sparkling tableware, and modern furniture,
all bathed in clean white overhead lighting.
Startlingly different from its brick- and wood-clad neighbors, D/R succeeded in part because
of the way Thompson’s design allowed for passersby to ogle the eye-catching merchandise and
the activity of the young, hip staffers inside.
“It said — people said — ‘Here’s a party, and I
want to go to it!’ ” says Jane.
The right half of the building is four stories
tall, with a double-height first floor; the left half
is five stories, with its first floor sunken below
sidewalk level, allowing passersby to look both
up and down into the displays. Thus hooked, a
shopper simply follows the red brick sidewalk
that runs seamlessly through the front doors
and into the double-height foyer, where the
party is. The building was an instant hit when it
opened, winning regional and national honors.
Its enduring power was acknowledged in 2003,
when the American Institute of Architects
bestowed its prestigious 25 Year Award.
Throughout the 1960s, D/R served up
design with attitude. The store supplied Julia
Child with cookware for her PBS show, and it
is said that Jacqueline Kennedy bought her first
Marimekko dress at D/R. Locations in New
York and San Francisco soon followed — even
as D/R struggled financially. Pauline Dora, a
former D/R executive, said in a 2003 New York
Times article about the rise and fall of D/R that
the company “needed retailing basics. The
waste and excesses at Design Research were
In 1970, entrepreneur Peter Sprague
took control of the company in a move that
some considered a hostile takeover. The businessman found it hard to corral the creative
minds behind the brand, and, at odds with
Thompson, he eventually won a series of lawsuits. Sprague opened even more locations,
including storefronts in malls, much to the
chagrin of Thompson, who resigned as director, maintaining just a small interest in the
company. In 1978, D/R filed for bankruptcy.
Despite losing his substantial investment in D/R, Thompson went on to design
Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, another
acclaimed mix of architecture and retail. In
an ironic twist, soon after D/R vacated the
space, Crate & Barrel, a company based on
the Design Research model but with a more
hard-edged business plan, leased a store in the
landmark Brattle Street building, which the
chain closed earlier this year.