Designing for the Sport of Sex


This might be the one sex shop you can walk into with your mother and not feel awkward. When given the brief to design a SoHo storefront for Contact Sports, an elevated and experiential sex and wellness destination, Madelynn Ringo was obviously intrigued. As the founder of her own NYC-based eponymous design studio, working with Contact Sports’ founders Justin and Chelsea Kerzner was a match made in heaven, two disruptive and creative teams collaborating to bring their respective visions to life. Listen to how a vintage aesthetic and cheeky signage can feel totally modern, a locker room feel luxurious, and a brief homage to hockey’s great one, Wayne Gretzky.

Season 2 of Once Upon A Project is presented by Shaw Contract.

This transcript was generated by an automated service. In some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.

AJ: [00:00:00] Welcome to Once Upon A Project. I’m your host, AJ Paron. Designed futurist from Sandow Design Group. This is the podcast that goes behind the scenes and how a project comes to fruition.  Not the pretty pictures, but the amazing, and sometimes out of the ordinary stories that make up the world of design.

 Buckle up, my friends, as we have quite the doozy for you today. Let’s talk about something people don’t like to talk about, something that could be quite embarrassing for many. And if it’s something uncomfortable to talk about, imagine trying to design for it. let’s start by introducing our heroine, the designer willing to go where no designer has gone before, Madeline Ringo.

Madelynn: My name is Madelynn Ringo, and I am the founder and creative director of Ringo Studio. [00:01:00] We are a Brooklyn based studio. We specialize in designing experiential spaces. We are most well known for our retail designs, but we also work on projects in the healthcare industry and for brands that are more fitness related.

I started Ringo Studio at the end of 2020, which was Kind of a, an interesting time to start a business that focuses on retail design, because the world was certainly in a difficult spot at that moment. But I think, you know, I had really had a great series of professional experiences that both trained me in interior design, but also some that were really allowing me to experience working with brands.

I worked for Glossier as an in house designer. I also worked a little bit for the Standard Hotels. And it was during those experiences where I realized that interior design and architecture is really found in so many different industries, and [00:02:00] particularly the way that brands in today’s world have to communicate with their customers through retail.

It’s a really incredible design problem, and it allows us to work directly with some of, you know, the coolest brands that are building communities these, these days and, and really kind of work with them through the lens of architecture, but also dip our toes into what it means to create a brand identity.

And what it means to create a marketing experience. So I think with Ringo Studio, while we are primarily an interior design and architecture studio, we really work kind of like creative directors and creative strategists with these brands and alongside them thinking a lot about brand identity.

AJ: Most designers have a vision of the work they think they are going to do in the future. I asked Madeline if doing retail design was a part of her plan at the start of her career

I think if you asked me 10 years ago if I [00:03:00] was going to be a retail designer, I would have thought that that was a very unsexy version of my profession, but I always wanted to work on public space, and what I have found over the last 10 You know, five, seven years of my professional development is actually retail is very much a public space, and it can very much be a cultural destination within a city, and especially the way consumers are engaging with brands these days and the types of community that they’re trying to create in cities for their customers.

Working on retail enables us to create public space, and I think that was what led me to that typology of architecture. Some of the amazing things that I’ve learned while working in the retail industry is that the problems that we’re faced with solving when we work with these clients, specifically on a retail, We’re thinking both [00:04:00] about the customer in the store and the way that the customer is experiencing the brand, but we’re also very much tasked with designing the operations of the store.

And that very much becomes like a true architectural problem of space and ergonomics and ergonomics. Really making a space both functional, but also beautiful. And I think that is something that really surprised me when beginning to work on these retail projects is really how much I enjoyed both thinking about the operations of the store and designing for operations, but also designing for the brand and designing for the customer.

Like I mentioned before, I didn’t previously think that retail design was a sexy version of being an architect or being an interior designer. But, ultimately, the types of brands that we get to work with are incredibly creative. We get to work with some of the most innovative companies and founders that are really pushing the boundaries both in the way that [00:05:00] they’re thinking about art direction and the way that they’re thinking about How consumers are engaging with brands.

And it’s a very creative space to work and it’s very sexy. And that leads me to The project that I want to tell you about today with a new brand that is just launching called contact sports.

AJ: Now, from the store name, you might be envisioning this project is about a sports warehouse where you go to get your football gear. But remember how Madeline talked about retail being sexy? Just wait for it.

Madelynn: People always often ask me how I find. certain clients. And I think one of the things I love about Ringo Studio is that we’re constantly working with these innovative brands, but the work that we’re putting out and the brands that we have worked with in the past often lead us directly to the next client.

And of course, these clients are people that are looking to disrupt something or change something about an industry. And they’re coming to Ringo Studio. [00:06:00] Mostly because they have seen our portfolio of projects, but also because a lot of these founders are often connected to each other. So this particular project came from a word of mouth kind of recommendation from a previous client that we had.

So the founders of Contact Sports approached us and told us they wanted to create a retail experience for a new brand. Easy. We know how to do that. Same, same kind of rinse and repeat. We’ve got this. But then when I got on my first Zoom call with them and they started telling me a little bit about the project and the brand, I was definitely a little bit, yeah, it was definitely a little bit surprising to me.

They came to me with the name Contact Sports, but when they started telling me about the idea behind their brand, it was ultimately to change the way that people thought about shopping for sex toys.

AJ: Um, what? Did she just say sex toys? [00:07:00] Yes, she did

Madelynn: So, when they started to introduce the brand and the ideas and sort of the product that they were interested in showcasing in the space, they wanted to create a store for shopping for sex toys. And immediately, my reaction was a little bit, like, a little bit embarrassed, a little bit like, Oh, this is an interesting topic to be engaging with a professional Zoom call.

Now I’m sitting here talking about sex, ultimately, with people over Zoom. And I think I was immediately both nervous and intrigued, but Also, like a light bulb went off because usually when a client comes to me, I, I can immediately reference other competitors or other experiences that we can draw inspiration from or that we can walk into the space and experience it and kind of learn from what’s already out there.

But when I [00:08:00] was thinking about shopping for sex toys, and particularly in New York, I do not know of a single place that I have been to that has actually made me feel comfortable shopping for sex toys. And I think that was like a lightbulb moment that went off, like, Oh my god, this is genius. There is no incredible experiential retail space.

that is curating for this industry.

Technically, the brand refers to it as sex gear, which is probably something I should clarify. So while Contact Sports is ultimately selling sex toys or sex gear, as they refer to it, and accessories and apparel, the brand is really positioning themselves as a sporting goods store. They believe that sex should be fun and exciting, and they found this clever opportunity To pair the idea of sex with a concept that we were all, you know, inherently familiar [00:09:00] with, which is also sports.

Leaning into ideas of a sense of playfulness and a sense of team sports. I think sports can both be solo and if you’re A runner. It can also be a group activity. As you begin to read between the lines, when you really think about an analogy of how we can connect sports and sex, at first you might be like, I don’t get this brand.

I don’t understand how we’re going to talk about sex through the lens of sports, but they’ve really found this creative way to think about. So there’s two things I wanted to say. One is that from an industry standpoint, I think sex toys have become really popular over the last couple of years. So they saw that as an opportunity, but also kind of leaning into this idea of.

I’m going to be talking about the importance of team sports and solo sports and the playfulness and the kind of sweatiness and you’re touching people as you’re bumping into each other on a basketball court. And when you start [00:10:00] to think about that, like it can be a very sexy and sort of intimate experience.

You know, a lot of times if you think back to your high school years. Or your college years, like people in sports were glorified, those athletes were the jocks of the school or the cheerleaders or the people with incredible talent from a sports perspective, they were the heroes of everybody’s high school, and I think there was like a strong sex appeal around.

Those ideas and around that character within our youth. So they were starting to tap into some of those threads, both through the confidence that you would have playing sports and, but also something we talked a lot about is when you’re on a sports team, you’re often like traveling with this group.

You’re often getting ready with them. And a lot of that meant you’re stripping down naked in a locker room. And [00:11:00] as a young person. Especially when people are beginning to get used to their sexual identities, like, that can be a very Kind of wild experience. You’re starting to undress in front of your teammates.

You’re deciding whether you’re comfortable or not comfortable being seen naked by other people, but you’re also doing it very casually and you’re just getting ready for your basketball game. You’re throwing your Jersey on. When you think about it, there’s actually quite a lot of really amazing connections between discovering your sexuality and sports and kind of the, the playfulness.

I think what the brand really wants to express. is that sex can be fun, and it can be thought of as a game, and they’re trying to really show that it doesn’t have to be intimidating. And I think another really important part is the idea of practicing. A lot of people feel that they have to be amazing at sex.

But you have to practice in the same way that you would practice for a big game. You have to practice and explore and learn [00:12:00] about your sexuality. And through that practice, you get more confident.

 Wow, now I have to hand it to Madeline, who can talk so professionally about this subject. It took me a minute or two to wrap my head around it. Again, design firms do not have to take on a project that they don’t feel is in alignment to their work. So I wanted to know from Madeline, if at any point, was she reluctant to take on this project?

I didn’t have any hesitation at all when taking this project. It was exactly the type of client that we like to work with. You know, someone who is thinking about disrupting an industry, has a very clear problem to solve, and a huge opportunity to Inject that world with all sorts of creative ideas and architecture and design because it doesn’t really exist yet.

And then I think as well as being excited about the topic and maybe creating a new type of architectural experience for that, [00:13:00] for that world, I think the clients in that first initial zoom call. The way that they were so passionate about the desire to make shopping for sex toys fun and exciting as opposed to a little bit intimidating and a little bit scary or maybe even shameful, kind of feeling like you’re going into a secret place and shopping for something that you’re not supposed to be buying and to hear how clear their message was, it.

And that it was clearly an architectural problem that needed to be solved and a design problem, I was super excited.

 So Madeline and her team were up for the challenge, . The next question is, where do you start on a project like this?

So at Rinko Studio, when we begin working with a client, one of my favorite and what I feel like is one of the most important ways to start a project is to go out, be on the ground, and get curious. So if we’re [00:14:00] designing, a healthcare experience, we go out and we check out different healthcare spaces and we put ourselves in the customer’s shoe and we walk through that experience.

In this case, designing a sex toy store, the first thing that I asked my team to do was to go out and shop for sex toys. Which is kind of an awkward thing to tell your employees and your team. Introducing this project to my team, again, there was both a lot of excitement around the project to introduce my team to this, but It’s also a little bit of a taboo subject, talking about sex with my employees and with my team.

There’s definitely some hesitation on making sure that both I’m doing it in a respectful way, but also, again, not accidentally leaning or falling in to making it feel taboo, but actually through the way of even introducing it to my team, opening up those ideas of making it a more inclusive and not a shameful topic.

So we [00:15:00] call a meeting at Ringo Studio, likely at this point it was over Zoom. So we call a Zoom meeting, introducing the new topic. And yeah, I think it was like, for a minute, just lots of giggles. And like, I was like, what? But again, I think they also had the same light bulb effect, which is like, wow.

Actually, I’ve never been to an interesting retail experience shopping for sex toys. Each one of us could think about either ways that this is showcased in media, or in even the movie industry, or you’re driving down a highway and you see the sex toy stores in middle of America, like all of those things, like people have experienced shopping or thinking about sex toys in some way or another.

And it’s whether or not you’ve felt comfortable or if it, it feels like a relatable experience to you. So, one of the first things I asked them to do was to begin this on the ground research. In New York, that meant, first stop, [00:16:00] visiting the Museum of Sex.

 Side note. Believe it or not, I know exactly where the Museum of Sex is, as I used to work for a company whose design charm was literally next door. So when I would travel to New York for work, and my kids would use find my friends. I’d get screenshots of my location from them, which of course looked like I was not at work, but visiting the Museum of Sex.

They thought it was very funny.

And, we organized a day. My team Went out to the Museum of Sex, and they also went around to a couple of different shops in New York, and they just kind of shopped for sex toys, and really tried to understand, through the lens now of a design problem, what were the things that they were noticing about these spaces, and these stores, and the experiences.

Even the way that they were like engaging with the staff at the store and where did they see opportunities for [00:17:00] improvement and where did they notice that they were feeling uncomfortable or felt like they didn’t feel welcomed or weren’t educated enough to shop for these. types of items.

 So for anyone working in a human resources capacity or for other business owners out there, I know what you’re thinking. Might you be setting up the company for a sexual harassment lawsuit, asking employees to research something so sexual? Let’s hear how Madeleine addressed this.

As, you know, the business owner being in that position where I’m now introducing a project to my team that they might not feel comfortable working on or they might not feel comfortable talking about these experiences and these questions that we ultimately had to [00:18:00] dive into when designing a sex toy store.

I’m thinking, are they uncomfortable by this? Is this an HR? Am I going to put somebody in a position where, you know, they want to leave the studio or they say they don’t want to work on this project? And I think the way that I was trying to reframe it, offer it up as an opportunity for us to really bring good ideas and good design to an industry or an area of retail that hasn’t received that luxury yet.

And I think something that is really, really important context about Ringo Studio for this story is that we have always been, and we still are, a team of almost entirely women. At the time when we started this project, we were a team of five women and one gay man. And so, inherently, all of our sexual identities and our sexual experiences started to really play a role in how [00:19:00] we were thinking about designing this space.

I think it’s also important to note some of our team members are from other countries, and it was kind of amazing to start to see how everyone’s unique background and their unique experience Both through sex, but also through sports, because that was the two areas that we were partnering together in this project.

But yeah, just really getting to know a little bit more my team on an intimate level, and understanding how might their past experiences and past sexual experience influence the way that they’re thinking about this design.

 Well, it sounds like Madeline handled this tricky situation well. So back to the project. Now that the giggles are out of the way, and people are more comfortable with the challenge, what’s next?

So we begin the project with this on the ground research. We’re visiting the Museum of Sex. We’re getting comfortable on our team, [00:20:00] on our Zoom calls to start talking about this. We’re kind of slowly figuring it out. And then we have to begin the design process. So a lot of that is working directly with the client to think about what is the kind of color palette that they’re working with.

When we began this project, the ideas and the color palette and kind of the initial imagery that was being shared with us as inspiration was very literally a translation of sports. It was bright kind of neon greens and like saturated purples and they were tapping into kind of like a sports jersey, really kind of literally taking sports references as design motifs.

At that time, when we began the project, the logo actually looked much more like a Nike store, or much more like something that you would perceive to be like a Supreme, or something that has this very kind of streetwear, sporty feel. And [00:21:00] so, we started on our way, we started gathering reference images, we’re looking at how can we bring in references from the idea of trophies, and, other motifs like the lines that you see , a running track, or the materiality of a basketball court, or maybe even how can we bring in the sexiness of the idea of a basketball net, and does that begin to translate to this world of sex toys?

When we got about halfway through the project, there was maybe a little bit of concern from my team. that the store was beginning to look too much like a Nike store, or it was beginning to look too literally a translation of sports. I have to tell you that the first design iteration, it actually had a basketball court in the back of the store.

So you can imagine that we were really almost struggling with How to make this space feel actually sexy. And part of that was coming [00:22:00] from the color palette that we were provided with, and even the typography of the logo, but we were definitely translating it very literally. And we were nearly finished with the project.

We had gone through the whole design process, schematic design, design development, construction documents. We were buttoned up, ready to go. fabricators. We knew that the store needed to be open by September. So we were like, marching towards that. We knew that was a real priority for the client. And then we get a phone call.

And the phone call is from the client. And he’s like, I think we just want to talk about the design for a minute. And we just want to like, take a minute. I think we’re going to change some things. And so, I’m like, all right, we’re literally at this moment ready to press go. We’ve already handed off the drawings to a couple of mill workers.

Like we are in go time. And then we had this meeting with the client and he tells us, I think we might be changing a couple things. We’re [00:23:00] gonna bring in this creative director who’s got a lot of really amazing experiences with branding. And we probably won’t change a lot, so don’t worry. But I think we might change a couple of things.

And so we’re like, okay, I guess we’re going to pause and we have this whole drawing set. We’ve already gone through the whole process. My team is ready to go. We’re excited to get this thing built. And then when you get a call like that, yeah, I think it really threw us off. It sort of demotivated our team a little bit and it made everyone feel like maybe we hadn’t Thought about it through the right lens or maybe after all of that work, we weren’t going to see the idea come to life, which is one of the most rewarding parts of design is really to design something, test it out and see it get built, especially in retail that can be a very fast timeline.

Ultimately, I think it was actually the perfect moment. The best thing that happened to the project.

 for any of you in design, you [00:24:00] know this happens a lot. The client has uncertainties, a change of heart. So I asked Madeline, how did she feel at the time about this derailment?

I mean, I think you never want to hear a client come to you and say that they’re having second thoughts about how you have dreamed up their space. So certainly I was nervous and I was worried, were they going to keep working with us? How do we pivot really fast to whatever this new idea is going to be?

I was mostly worried about the timeline. I was thinking, how do we redesign the whole space and still get it open by September. And so, yeah, I was definitely nervous, but I think during the whole design process, we were also really struggling with this literal translation and my team and I had had a lot of conversations around how do we make this store feel sexier?

It never felt right to us either, and [00:25:00] yeah, and I think at that moment, I guess maybe I would jump then to the next conversation that we had with the client, which is the day when they sent us the new logo and the new color palette, and that was such an amazing day. So, we get an email from them, here’s our new logo, our new color palette, I open up the email, and it was perfect.

It was a complete 180 shift, the logo was now sexy, it was done in a A cursive type of topography, it had a rose on the logo, and the color palette had shifted from purple, and green, and sort of silvers, to something that was like burgundy, and dark greens, and things that immediately felt more sexy, and more exciting, and yeah, that was a good day. [00:26:00]

This is probably a joke. For all designers in the industry, but when a client tells you, Oh, we’re just going to change one thing. Oh, it’s not going to be a big change. It’s just a small thing here. And then next thing you know, you’re redesigning the entire store when we saw the new color palette and we saw the new logo, we knew that the entire store had to change. There was nothing that we could keep from the original design that would have made sense with this new branding world.

And that was actually quite refreshing because we were so much more excited by this new logo and this new palette. And I think it really solved this problem of freeing us from making such a literal translation. And it allowed us to really make the store sexy. And that was exciting. So now we have the new logo, and we have the new color palette.

The next question that I had is, When do you need this store to be [00:27:00] open? How fast do we need to execute this? And actually, retail always hits on certain calendar trends throughout the year. People always want to be open in September, back to school. Nobody really wants to open a store in January in New York.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s cold and miserable and nobody wants to be outside during that. But the new timeline was genius. The new timeline was, we want to launch for Valentine’s Day. And, again, that was another light bulb that went off for us in this design process, which is like, wow, that’s perfect.

You open a sex toy store, you launch a, a brand. That is celebrating the idea of love and sex and sort of the joy and playfulness that comes with that. And yes, you should definitely open on Valentine’s Day.I guess it was August when we got this new information.

And so, Valentine’s Day in February, that’s not a short timeline, but it’s definitely not a luxuriously long timeline. So, I think [00:28:00] one of the biggest challenges when we started moving towards that new timeline is just to realize in the design industry, it’s really hard to get things moving during the holiday break.

 That holiday break, which is the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January, landed right smack dab in the middle of the most critical fabrication part of our new timeline. And this is the moment where we needed to onboard fabricators, and we needed to source materials, and we needed to place orders, and all of that fell right at this end of the year season.

So, naturally, we had So much struggle getting in touch with vendors, getting them to bid on our project in time. We were like contacting people right in the middle of their vacation. And everyone was on vacation. Even my own team was on vacation. At some point they all left and it was me and a huge list of vendor emails that were not responding to [00:29:00] me.

And that was a big challenge. The client has a lot of experience in development and retail, and we began pivoting and trying to do it a little bit scrappier than we would normally do on a formal design project. So rather than reaching out iconic millwork fabricators and people that we had worked with and trusted and knew that they were available, we were like, Reaching out to like friends of friends and being like, do you know somebody who can make this metal detail for us?

And the client was actually incredible in this part of the project because they had so many great connections that we were able to tap into everything from lighting designers to millwork fabricators to even material vendors. I was hesitant at first in working with vendors and fabricators that I had never worked with before.

We knew the timeline was tight and we knew that we had to execute. Really high [00:30:00] quality level of fabrication. I like to work with people that I’ve previously had experience with, but those people were not available during this project. So yeah, we really put together like quite a scrappy team ultimately it was amazing. . People were working around the clock during those critical times. . We’re moving through the design process.

We’ve got this new logo, this new color palette. We’re starting to bring together new references and really starting the project over. Sculpting the space again, really thinking about this new customer experience. I think the conversations that we were having with the client and with our team continued to challenge us always getting on a zoom call with a client and having to talk about things like, where are we going to put the butt plugs and how do you best display.

a vibrator. And these are things that we just had to get comfortable with. But I think ultimately the way that the client and their whole team was so authentically [00:31:00] excited about changing this idea that sex is embarrassing. It made it so much easier to, on our own team, To talk about openly these ideas and these words and place the dildo in the right spot and get the things merchandised in the right spot.

It just made it really simple and I think that’s what’s great about working with a client that is open to changing the way people are perceiving things. They were really fun and they, we were laughing, we were having a good time.

 So the challenges were met head on, which is great. Crisis averted. But now, how did the team, and Madelynn specifically, Create the design innovation for the store.

So I think my instinct when working on any interior project, I always add a lot of curves. I always inherently, probably from my own sexuality, I’m always looking for things to be curvy and sensual and feminine [00:32:00] and bright colors and really evoking. One of the big inspiration images and ideas behind contact sports.

Was this idea of a locker room and the sort of material palette, and maybe even some of the ideas that come along with that felt a little bit masculine in a way that I wasn’t as comfortable operating in that design language. My team were mostly women, but we actually the lead designer on this project was a gay man.

That helped a lot, having our team both have a woman and a man’s perspective, as well as a gay man’s perspective. Like, the diversity in our team allowed us to really work through some of these challenges, and make sure that we were creating a space that was designed to make all sorts of people feel comfortable.

Although, it might make some people feel uncomfortable, and I think that’s the beauty of design. It’s supposed to be evocative, and I think some people that walk through the store, might feel that it has too much masculinity [00:33:00] in it. And other people will walk in the store and see how sexy the back lounge is and how beautiful it is.

And they’ll appreciate it from different angles. When I first showed it to people, even the final construction images, they were like, wow, this is a really different look for a Ringo studio. Like, this is darker. It’s more masculine. It has a lot more right angles in it. Like it, it was immediately a different look for our portfolio.

And I think that’s because we were certainly, like we work for any project, we really have to embody the brand’s design, whether or not that is relative to the way that we want it to look. Like, we really have to respect what the brand is curating and the story and the image that they’re trying to put together.

So, the store is much darker. We used wood all throughout the space. All of the walls are lined with a deep, deep walnut. And, you know, we translated the color palette, the burgundy. paint and the sort [00:34:00] of dark green, we found this beautiful woven fabric that we used to style each of the lockers. And I think I should probably talk about , like how the lockers became important.

 First, I needed Madelynn to walk me through the store so I could really understand what the space was looking like.

So to tell you a little bit about what the store looks like. When you come up off the sidewalk and you get a glimpse of the façade, you see a window full of roses. It almost looks like this is just a rose shop. And that was one of the concepts that we really wanted to bring into the design. The logo had a beautiful rose on it.

And the rose can both be tied to this idea of Olympic podiums when someone is, is winning. And they receive a bouquet of roses, but it’s also this sexy thing that you give to your lovers. This rose shop in the front of the store really creates a sense of intrigue and curiosity. So, when you come in [00:35:00] to the left, you see this huge wall of fresh roses.

The floor is covered in a mosaic tile we incorporated. The brand’s logo and did a custom mosaic of the rose in the middle of the floor. And then as you enter in the space, the perimeter walls are lined with this really dark, rich walnut texture. And the walls have this very rhythmic design to them because we were really trying to recreate this experience and this.

the locker room. And the reason why the locker room was so inspirational, both for the client and for our design palette, was it was hitting on both this idea of sports and intimacy of sports and being in the locker rooms and changing and getting ready with your team, but it was also hitting on this very It’s a very nostalgic aesthetic as well, something that the brand through their apparel and the other items that they were designing and the imagery that they were producing for the brand, it had this very [00:36:00] nostalgic sports aesthetic.

So the locker room became this idea that we used as both an architectural tool. a merchandising display tool, but also the palette for the space. when you walk through the second section of the store, you’re surrounded on all sides by this rhythmic, dark locker form. And in each locker, you begin to have shelves where you’re starting to shop for the different accessories and the different sex gear.

The third part of the store, which is in the back after you walk up a couple of steps, is really meant to be like a lounge, somewhere where you can feel comfortable hanging out, where you can feel like you can engage with the staff, ask questions about how to use the gear, how to use the tools. Maybe you’re not sure where to start, but The third section of the store is meant to be a lounge to bring their community in and allow people to feel like they could hang out in this space.

Again, very different from any other sex tour we’ve been in where it did [00:37:00] not welcome the idea of people comfortably hanging out like a community space. The burgundy colors really come into play on the ceiling and some of the walls. We wanted the ceiling to really Disappear and give like a darker glow over the whole space.

The top of the walls and the ceiling are burgundy, and then the lower part of the walls are all in this deep walnut. And then you have the tile, which we used both in the changing rooms and on the floor. The lighting is also very sexy. We have this beautiful sort of coffered ceiling that’s hanging above the locker section.

And I think this is a moment where we start to really elevate the retail experience. We’ve got these kind of vintage locker motifs, but then we’ve also got this like very elevated lighting experience. And it was through some of those details that we were able to elevate, through design, this idea of Shopping for sex toys.

 [00:38:00] I have to admit, I don’t know what it’s like to shop for sex toys. So I asked Madeline to describe the experience they wanted the customer to have while they interacted with the space.

I think when you walk into the space, you will immediately realize that you’re in a curated environment. And through the material palette and through even the way that we’ve sequenced the space, it’s not meant to be exclusive. Even though the products are curated, and maybe some of the products have a higher price point, the store is not meant to feel exclusive.

But it is meant to feel like an elevated experience. In retail, recently, we’ve gotten to experience all sorts of things. Makeup stores that are very elevated or fitness stores like a brand like Equinox that has really elevated the idea of fitness. Contact Sports is creating a curated experience and it’s not necessarily in the category of luxury because it’s meant to be welcoming and [00:39:00] accessible to all, but it definitely feels elevated.

And it feels less intimidating. You can shop for sex gear and sex toys. In the same way that you might go and shop for clothing. So, I think that’s an important connection that we were trying to make, to relate this category of merchandise to the same way that you would design a medium to high end apparel store.

 And of course, I’m dying to know, did they meet their deadline of February 14th, just in time for Cupid to buy his gifts?

So, the store officially opened on March 1st. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the Valentine’s Day timeline, but that, is how all projects work sometimes. You have some that you win, some that you lose. But the store opened on March 1st. And I think the initial feedback that we were getting from customers and from even our friends [00:40:00] who were Seeing these images as we’re starting to post them on social media, is really one of curiosity, you know, they’re excited to go in here.

They’re excited to talk about it and ask about it, which is, you might not engage with so comfortably and openly with this idea of sex toys, but our design has given people a sense of comfortableness and a sense of feeling like they’re excited to get involved in this and something that’s really great about having the Rose Shop at the front of the store is that it allows people to get curious and walk in.

They may not realize the name Contact Sports. They walk in and they see roses. They don’t necessarily know what they’re getting into towards the back of the store. And it, it offers the opportunity for someone to walk in. Who, maybe if you told them it was a sex toy store, they would get uncomfortable and turn around.

But now they’re already in the store, and they’re seeing that the space is really beautiful, and it’s really elevated, and [00:41:00] Now they’re getting curious about the products and they begin wandering through the space and they see these beautiful curated collections and vignettes of the product, but the merchandising strategy really creates a build up of a story.

next to the lubricants, there also might be a beautiful candle that is meant, , to support the idea of setting the mood. It’s not just the gear that they’re curating. It’s the whole mood of intimacy and sex. And I think the way that we’ve got it merchandised or the way that the brand has merchandised the space and the design tools that we use in creating this sequencing and this like narrative as you walk through the space, it really allows the customer.

To slowly get introduced to the idea and through that hopefully allow them to feel more comfortable shopping. I think some of the lessons that we learned in this project range from everything such as [00:42:00] how we talk about projects as a team and the level of openness that you have to have. with your design team to really get to a good design.

We initially had a barrier of maybe an uncomfortable conversation topic. But in order to get to that great experience at the end, we had to get past that boundary and we had to really come together and openly talk about both our, maybe our own sexual experiences or how we feel about the topics of sex and intimacy amongst our team.

And those conversations. We’re really important and critical for the design process. I think one of the biggest things I learned in this project is you only get to launch your brand once and there’s no reason to rush it. You only get to make that announcement once you only get one shot at really that big brand moment.

And the way that both the client And our team were able to acknowledge that what we had started [00:43:00] with wasn’t right and wasn’t quite perfect. And rather than seeing that as a negative and everyone sort of freaking out or not being able to come to a resolution, both the client’s team and our team, we were able to acknowledge that something wasn’t right.

And we needed to pause, sit down and redirect the design and redirect the experience. And so I think that was a huge learning. You know, we didn’t make the first opening deadline and we actually didn’t make the second, but the store experience that we ultimately created. It’s perfect for the storytelling that they want and for the customer experience that they wanted to create a personal perspective in working on this project.

I mean, everyone in their relationships and throughout their sexual experiences as a human, like you have ups and downs, and sometimes your sex life is not great. And sometimes that just means that you need to be more vocal about it. I think that, um, Working on this design [00:44:00] and being able to get comfortable with these topics with my team and with the client, it’s definitely enabled me to get more comfortable talking about it in my own sex life, too.

And so I think design can be very personal and as a designer, Your project and your professional life and your personal life really start to blend together. And you’re always thinking about your projects in the shower while you’re in the car commuting. It’s really hard to create those boundaries as a designer of when you stop and start work.

But this one, in particular, had a very positive effect on my unsex life, so that was one great thing. Yesterday, I went into our office, and like any other day, was just sorting through things, opened up our drawers where we keep all of our materials, opened up the drawer, and there was a Vibrator in, in the material closet.

And I was like, what is this? And it was just, it was really funny because amongst our ceramic tiles and, and right next to the fabric samples [00:45:00] and swatches, we now have a vibrator. And the reason why that’s relevant is because when we’re working on a project, whether that be, for example, our recent store with BALA, we had to get really familiar with the products and the textures and the feeling of those products.

And for this store, we had to understand the sizes and shapes of the things that we were Going to be merchandising and so some of our material samples also became vibrators and we were thinking about the textures and the quality of these things as it relates to the wood and the fabrics that we were sourcing for the space.

Something I would recommend to the design community as you’re navigating different client projects and different. Proposals that come your way. I think to really keep an open mind about some of the opportunities that may come your way and not be afraid to inject your own personal experiences or your [00:46:00] own personal views on something such as a topic of intimacy.

But also to realize how much design can change some of these taboos in our society. And really, really be excited by your skills and your ability as a designer to take a very simple or very complex project And really give it back to society in a way that’s unexpected and a way that allows people to start thinking about the world differently.

So I’m hoping that through this project, and through this collaboration with Contact Sports, that our design can impact somebody’s life. Literally, maybe, it improves their sex life. And that, to me, is a successful design project, if we can have that effect. If you want to stop by the Contact Sports store, you can find it on Mercer Street.

43 Mercer Street in Soho. And we’ll be posting the images from the [00:47:00] photoshoot on our social media. You can find us at Madelynn Ringo on Instagram. And, yeah, stop by and check out the store. Get some gear.

And you can also check out our other projects at Ringo Studio by visiting our website, which is www. ringo studio. com. If you want to check out the brand and some of the products that they have and the storytelling that they’re creating on Instagram, you can find them at contact sports.

 A final note about this project. The other week, my boyfriend, who is a very proper Englishman, told me that We were in New York City, and I had this great idea that he and I could record ourselves walking into the store, and we could use our reactions in this podcast. Now, this man doesn’t ever jaywalk, and he literally leaves the do not remove tags on his pillows.

So I knew it was a big ask. He was sort of up for it. [00:48:00] but then chickened out at the last moment, and God knows I was too Minnesotan to go in there myself. We’ll try again another time, and you should too. A huge thank you to Madeline for being so open and vulnerable talking about this project. We can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next.

You can learn more about this project in our show notes on our website, Surroundpodcasts. com. Once Upon a Project. Was produced by Surround, a podcast network by Sandow. A special thanks to our producer, Hannah Vitti.

Thanks for listening. And I can’t wait for you to hear our next story.  

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AJ Paron

AJ Paron is EVP and Design Futurist at SANDOW Design Group and host of the podcast Once Upon a Project

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