Design Research (store)

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Design Research
Founded1953; 70 years ago (1953) in Cambridge, Massachusetts
FounderBen Thompson
Defunct1978 (1978)
FateBankruptcy; Brand rights acquired jointly by Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn

Design Research (abbreviated and trademarked as D/R) was a retail store founded in 1953 by Ben Thompson in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and which introduced the concept of lifestyle store. In the 1970s under subsequent ownership, it became a chain of a dozen stores across the United States, but went bankrupt in 1978. Thompson's goal was to provide "a place where people could buy everything they needed for contemporary living",[1] notably modern European furnishings and in particular Scandinavian design.

Without question, D/R was the most influential force in twentieth-century America in creating an awareness and appreciation for modern design in the consumer world.

Rob Forbes, founder
Design Within Reach[2]

D/R has continued to have an outsized reputation: in 2000, a survey of influential design stores named D/R as number one, though it had then been closed for 22 years.[2] The store influenced later retailers like Crate & Barrel,[3] Design Within Reach,[1] Pottery Barn, Workbench, and Conran's.[4]

Selection of products[edit]

The genius of Ben Thompson was that he wasn't a retailer, so he didn't approach retailing in a conventional way at all... Eventually we took the whole idea and translated it into a reproducible formula.

Lon Habkirk
Crate & Barrel[3]

Design Research carried an eclectic selection of products, from furniture to clothing, from toys to pots and pans, at a wide range of prices, introducing the idea of a lifestyle store.[5] It carried furnishings by such designers as Marcel Breuer, Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto, and Joe Colombo.[6]

Design Research was the exclusive US representative for the Finnish clothing and textiles of Marimekko from 1959 to 1976.[7] Jacqueline Kennedy was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1960 in a Marimekko sundress purchased at D/R.[8]


The original Design Research store was in a 19th-century wood frame mansard house at 57 Brattle Street, in Harvard Square, Cambridge.[4] D/R later added stores in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts; Lexington Avenue (1961) and East 57th Street (1964) in New York City; and Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco (1965).[citation needed]

This marvelous building... is conceived as a five-story glass showcase, faceted like the surface of a diamond. The facade is so transparent that the merchandise on display indoors becomes part of the architecture.

Robert Campbell
architecture critic
The Boston Globe[9]

In 1969, Thompson moved the original Cambridge store to a revolutionary new 24,000-square-foot (2,200 m2) building designed by his firm, Benjamin Thompson and Associates, at 48 Brattle Street in Harvard Square, on a block that came to be known as "Architects' Corner".[10] The 5-story building consists of flat concrete slabs supported by interior columns, and enclosed by frameless tempered glass walls.[11] The use of butted glass with no frame or mullions was unprecedented, and "allowed D/R to be a building almost 'without architecture'".[12]

It immediately received favorable reviews: "points the way to a method of glass building that could create a warmer city, adding color and light and optimism to the life of the streets".[13] The building won many awards over the years:[14]

The first D/R stores were all located in urban areas, but under new management starting in 1969, D/R opened stores in suburban shopping malls, which Thompson disapproved of:[citation needed] South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Massachusetts (1972); South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California (1972); and The Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton, Massachusetts (1974). The company also opened urban stores at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco (1973), and in downtown Philadelphia in Rittenhouse Square (1975).[16]

Later tenants of Brattle Street store[edit]

After D/R closed in 1978, the Brattle Street building housed a Crate & Barrel store (1979-January 2009[17]).

From October 2009 to April 2010, the vacant Brattle Street store hosted a temporary installation of D/R goods, visible from the street.[18]

Since August 2010, the building has housed an Anthropologie store.[19]

Corporate history[edit]

Design Research was started by the architect Ben Thompson in 1953.[citation needed] Spencer Field, a furniture designer, joined the firm as a 50-50 business partner in the early 1950s.[20] By 1966, it was clear that the company was underfinanced for Thompson's expansion plans, and he started looking for outside investors. The company was reorganized as a new corporate entity in 1967 and was recapitalized, with Field's interest being bought out in February 1968 by Peter J. Sprague, an entrepreneur and chairman of National Semiconductor, who became chairman.[citation needed]

In 1969, Sprague forced Thompson out as director of the company, but Thompson remained a stockholder.[citation needed] Under a succession of presidents, D/R opened more new stores, but Thompson felt that they had lost their distinctive style and approach.[citation needed] By 1976, the business was deteriorating, and in 1979 it declared bankruptcy. Rights to the names "Design Research" and "D/R" were bought jointly by Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.[21]


  • Janet Levy, "Design Research: Marketing 'Good design' in the 50s, 60s, and 70s", Master of Arts thesis at Parsons The New School for Design, 2004. chapter list
  • Walter J. Salmon, "Design Research, Inc.", Harvard Business School Case 578-203 (not seen)
  • Thompson, Jane; Lange, Alexandra (2010). Design Research: the store that brought modern living to American homes. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-6818-4.
  • Andrew Wagner, "Partners in Design", Dwell October/November 2005 full text original magazine spread
  • "Ben Thompson", ArchitectureBoston, Spring 2011 issue, Boston Society of Architects. Issue is dedicated entirely to Thompson with articles by various authors.


  1. ^ a b Pilar Viladas, "One-Stop Living", The New York Times September 29, 2010 [1]
  2. ^ a b Rob Forbes, "Foreword: Who's Your Daddy?" in Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange, Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes, 2010 ISBN 0-8118-6818-4, p. 7 excerpt available
  3. ^ a b Joseph P. Kahn (November 1, 1985). "On Display: Founder Gordon Segal's sense of selling as theater has made Crate & Barrel one of the world's most admired and imitated retailing operations". Inc. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Suzanne Slesin, "Design/ Research Store Starts Its Final Sale", The New York Times June 1, 1979
  5. ^ Carole Nicksin, "The Legacy of Design Research: The impact of the long-defunct retailer is still being felt within the home furnishings industry", HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network, November 8, 2004 full text
  6. ^ Rachel Travers, "Through a glass, brightly", The Boston Globe, October 29, 2009. [2]
  7. ^ Marianne Aav, Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, 2003 ISBN 0-300-10183-X, p. 305, 324 excerpts at Google Books
  8. ^ Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1960; in Marianne Aav, Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, 2003, ISBN 030010183X, p. 162
  9. ^ Robert Campbell, "Two urban drawing cards are now in limbo: Challenges ahead for Faneuil Hall Marketplace and a glass icon in Cambridge", The Boston Globe, December 21, 2008 full text
  10. ^ "Architects' Corner", Society of Architectural Historians, SAH Archipedia [3]
  11. ^ "25-Year Award to Design Research Headquarters", ArchitectureWeek full text
  12. ^ Tom Green, as quoted in Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo, Chris Grimley, Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 2015, ISBN 1580934242, p. 188
  13. ^ Architectural Record as quoted in Gavin W. Kleespies and Katie MacDonald (Cambridge Historical Society), "Design Research Building" in Harvard Square Business Association Archives [4] Archived 2010-12-23 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "BTA's Honors and Awards". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
  15. ^ Twenty Five Year Award Recipients.
  16. ^ Janet Levy, "Design Research: Marketing 'Good design' in the 50s, 60s, and 70s", Master of Arts thesis at Parsons The New School for Design, 2004. Chapter 2, p. 63
  17. ^ Peter F. Zhu, "Crate & Barrel To Close", The Harvard Crimson, November 19, 2008 full text
  18. ^ Alyssa Giacobbe, "A Look Back at Design Research", The New York Times October 28, 2009 full text
  19. ^ Xi Yu, "Women's Clothing Store Anthropologie To Light Up Space on Brattle St.", The Harvard Crimson, June 24, 2010 full text
  20. ^ Obituary, "Spencer Field, at 78; owned travel firm, designed furniture", The Boston Globe, February 21, 1997, p. B7
  21. ^ Levy, "Design Research" Chapter 1, p. 17-29

Further reading[edit]

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