Boutique-slash-gallery Aphro offers playful circulation in an abstract space

May 4, 2018



Miguel R. Llona

Seen from outside, it’s difficult to divine what Aphro holds in store for customers. It looks less like the furniture-art store that it is and more like a playpen designed to stir a child’s imagination, with colorful paintings and sculptures littered across the open space by the entrance and a massive staircase beckoning to visitors to ascend towards an unknown destination.

“Customers say the first thing that catches their attention is the interior design. It makes them wonder what’s being sold inside,” says the owner. Designing retail stores and art galleries, however, requires discipline and restraint. The architecture should be enticing, to be sure, but not so flamboyant and ill-mannered as to call attention away from the merchandise and art. Ignore this, and the result is Daniel Libeskind’s Denver Art Museum or Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, whose audacious architecture has been condemned by art critics like Hal Foster as a “gigantic spectacle-space that can swallow any art, let alone any viewer, whole.”

The 122-square meter space is divided into three zones: the open gallery area that welcomes people upon entry, the wooden staircase holding pottery and trinkets, and the office space up top. Sunga calls it an “abstract” space, in that it can be used for various activities such as cocktail events, film screenings, or even dance parties, as the client wishes. Despite the unconventional division of spaces, the circulation is straightforward as in most art galleries—visitors go up the steps to the right, explore the top level, then descend through another set of steps or the slide to the left.

According to Jagnus Design Studio co-principal Sonny Sunga, Aphro’s design brief was one of the weirdest he’d ever encountered. The client (who also owns Art Informal gallery in Greenhills) wanted a retail-slash-gallery space for consigned artworks that would embody the qualities of Aphrodite, with whom she feels a personal connection. She apparently had discovered at a Carl Jung workshop that her personality archetype is that of the Grecian goddess of love, meaning she is predisposed to making people feel good about themselves. In the context of her business, she interpreted this to mean her higher purpose is to make people happy by recommending the perfect artwork for them.

READ MORE: Denovo store, a diamond mine abstraction by Jagnus

View from underneath the bleachers, where a passageway in the middle leads to the storage and utility areas. To the right is a hidden door, which leads to the staff’s office.

The project posed numerous challenges and possibilities for Jagnus, among them marrying the functional requirements of a store and an art gallery with the client’s abstract concept. The space could only be leased for three years, so a heavily built-up space would be impractical because the lessor might decide against renewing the contract. “The less intervention we do to the space, the better,” says Sunga.

Because of the abstract brief, Jagnus created an abstract space open to different interpretations and flexible enough for different uses. The team divided the 122-square meter space into three zones: the 35.5-square meter exhibit space by the entrance, the display area in the middle, and the owner’s office area up top (which she calls the boudoir, French for a lady’s private salon).

The 2.8-meter high staircase, constructed of steel frames and covered with matte-finish plywood, serves both as display space and a structure containing office space, storage, and back-of-house areas. The walls and beams are plain and exposed, allowing the main display area to stand out.

View from the office area at the top. Measuring 8.4 meters tall, the cavernous space allows large installations such as Kawayan De Guia’s Bomba to be hung from the ceiling. The blank wall above the storefront functions as a projection screen should the client decide to show arthouse films.
Because Aphrodite is the goddess of eternal youth, the Jagnus team decided to inject fun and humor into the space by creating a slide for people to descend the top level. Visitors leave feeling exhilarated after exploring the store.

The circulation flow is simple and one-way, similar to that of art galleries. Upon entry, customers are treated to selected artworks and sculptures and beckoned towards the staircase that holds colorful trinkets and stoneware. They go up via steps on the right to reach the top level where more items are on exhibit, then descend via a slide on the left.

Jagnus’ concept of Aphro’s design is a temple extolling Aphrodite’s virtues of love, beauty, and eternal youth. The staircase symbolizes the ascent to Mount Olympus, and the climb to the top, a pilgrimage. On the way up, customers are given the opportunity to examine with the stoneware and artifacts on display. “I want people to touch and hold the items because they always think stoneware is only for display, when in fact, you can use it,” says the owner.

READ MORE: The Office as a Design Playground by Jagnus Design Studio

The simplicity of Aphro’s interior design belies its visually arresting appeal and unconventional concept. Just as Aphrodite is reborn from a shell in the sea every time she makes love, Aphro‘s spaces assure a different look for visitors every so often, as the owner uses it as a store, art gallery, party place, and in-house theater. What remains unchanged is its distinct, enchanting personality brought to life by a design team astute and sensitive to apprehend the abstract. 

Original articles first appeared in BluPrint Volume 2 2017. Edits were made for Bluprint online.

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]