of discovery” that keep visitors engaged while they wait.
Moving on to the main retail space, customers are welcomed into a serene environment that’s nevertheless comprised of contrasting features – warm and cool tones, sinuous and sharp-edges forms, and natural and manmade materials. Gently curving plaster walls, polished marble flooring and a whitewashed, amoeba-shaped ash table imbue the room with a sculptural sensibility, while the aluminum grid ceiling, utilitarian Corian fixtures and aluminum self-checkout table, which can be wheeled around the room along an in-floor aluminum track, add sleek industrial accents. Punctuating the otherwise muted, monotone colour palette, a bright yellow orthogonal product display is contrasted with a series of bell jar-like displays that pick up the interior design’s futuristic fantasia theme, as do digital screens that automatically display product descriptions when customers interact with custom cannabis sniff jars.
Quite different in tone is the accessories room which espouses a David Lynchian aesthetic of stainless ceilings, carpeted floors and bright orange undulating walls crafted out of eco-resin. An illuminated shelf that snakes around the space enhances the scintillating ambience and allows customers to easily reach and touch the products. For the end, Ferrari has designed the checkout area as an earthy space using natural terracotta brick, aluminum walls, terrazzo flooring and large hanging screens displaying artistic visuals. Softly lit by the illuminated ceiling, the space evocatively rounds up a highly architectural shopping experience conceived as a sublime feast for the senses, tantamount, in other words, with the wellness benefits of cannabis.