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Ushering in a new era in interiors 

Designing for cannabis consumers

Legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada has opened a niche market for interior designers – one that is helping to change the conversation around the plant’s use, according to Tyler Gilchrist, research and strategy consultant and former Vice President of design research and strategy at Figure3.

Prior to Figure3 beginning work on Surterra, one of the first medical cannabis retail stores in Florida, Gilchrist conducted consumer research for the project, which revealed that that clinical lab designs deterred female consumers, while natural and organic tones eased their anxiety.

Those findings gave the firm ideas for designing a retail space that connected with consumers, especially females in Florida, and eventually received positive reports from clients, politicians and landlords. Business increased among retail stores, state politicians became comfortable with the sale of medical cannabis and landlords felt less anxious leasing the space. Surterra’s design not only eased the anxiety of consumers but of all stakeholders involved, which sparked a change in the conversation about cannabis consumption in Florida.

Designing retail cannabis stores, whether medical or recreational, is a new endeavour in today’s changing design landscape, says Gilchrist, and interior designers need to understand the consumer in order to communicate the client’s vision through design. He often hears the analogy of designing a cannabis retail space to be the "Apple store of cannabis products." While Apple certainly has a recognizable brand and design, the problem, he says is, “Apple stores only sell Apple products, which is a completely different experience.” To reach that level of brand recognition, interior designers need to understand the target market to effectively meet the needs of clients and consumers.

Aside from a few regulatory issues, Gilchrist says the firm embraced the opportunity to design with a clean slate as there were no other designs of a retail medical cannabis store to reference when they began their planning. For Figure3, starting from scratch meant they had an opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue about cannabis and pave the way for similar projects in the future.

“A lot of design results from thinking about people. When you design with them, the result is transformative,” says Mardi Najafi, figure3’s director of retail design, about the Surterra project.

In Canada, recreational cannabis became legal on Oct. 17, 2018 with most brick and mortar stores opening the same day, except for Ontario, which opened its first store on April 1, 2019.

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