Oxford Street Design Store
Oxford Street, Sydney
Lou Helliwell and Alex De Bonis, both Sydney-based graphic designers, had been playing around with a few concepts for a stand at a local festival, when they heard about the City of Sydney’s call for submissions for a series of new initiatives to rejuvenate tired old lower Oxford Street and elevate its cultural status. “They were mainly looking for something that really engaged the creative community, with different artists in different areas – a place where you could involve everyone in creativity,” explains Helliwell.
The duo had previously worked together on a string of creative projects (the most notable being Tough Titties, an ongoing blog/forum for female creatives), but really felt that one of their ideas, a design ‘dollar shop’, would get a good response. The City of Sydney agreed and they were awarded a rolling six-month lease for The Oxford Street Design Store, which opened at 58 Oxford Street in April. The shop has since been the recipient of a $1000 grant from The Awesome Foundation for its novel concept.
When putting out the call, the City of Sydney received 52 submissions, of which 16 were selected as meeting cultural and creative objectives. “Artists are critical to the social and economic well-being of the community, but they are being pushed out of the cities due to rising rents, so affordable spaces such as these are critical,” says a City of Sydney spokeswoman.
The shop is a combination of London’s Poundshop (a pop-up where design goods are sold cheaply) and the McSweeney ‘model’ (the idea of a shop front coupled with a functional back area). The store stocks an assortment of design-related objects sourced from around the country, from tees, to cards, to prints, and runs by the sole rule that nothing can sell for more than $20. The back area works as a ‘community’ space offering desks for three dollars hire per hour and monthly workshops and talks.
De Bonis and Helliwell were also behind the shop’s fitout and striking décor. “We probably got the worst space in the whole street – in terms of how much needed to be done to it,” says Helliwell. Drawing inspiration from Paula Scher’s work in Supergraphics: Transforming Space: Graphic Design for Walls, Buildings and Spaces, they worked on disguising the cracked floor tiles and hospital strip lighting with a few tricks. “We thought, ’Let’s just use two colours [blue and white] and make it really strong and really bold.’ There was also a huge, horrendous fire hydrant on the wall, which we had to work around. It’s become a giant blue starburst and you really don’t notice it now.” Their ingenuity also led to the shelving, which is made from milk crates and pallets, and a giant room separator constructed from cardboard tubes.
With neighbours ranging from design collective, He Made She Made, to the Sydney Writers’ Room to Music NSW, it seems that lower Oxford Street is definitely on the upswing. We can only hope that the shop continues to grow and extends its six- month stay.
Photography: Jamie Williams
From desktop magazine.