Nina Terjesen Combines Beauty and Meaning

Nina Terjesen seeks to tell the stories of each city she designs stores for, infusing them all with local art and surprises for visitors

The Neon Museum is one of Nina Terjesen’s favorite Las Vegas experiences, displaying old casino and retired business signage to detail the city’s storied history. Terjesen and her team are experimenting with a combination of vintage images where parts of the image come to life through lighted elements. Courtesy of the Neon Museum

“I remember being in one of [my dad’s] trucks, inches away from a beautiful sculpture being prepared for transport to a museum and thinking how incredible it must be to create art as a profession,” recalls Nina Terjesen, whose father’s profession was coordinating the delivery of artworks in New York City museum exhibitions.

A native New Yorker, Terjesen grew up surrounded by iconic structures like the Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building, and the Guggenheim, which she credits as crucial inspiration for her career in architecture. “These [buildings] led my imagination to consider the endless possibilities of how a building could be expressed,” she explains. “I studied what made each of these landmarks unique, and which elements were similar.”

Nina Terjesen, Director of Store Design, Marshall Retail Group Portrait by Kelly Terjesen

Today, Terjesen has found her place as director of store design at the Marshall Retail Group, the nation’s leading specialty retailer in the resort-casino and airport marketplace. One of her crown jewels is La Guardia Airport, where she worked with premier local firms like Syracuse-based VDI on design details and store fixtures that serve as first impressions of New York City.

“Our company’s core purpose is ‘creating unique experiences,’” Terjesen says. “When working on an airport [request for proposal], we like to give each location something compelling and special. We’re not content to do the same thing repeatedly. It’s a lot more work, but we believe creating unique experiences is what sets us apart in this industry.” One key element of her work is to incorporate local art, something that’s recently become a mission for her.

The design director reflects on the build-outs of La Guardia’s the Bowery Bay Shops and Gotham News, when she reached out to Meres One, founder of the famed 5 Pointz, for a collaboration. “5 Pointz was the largest legal outdoor display of graffiti art, but it was whitewashed and demolished with no warning to the artists,” Terjesen explains. “Meres One painted A Tribute to Queens on three huge letters, spelling out ‘LGA,’ the airport code. These letters are displayed on the backside of the Gotham News store in Terminal B at LaGuardia and can be seen from the planes as they taxi on the tarmac.”

“A Queens Tribute”, the LGA letters were painted by Meres One on the backside of Gotham News, visible to planes taxiing on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport. Photo by Eamonn Conway

Meres One introduced Terjesen to Marie-Cecile Flageul, the curator of the Museum of Street Art’s citizenM Bowery (MOSA), who helped her with curating the Bowery Bay Shop’s digital experience—one that allowed guests to have their in-store selfies incorporated into the one of five murals from 5 Pointz. Terjesen also commissioned local photographer Eamonn Conway to use images of the High Line Park for the store’s fitting room. The artist Mercury joined the team to render Manya, a Borikén-inspired interpretation of the High Line, for the fitting room’s exterior. “It’s an exhilarating work of art,” Terjesen says.

“We have stores throughout the United States where we have found local art partners that are meaningful and artists who will add that layer of authentic cultural experience to our stores,” Terjesen adds. “The artworks that we have selected resonate with me because each piece tells a fascinating local story or offers a specificity of place about that city or region that a passenger might not have discovered if they hadn’t seen it in our store.”

To design Gotham News at LaGuardia Airport, Terjesen partnered with New York-based VDI to help with all of the perimeter millwork and a large portion of the floor fixturing. Photo by Eamonn Conway

Marshall Retail Group is currently developing the Neon Museum store, designed for McCarran Airport as a way to pique tourists’ interest in visiting the Las Vegas museum itself, also referred to as “the Neon Boneyard” for its large display of vintage neon signs. Terjesen worked with YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company), the maker of the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” display, as well as the majority of the Las Vegas Strip’s signage.

“We plan to include a mini version of the ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign on the store exterior and are experimenting with a combination of vintage images where parts of the image come to life through lighted elements,” Terjesen says. She adds that the small store will feature one long table for browsing merchandise, as well as gravel-based flooring tile reminiscent of the gravel walkways in the actual Boneyard.

The Neon Museum Sign in Las Vegas, inviting visitors to explore “the Boneyard.” Courtesy of the Neon Museum

Terjesen also promises that the Neon Museum store will include an element of surprise—something that’s been a staple of her work since childhood. The director recalls how her favorite artist growing up, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, was known for hiding his daughter Nina’s name in each of his drawings. “I looked forward to his drawings every weekend [in the New York Times] and enjoyed finding ‘Nina’ hidden in multiple places in his artwork.” Besides sharing a name, Terjesen was enamored with the concept of tucking surprises into displays.

“I’ve started to hide the name ‘Nina’ within our store designs,” Terjesen says. “There are four ‘hidden Ninas’ in the Bowery Bay Shops. I guess you could call it an homage to Hirschfeld, or maybe just my way of tagging the stores.”

But overall, Terjesen’s goal is to give beauty and meaning to the shops she creates through the narratives of each location. “We search out famous people, inventions, and historic companies in the area to see what we can glean from their stories,” the director says. “Every city has a multitude of tales that are woven into the overall story of that city, and we like to find the best of those and retell them through our store designs. Sometimes, it keeps me awake at night—going over the images and research until I can find the best angle and most interesting way to tell a story.”