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VM analysis: regional VM and retail complexity

Too often VM focuses on cities, as this is where flagship stores are located. Customers rush past and any VM theme needs to be comprehended in a split second before they move on. But regional VM includes some equally excellent work for an audience which often has more time to look. Displays can therefore be more complex.

Home and gardening store Gardener & Cook, located in the lovely Pantiles section of Tunbridge Wells, has a bucolic display of ‘Limelight’ Hydrangeas looking lovely in as old cart and filling the storage space of the garden seat in front of the window. There is no attempt at symmetry, which would look too formal. With a congruent green plant-stand to the left, a hanging basket of contrasting, pink geraniums and a welcoming table and chairs to the right it is all very happenstance, but very pleasing.

Peter Speaight is a local butcher, specialising in local meat and wild game. The dull purple-grey of the classic store front promises something in tune with our foody-times and a closer look at the window, even when the store is closed, does not disappoint. I love the role of brown wrapping paper hung on its original frame above the door too.

The gap between the chill cabinet and the glass is filled with straw, and a selection of charming small animals surround the chalk-boards, along with a recycled tin of fresh parsley.

The duck, the rabbit and the bull nestling in the straw wordlessly explain the range of meats and game carried; the attractive script on the chalk-boards confirm the details. Notice the old sash window handle too. In the past customers could be served through the window without entering the store. Nice that it has been retained.

Cookshops have an advantage on many retailers: they stock so many things that a ‘cornucopia of clutter’ look using the merchandise always works well. Trevor Mottram’s store in the Pantiles does this perfectly, with a panoply of moulded cake-tins hanging in the left-hand window, and a complete alphabet of cake tin letters and numbers stretching across the bottom of both windows..

Joseph McCarthy, specialist mirror and frames retailer and restorer, is located in another lovely Pantiles store. I love the way the ox-eye window above the door and the curved arch to the top of the door, echo the curved corner of the over-mantel mirror in the near window, and the round mirrors in the far window. Very pleasing to the eye.

Vintage watch and jewellery specialist Walsh Bros has retained the Art Deco front of its store on Mount Pleasant Road. With one of those lovely, fish-trap style entrances and a deeply-recessed window, the faceted panes of glass scream ‘pre-war’. With today’s urge to regularly refurbish stores, it seems a miracle that this has survived, with even the original floor tiling and what must be the original door to the apartment above. The black and white fascia with Art Deco-style font is perhaps rather revisited from the 1970s, rather than an original 1920s script, but the setting sun (which may also be read as a nicely glittering diamond) motif above the windows looks perfectly in keeping.

The original front-door here retains its original letterbox and fittings. Notice the shapes at the top of the windows: a nice touch, adding to the geometric motif. As in the previous image, black and white backboards in the window display echo the Art Deco mania for the geometric. Vintage retailers, by the nature of their assortments, had a more complex visual offer than their new merchandise equivalents. Here, the complexity of the backdrop enhances the complexity of the display, without overwhelming it.

Let’s end with an idyllic image of the Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells, so named because they were originally paved with tiles. Do visit and take a long, leisurely look.