Design Research or D/R was an innovative retail store founded in 1953 by Ben Thompson in Cambridge, Massachusetts; later it became a chain of a dozen stores across the United States; it went bankrupt in 1978. Thompson's goal was to provide "a place where people could buy everything they needed for contemporary living", 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
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 been closed for 22 years. It influenced later retailers like Crate & Barrel and Design Within Reach.
Selection of products
“ 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
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". It carried furnishings by such designers as Marcel Breuer, Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto, and Joe Colombo.
Design Research was the exclusive U.S. representative for the Finnish clothing and textiles of Marimekko from 1959 to 1976. Jacqueline Kennedy was pictured on the cover of Life Magazine in the early 60's in a Marimekko dress purchased at D/R.
The original Harvard Square Design Research store was in a 19th-century wood frame mansard house on Brattle Street, Cambridge. 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).
“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, Boston Globe
In 1969, Thompson moved the Cambridge store to a revolutionary new 24,000-square-foot (2,200 m2) store designed by his firm, Benjamin Thompson and Associates, at 48 Brattle Street. The building consists of flat concrete slabs supported by interior columns and enclosed by frameless tempered glass walls. It immediately received warm 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".
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: South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Massachusetts (1972), South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa (1972), and The Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton, Massachusetts (1974). It also opened stores at the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco (1973), and in downtown Philadelphia in Rittenhouse Square (1975).
Later tenants of Brattle Street store
After D/R closed in 1978, the Brattle Street building housed a Crate and Barrel store (1979-January 2009). From October 2009 to April 2010, the vacant Brattle Street store hosted a temporary installation of D/R goods, visible from the street. The building now houses an Anthropologie store (August 2010- ).
Design Research was started by Thompson in 1953. Spencer Field, a furniture designer, joined the firm as a 50-50 business partner in the early 1950s. By 1966, it was clear that the company was underfinanced for Thompson's expansion plans, and Thompson started looking for outside investors. The company was organized 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.
In 1969, Sprague forced Thompson out as director of the company, but Thompson remained a stockholder. Under a succession of presidents, D/R opened many new stores, but Thompson felt that the stores had lost their distinctive style and approach. By 1976, the business was deteriorating, and in 1979, it declared bankruptcy. Rights to the names "Design Research" and "DR" were bought jointly by Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.