Homepolish designer Mandy Cheng explains how she created a Scandinavian-inspired retail destination for Austin’s beloved running store, The Loop.
Photos by Tyler Guinn.
Running isn’t for the faint of heart—if you wake up before dawn for a miles-long jaunt you tend to be rather dedicated. As such, anything less than the best gear can be frustrating. That’s why Austin’s The Loop Running Supply wanted to create a stylish and functional shop, as well as a spot to meet like-minded athletes. Runners can come in and buy gear or make use of the store as a spot to stash their stuff before a run around the lake or to shower post-sweat. At the starting line with them: Homepolish designer. Here, she tells us how she married sporty with smart.
The Loop Running Supply Co. is one of a kind. Unlike, running stores packed to the brim with very functional (but not fashionable) fitness attire, The Loop melds current trends with the perfect performance gear. I wanted the design of the store to live up to those standards and be an extension of the products they sell.
The clients wanted a rad space—sleek and modern, light and bright. Think: a modern-industrial vibe dripping with style. Our Pinterest board was filled with matte black, blush pink, moody blues, stark greys, polished concrete, and other natural materials. We took a rather ordinary space that looked like the set of The Office and transformed it into what you see now.
The space was formerly two small, separate commercial offices. The ceilings were low and paneled with acoustic ceiling tiles. There was commercial-grade carpet everywhere, and it felt extremely walled in. Today, you would never know it was the same space.
This was a full gut reno: demoing everything except structural columns. I took out the main dividing wall between the two spaces and built the (now blue) wall behind the register. We also ripped out the ceiling and removed the carpet. I worked with an architect to add two shower rooms. It was bare bones for a minute before everything got built back up.
Despite taking over two offices, a 1,430 square-foot retail space with two powder rooms and two shower rooms isn’t a whole lot of space. Aside from the aesthetic, storage was top priority. I had all the built-in shelving and display cubes custom-made with hinged lids so they can double as storage for inventory. The built-in shelving is also adjustable for ever-changing displays. The wooden boxes also sturdy enough to be used as seating since The Loop hosts tons of events (run clubs, meetings, and general good times—they offer runners shots of post jaunt whiskey). And, since the floor needed to be cleared for parties, the wooden boxes are on wheels.
The wall colors and materials I chose for the displays were all meant to help the products stand out. The back wood wall in black really helped define that space, make it feel a little less stark, and help the clothing pop. The treatment was done using the ancient Japanese blowtorching method, Shou Sugi Ban. It was actually a happy accident! I believe a customer came into the store and happened to mention he knew how to blacken wood using this Japanese blowtorching method and was just waiting for the right client to hire him to do it…. Aaaaaand hired. The Shou Sugi Ban wall was an amazing way to add texture without stealing any of the shoes’ thunder.
The adjacent white wall provides contrasts and a clean backsplash for products. Then the marching shoe wall is my absolute favorite. It’s definitely an Instagram-worthy spot. New Balance was kind enough to donate those sneakers, and the clients and their friends spent the day spray painting them ombre pink. And then we velcroed them to the wall. Team effort!
My background is a little out of the ordinary. I come from film where I was expected to adapt to whatever style the projects needed. Therefore, adapting to people’s taste is something I love. I really love to immerse myself in the style of the project. For The Loop, I was definitely inspired by Scandinavian design. After copious research, the clients and I dove into crisp, beautiful shapes with muted color palettes, clean lines, and natural materials with polished finishes. And I was magically able to speak all the languages from the various Scandinavian regions (kidding).
I also think the modern Californian style that I usually lean towards naturally infuses itself into my designs. You can see it in the use of wood and concrete elements softened by color and textures. Scandinavian and modern Californian style can be interchangeable if you just switch up some pieces.
This gut reno was a total team effort. I’ll be the first to admit that none of the store would have been possible without the client’s amazing taste, as well as their determination to fully execute my design. Because of perspective, there were details only they could see, and they were diligent about sharing each and every challenge, each additional item needed, and any problem that needed to be resolved. There were a lot of construction challenges from beginning to end, but it really didn’t stop any of us from making sure that store was the best it could be.
Working on this space was definitely inspiring, and learning how talented the ring of runners are that own and operate this store is really remarkable. These people are marathon winners several times over. Let that sink in for a second—they are repeatedly the first people to cross the finish line after 26.2 miles against thousands of other people. And they all happen to be friends who laugh, run, shoot whiskey, and operate a store in Austin together. That’s a lot of talent packed into one store.