Planning Around Paper

Jencen Architecture designs each Papyrus location differently while still incorporating the stationery retailer’s intangible sensibilities

Jencen Architecture designs Papyrus stores to be distinct from one another on the outside, but the interiors are similar, the products always displayed in an easy, organized fashion.

At a Glance




Retail design, store planning, and interiors

Total Billings for 2011
$2.5 million

In sunny San Diego, a new location for high-end paper retailer Papyrus embodies certain regional flavors with a 12-foot-tall patterned-tile mural and a sun-shading canopy. Meanwhile, more than half a continent away, in Toronto’s exclusive Yorkville neighborhood, another Papyrus location is going up that will incorporate a dramatic, 26-foot-tall storefront. One of the things that distinguishes the paper retailer is that each of its store locations looks markedly different from the others. The company doesn’t simply pop the same prototype into every mall. “You want individual stores to remain recognizable,” says Juleen Russell, architect and account director at Jencen Architecture, a Cleveland-based retail-architecture design studio and current Papyrus collaborator. “But a lot goes into each store when considering demographics, location, site, and how much product to carry.” Jencen has established itself as the firm that can translate Papyrus’s vision wherever the retailer decides to build.

Founded in 1950 as an importer of European paper products, Papyrus opened its first retail location in 1973 in Berkeley, California, and today it owns more than 430 stores under the Schurman Retail Group (SRG) banner. Jencen, which began specializing in retail design more than 40 years ago, overseeing projects from concept to realization to rollout, works with SRG in a characteristic full-service capacity: surveying spaces, analyzing existing conditions, conceiving store designs, putting together plans, conducting construction management, and more.

With a chic product line that includes high-quality greeting cards, gift wrap, stationery, note cards, journals, and gifts, Papyrus is one of the fastest growing social-expression retailers in the United States. And the company’s international presence is growing, too; last year Papyrus opened its first Canadian location, in Calgary, and it now operates 10 stores throughout the country. A European footprint is expected to follow. “We understand how fully collaborative [the company’s construction] efforts have to be,” Russell says. “Clients, vendors, sign designers, general contractors, landlords—everyone has to work together. Communication is a big consideration.”

Al Stefan, SRG’s director of store design and construction, agrees. “Jencen keeps up with me,” he says. “I’d seen their work; I knew they were some of the top designers in the country. But they also really understand retail, and partnering with [a firm] like that is incredibly important.”

Papyrus’s new Vintage Cherry Blossom locations are done up with dark hardwood floors and warm tones that enhance the shopping experience.

That understanding involves knowing how to transform intangible but invaluable qualities into a three-dimensional shopping experience. Papyrus customers are buying products to celebrate relationships and milestones; Jencen works to create an atmosphere that reinforces the brand. Typical stores are a compact 1,200 square feet, so products need to be highlighted in a way that feels organized and easy to navigate yet still ultimately personal. Shoppers are encouraged by soft lighting and tactile displays to feel comfortable browsing and asking for assistance; Papyrus is well-known for its superior customer service and customizable printing.

Jencen is currently helping to develop Papyrus’s Vintage Cherry Blossom concept stores. The design of these specialty boutiques, which have dark-paneled floors, feminine accents, and cherry blossom chandeliers, is already opening new doors for the paper retailer. Rather than approaching shopping centers for potential expansion, Papyrus is now being wooed by landlords who find themselves taken with the company’s aesthetic. “We feel we have the best cards and stationery out there,” Stefan says. “The product comes at a premium, but it’s worth it.” One can imagine him saying the same thing about Jencen and its work. ABQ