As the largest city in Michigan, Detroit presents unlimited opportunities for investors, developers, and entrepreneurs to tap into the potential of its diverse markets. The city is strategically located in a major port on the Detroit River and has the second-largest economy in the entire Midwest. Over the years, the city has been home to major brands and industries, especially from the retail sector. These establishments are housed in local buildings and modern facilities that are designed to perform, endure, and proudly represent their brands. To cater to the ever-growing demand for modern architectures, the region’s top designers and architectural firms readily answer to the challenge and deliver the most iconic architecture for the city’s leading companies.
This article presents the best retail architects in Detroit. The companies included here are either based in the city or have completed multiple retail projects in the area and nearby communities. The firms here were qualified based on the awards, press features, and industry affiliations that they have acquired through the years. We also considered the background of the firms’ principals, their years in the industry, and their overall contributions in shaping the city’s architectural and structural landscapes. Most importantly, our editorial team looked at the quality of the firms’ work based on the reviews and testimonials given by their past and repeat clients.
GH+A Design Studios
409 East Jefferson Avenue, 6th Floor, Detroit, MI 48266
Since its inception in 1985, GH+A Design Studios has grown into one of the country’s leading architecture and design firms that specialize in retail. The firm was founded by Denis Gervais, an alumnus of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), a former chairman of the Dawson College’s Interior Design Department, and currently honored as the Professor of Design at Dawson College. Under his leadership, the firm operates from its American and Canadian studios. These locations work together to complete an already extensive portfolio that features modern commercial spaces for dining, shopping, living, and socializing. In the US, the firm has partnered with some of the emerging retail companies to conceptualize spaces that embody their vision.
Commissioned by MPM Companies, the firm completed a retail project for Common Citizen, a lifestyle brand that offers premium cannabis products. Located in Flint, Michigan, the store measures 5,000 square feet. The company provided the location’s design development, schematic design, vision and concept, project management, and the final roll out for the project. Revolving around the brand’s philosophy of providing a human-centered, purpose-driven product that would help people and enhance how they experience life, the firm conceptualized a retail space that embodies these elements.
Inspired by the bold, yet minimalist theme of industrial architecture, natural elements of wood for its wall panels, display cases, and steel fixtures dominate the space, complemented with a choice of a black and white color palette. Combined, these elements exude a warm and welcoming atmosphere, balanced with the brand’s genuine and transparent purpose. Freestanding tables are provided for customers and visitors and serve as resource centers where they can experience the wide variety of products that the store offers. Floating, sculptural pieces made of acoustical felt floats on the store’s ceiling. This unique touch also acts as an art installation, meant to ground the space and add character to the store’s brand. The final product earned two Shop! Association awards and a Gold award from the ICSC North America Design and Development.
211 West Fort St. Suite #510, Detroit, Michigan 48226
Founded in Southeast Michigan by Yousif B. Ghafari, Ghafari Associates is one of the fastest-growing architecture, construction, and engineering firms in the region. Inc. Magazine and ENR recorded the company’s expansion, including the firm among its annual national listings: 500 Fastest Growing Companies in the US, Top 500 Design Firms, and the Firm of the Year awards. In 2018, the firm’s acquisition of Concept Design Group allowed it to expand its expertise in architecture and interior design, further amplifying its caliber as a professional for the corporate and commercial sectors. As a designer for the retail industry, it has worked with high-value clients that continue to task the company with some of their most significant projects.
One example is a multi-location work for a women’s clothing and accessory retail giant. The firm provided engineering and architecture services for Altar’d State Women’s Boutique’s various locations across the US. These retail and commercial spaces range from 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, with each location posing the challenge of representing the brand’s identity and at the same time, blending in with the store’s surrounding context, target demographics, and the ever-changing retail environments.
The solution is to layout site-specific retail spaces that share the same interior environment: interiors designed to curate a journey and inspire “flow and discovery throughout the space.” Its sales floors and fitting rooms are custom-detailed to represent comfortable and upscale elements inspired by the softness, elegance, and grace of femininity. The retail spaces, thoughtfully laid-out, start with storefronts that fascinate and intrigue, intensifying the customer’s interest to experience more of what the store can offer. Exuding an ambiance of regality and luxury, the stores feature chandeliers, custom stained glass, and the presence of greenery. Depending on its location, each storefront, highlighted by a deep-entry patio, blends in with the surrounding architectures and responds to the surrounding cultural and social context.
Hamilton Anderson Associates
1435 Randolph, Unit #200, Detroit, MI 48226
As a multi-disciplinary design firm, Hamilton Anderson Associates has rendered over 20 years of service, consistently delivering sustainable, creative, and contemporary architectures that have transformed communities and changed lives. Regional and national AIA chapters, as well as USGBC, have constantly commended the firm for its efforts to conceptualize, design, build and redevelop a wide continuum of academic, civic, cultural, healthcare, hospitality, residential, corporate, and commercial structures across the region.
The company’s comprehensive services allow it to take on high-value and large-scale projects that cover a diverse variety of commercial, hospitality, entertainment, and retail spaces. One of its most significant projects in Detroit is the Stone Soap Building redevelopment wherein the firm provided feasibility analysis, planning, urban design, design guidelines, architecture, interior design, cost estimating, and historic preservation services for this local landmark.
The redevelopment is set to transform East Riverfront District’s once underutilized industrial property into an attractive residential and commercial center that celebrates the harmony between new and old architectures. The firm will specifically work on the revival of the historic structure and turn it into an 87-unit, Class-A, contemporary space. The building’s ground floor will house a 7,000-square-foot space for grocery and retail units. To complete this work, the firm focused on sustainable design solutions and contextually-sensitive architectures meant to connect and enhance the lives of its nearby communities.
Hobbs + Black Architects
100 N State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Under the leadership of AIA member Wiliam S. Hobbs, Hobbs + Black Architects introduces a diversified practice that centers on research and innovation. The firm is registered to practice in 30 states. Since its founding in 1965, it has focused on a client-centered approach to design, demonstrating the unique identities of the brands and organizations that they represent through a cost-effective process that makes use of minimal resources and follows a stringent timeline. The results are enduring architectures celebrated for their simplicity, contextual individuality, and flexibility.
The firm has extensive experience in designing modern, adaptive, and creative spaces for the commercial and retail markets. One of the company’s works that exemplify its significant contribution to modern development trends is its Woodward Corner mixed-use project. The project was a redevelopment work in Royal Oak in Michigan for Beaumont Health System. It is a community center meant to provide the nearby hospital campus with the services and amenities for its tenants, medical specialists, and patient families.
The completion of the project produced a mixed-use community that blends together diverse and balanced spaces for its tenants, composed of local, regional, and national brands from the hospitality, retail, healthcare, and food services industries. Modern and traditional materials were incorporated into its architecture as a nod to its diversity and adaptability. The development’s architecture and utility designs will accommodate future structural changes and facility modernization.
Infuz Ltd. Architects
1111 Bellevue St. Suite #201, Detroit, MI 48207
Specializing in design and image creation, Infuz Ltd. Architects is a firm recognized for its inventive, modern approach to design. Its partnership with another distinct firm, Virtuoso Design+Build has helped it produce a wide range of portfolios that include large-scale architecture and planning works, as well as branded interior design and fabrication projects. This collaboration allowed the firm to expand its understanding of the creation and construction process and led to the most comprehensive and multi-faceted approaches to design and development in the region.
From the firm’s Detroit design studio, it has completed multi-awarded projects for the residential and commercial markets. In recent years, the firm has earned building and design awards from the AIA and Design Core Detroit. It has also won Michigan Historic Preservation Awards for its works for both sectors. As a leader in commercial design, the firm caters to the region’s growing needs for modern, sustainable, and energy-efficient spaces.
The JGM mixed-use Building, for instance, is one of the firm’s biggest modern design projects in Michigan’s Marine City in the River District North. The planned development will sit on two separate lots combined into one parcel of property that will accommodate a three-level center for retail, office, and multi-residential spaces. The building’s ground floor is designed to house corporate offices and commercial retail units for different brands. Residential condominiums will be located on the third and second floors of the facility. The building also has access to an attached garage as well as street parking spaces.
39300 W Twelve Mile Rd. Suite #180, Farmington Hills, MI 48331
JPRA Architects’s commercial portfolio features destination places that do not only facilitate meaningful human interactions but also transform urban environments and redefine the shopping, dining, and entertainment experiences of the communities that they serve. William Beitz, Jr., the firm’s president and principal architect is a member of the AIA. Beitz is licensed to practice in 25 states as well as in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario. Combined with the firm’s unique design philosophy and Beitz’s outstanding background, the firm has gained the trust of some of the biggest companies in the retail and commercial sectors.
The Forbes Company commissioned the firm to head the retail design and expansion of its upscale Detroit shopping mall, Somerset Collection. The project was an opportunity to connect the new northern section of the building to its renovated southern counterpart through a 700-foot enclosed moving sidewalk. The design and construction of Somerset North produced an additional 980,000 square feet for shopping spaces that accommodate tenant areas and a new four-story parking structure.
Upon completion, this huge retail design and development work earned the ULI Award for Excellence for the Commercial/Retail Small Scale Category. The Engineering Society of Detroit also recognized the work with the Construction and Design Award. For its outstanding renovation work, the firm earned the ICSC International Design & Development Award and the SADI Award. The commercial space currently houses over 180 specialty stores divided into four major department stores. Measuring 1.4 million square feet, the mall is one of the region’s significant industry landmarks.
Kraemer Design Group
1420 Broadway St., Detroit, MI 48226
Kraemer Design Group’s over 20 years in the industry are marked with achievements that helped shape the region’s architectural landscape. Led by Michigan natives, Maureen Kraemer, Robert Kraemer, and Brian Rebain, the firm has the passion, familiarity, and award-winning expertise in architecture, interior design, and consulting, especially when it comes to transforming, preserving, and designing spaces for the modern market sectors. Its portfolio includes projects that won multiple accolades from the Hotel and Management Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Crain’s Detroit.
Over the years, Kraemer has completed complex and technically-challenging projects for the commercial and retail sectors. High-end men’s wear fashion retailer John Varvatos, for instance, tasked the firm with the architecture and interior design project for its Detroit location. To achieve this multi-faceted approach, the firm partnered with the client’s in-house design team. Since the space is set in a historic building, the firm also served as a historic consultant in order to preserve the value and cultural significance of the structure without limiting its potential to realize the brand’s vision and materialize its aesthetic uniqueness.
The place has undergone multiple renovations in the last 200 years, leaving a façade covered in aged granite. The early stages of the project involved the removal of the original façade to reveal the original cast-iron columns. This stage gave the firm an opportunity to take advantage of the unique features that the historic interiors have to offer. The result is a masterpiece where the aged charms of the vintage and classic elements unite with the refined ruggedness of its rustic, industrial history.
Neumann Smith Architecture
1500 Woodward Avenue, Suite 300, Detroit, MI 48226
Over 200 design and architecture awards, including multiple recognition from AIA Michigan, represent Neumann Smith Architecture’s contribution to the reshaping and transformation of many rural and urban environments across the region. Since its establishment five decades ago, the firm has focused its creative energy on producing spaces that represent the unique goals of its project owners. Many of its clients, especially from the retail and commercial sector, commend the company’s attention to detail and its ability to realize concepts and transform them into architectures that engage and inspire.
One example is its work for Nojo Kicks. Matt Caputo, the client and store owner, wanted to provide Detroit with a “museum-like” experience when browsing and shopping for their ultra high-end sneakers and other sports merchandise, such as caps, jerseys, and other apparel. The firm delivered, producing a design that offers customers a unique shopping experience by going beyond the typical and introducing interior details that are engaging and memorable.
Upon entering the retail store, customers can immediately see the suspended steel tubing that looks like a sculptural artwork overhanging the store’s upper loft. A 40-foot stainless steel wall serves as panels to display the store’s extensive shoe collection. Rare and higher-end sneakers reside in custom glass cases. Collectors and enthusiasts alike can get a glimpse of some of the rarest jerseys, hats, and plagues from basketball legends—details that make the store a genuine and one-of-a-kind space for fans and followers.
150 W Jefferson Ave. Suite #1300, Detroit, MI 48226
Composed of over 700 professionals in engineering, architecture, interior design, and planning, NORR has been transforming local and international urban landscapes since its founding in 1938. Anthony Ricciuti, who is based in Detroit, leads the company’s global retail center of excellence. During his 20-year career at NORR, Anthony has managed more than 40 million square feet of Retail development and revitalization projects in essential Retail, primarily in the pharmacy, grocer, and banking segments. Under his leadership and through his in-depth understanding of the local and national retail climate, the firm has successfully delivered sustainable, inspiring, and impactful design solutions for the market.
As a licensed architect in both Canada and the US, Anthony has earned an international reputation of successfully leading viable retail environments that enable product sales and deliver maximum value per square foot. He works in collaboration with major brands to create a retail experience that embraces consumer trends, technological advances, and business imperatives. Taking an omnichannel approach to design, he believes the interaction between your phone, tablet, and the physical store needs to be interchangeable in today’s world for a connected shopping experience. Consumers need options based on their personal buying habits, whether their journey is online or in a store.
The firm has established long-term relationships with some of the top companies in the healthcare sector. CVS Health, for instance, has worked with the firm since 2001 to complete over 3,000 retail locations across the country. Some of these works have caught the attention of the design community. Another location in Gainesville earned the 2010 City of Gainesville Beautification Awards, under the Building Design Commercial and Retail Businesses category. The firm’s reach is global, producing past projects across the world, including The Avenues, one of the biggest shopping malls in Kuwait, as well as the revitalization of the Debenhams flagship store in London.
Patrick Thompson Design
2111 Woodward Ave. Suite #1002, Detroit, MI 48201
Interior Design Magazine, SEEN, Dwell, Detroit Metro Times, Curbed Detroit, and HGTV, are just some of the most prestigious media and publication studios that have documented Patrick Thompson Design’s milestones as a leader in producing highly-customized interiors and architectures for a diverse range of markets. Since its founding in 2009, it has completed projects for the commercial, hospitality, and retail sectors.
Over the years, the company has partnered with some of the most established businesses in the city, to complete new flagship locations in Michigan and beyond. The firm was commissioned to head the design of Sanders Chocolate and Ice Cream Shoppe’s Clinton Township location. The brand is a Detroit chocolate company that has been serving Michigan since its inception over 140 years ago. The project involved the design of fully-equipped prep space, indoor seating and tables, display areas around the store, and the main chocolate bar for dine-in customers.
The firm created a chocolate retail store that carries the brand’s signature age-old charm of using the natural elements of wood from its display cases, wall panels, and tables, and counters. Exposed beams and tubing, massive windows outlined with black steel frames, a black and white indoor canopy that graces a cozy seating for dine-in guests, contrasting hexagonal tile flooring, a custom-designed brick hearth, and exposed brick walls, complete its vintage, industrial theme.
160 West Fort St. Suite #400, Detroit, Michigan 48226
Led by Matt Rossetti, AIA Fellow, LEED-Accredited Professional, and a third-generation architect, Rossetti is an internationally-recognized architecture and design firm that has served the industry for over five decades. AIA Michigan, AIA Detroit, and the American Institute of Steel Construction have constantly recognized the firm’s efforts in delivering hospitality, sports, workplace, and mixed-use spaces that inspire and enhance the lives of businesses and communities.
Rossetti’s passion for urban revitalization has inspired him to be a part of many significant developments in Detroit. One perfect example of this is its work for The Corner. The firm headed the design and architecture efforts for the city’s first-ever large-scale, multifamily modular building. It was a project commissioned by Larson Realty Group (LRG), curated to serve the nearby community and cater to its need for residential and locally-focused commercial spaces. Aside from its residential units, the mixed-use facility houses 26,000 square feet of retail spaces that are designed to accommodate homegrown businesses and entrepreneurial ventures.
The project is located in one of the community’s most significant properties, the former site of Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2008. The project, inspired by contemporary aesthetics, was designed to blend in with the area’s community and cultural context, acknowledge its historic legacy by allowing a nice view of the ball field, and most importantly, ensure efficient and sustainable use of the site. To complete the project within the set timeframe, the firm took advantage of modular construction to deliver a high-quality, on-budget, enduring structure. Each modular residential unit was also manufactured to include fundamental interior finishes, such as doors, flooring, and trims.
Synecdoche Design Studio
1420 Washington Blvd., 6th Fl. Unit #8, Detroit, MI 48226
Operating from its locations in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Synecdoche Design Studio has delivered over 100 projects nationwide. The firm specializes in architecture, interior design, fabrication, and installation services. Lisa Sauve—the firm’s CEO and principal architect—is a member of the AIA and is NCARB-registered. Under her over ten years of leadership, the firm has completed projects that have helped communities and organizations to conceptualize structures that champion sustainability, performance, and efficiency.
Commercial spaces designed to cater to the functional needs and aesthetic identities of its clients’ brands can be found in the firm’s extensive portfolio. One of its most recent projects was for Ann Arbor Pharmacy, a neighborhood establishment that offers high-end, organic health and beauty retail products. The project was completed in 2019 and its grand opening was featured by the local newspaper, Michigan Daily. Archinect featured its unique interiors that redefine and break free from the stereotypical pharmacy concepts and store layout. The store features an open-space interior surrounded by open-frame shelving.
The central area features long, wooden multi-tiered tables that define pathways and spaces to encourage engagement and exploration. The same wood provides materials for counters, cabinets for product storage, and White Oak shelving embody the brand’s nod to sustainability and advocacy to go organic and natural. All these white oak components were fabricated by the firm. To complete the welcoming, comfortable ambiance, you’ll find warm lighting and light fixtures that set a minimalist, modern vibe. The firm also designed the pharmacy’s brand.
662 Croswell Ave. SE, East Grand Rapids, MI 49506
One of the most unique features of Visbeen Architects’s services happens in the first meeting: Wayne Visbeen, principal architect and licensed interior designer, brings the clients’ ideas through a collaborative approach to design. By listening to the project owner’s ideas, their vision about the projects, and finally asking the right questions, Visbeen creates an initial drawing of the architecture, allowing project owners to visualize their project even at the earliest stages of its development. This approach, which has been followed since its inception in 1992, made the firm stand out and win the hearts of new and repeat clients. For years, its excellence in architecture earned the firm multiple BALA awards from NAHB, as well as recognition from the American Residential Design Awards and Detroit Home’s Design Awards from 2011 until 2019.
While the firm is a renowned builder of architecturally-stunning custom homes, Commercial projects can also be found in its extensive portfolio. From its Grand Rapids office, it completes retail spaces across the region. These designs not only help realize the concept and identity of its clients’ brands but they are also efficient architectures that enhance the performance and profitability. The company is known for delivering on-time commissions that respect the financial requirements of each design.
One of the examples that represent the firm’s exemplary work for the market is the Kilwins project. Kilwins Chocolate is a household name in Michigan that started its operations in 1947. Specializing in confectioneries with main products that include fudge, ice cream, and candy, it has dominated the US and currently maintains 125 locations. Visbeen was tasked with the interior design of one of Kilwins retail locations. The final product vintage chocolaterie basks in natural light and is set in a warm palette of natural hues. The polished wood for its counters, glass display cases, and wood flooring create a light and nostalgic environment. Its walls are inlaid with natural tile tapestry in warm colors which complete its classic, sentimental ambiance.
Von Staden Architects
504-A S Washington, Royal Oak, MI 48067
Since its inception 20 years ago, Von Staden Architects has developed a profound understanding of three-dimensional spaces and material capabilities: factors that allow the firm to take on small to large architectural and interior design projects, regardless of value or complexity. Over the years, the firm has produced works that cater to the modern needs of the corporate office, hospitality, residential, commercial, and retail industries.
As an architect for the commercial and retail sector, it has completed multiple projects in Detroit. Union Joints, Green Dot Stables, MDen, Rush Bowls, Assemble Sound and Core City Development have relied on the company’s comprehensive list of services. Several commissions from the rest of its portfolio have been featured by local and regional publications, including Hour Magazine, Crain’s Detroit Business, Wood Floor Business Magazine, and Hotchkiss Magazine.
One of the firm’s most unique clients from the retail market is Elie Wine Co., a Birmingham-based brand that has been providing the region with a fine selection of French wines since 1991. For this project, the firm designed a modern-industrial retail facility that houses and stores the company’s primary products. Acting as a store and storage, its warehouse-based design provides an open and generous space for customers and visitors to browse and explore the store’s collections. Full glass partitions provide organization to the space without being visually restrictive. The transparent material also allows enthusiasts and customers to experience the charming atmosphere through a full view of the wooden shipping crates and steel display cases.