Exclusive: 365 by Whole Foods’ “budget cool” aesthetic, explained

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Photo: 365 By Whole Foods
When Deborah English and her team were tasked with designing Whole Foods’ newly opened, millennial-friendly 365 concept in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, there was one place they refused to look for inspiration: Whole Foods itself.

“The interesting thing about this store is that it’s not Whole Foods lite,” says the designer, whose firm, DL English Design, has been involved with the visual identity of hundreds of Whole Foods locations nationwide. “365 stands on its own as a unique offering in a new and different way.”

As you may recall, 365 is Whole Foods’ new lower-priced, small-format grocery project, which is catering to a younger demo with an eco-friendly ethos and link-ups with super-hot partners (think By Chloe, vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli’s NYC comfort food joint, whose first West Coast restaurant is inside 365 LA). And one of the big selling points: everything is $20 or less. According to Thrillist, there are also tablets in the wine aisle that recommend pairing options (which of course you can pick up while you’re there).

Given how cool the last few DL English-designed Whole Foods locations have been—including a whimsical outpost in Downtown LA and the one in LA’s Playa Vista ‘hood, which won an award for retail design—the buzz has been building about 365’s look, which was unveiled when it opened its doors on May 25.

As English will attest, it’s like nothing we’ve seen from Whole Foods before. “We believe [365 Silver Lake] is artfully crafted in a way that takes the best elements of what makes a Whole Foods store magical, and iterates them with a different point of view.”

Deborah English gave us the rundown of the details behind Whole Foods’ 365 store design—keep reading to find out what you’ll be Instagramming when you pay it a visit. 

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whole foods 365
Photo: 365 by Whole Foods

How would you describe the vibe of the 365 store design?

It was designed originally on the idea of “budget cool,” if you will—an essence that is at once value-driven and hip.

How so?

One of the key driving factors was not using things. The best way to be environmentally sustainable is not through the use of materials that are sustainable; it’s not using material [in the first place]. So to every extent we could, we didn’t do things. There’s no design for design’s sake—everything is very purposeful, transparent, raw.

What kind of materials did you use?

Raw concrete. But it’s not all about creating a highly industrial space. One of my main tenets is that food needs to be in a space that feels hand-crafted, because good quality, healthy food is hand-crafted. That means the space needs to be warm and comfortable at the same time—this is not a cold, concrete, sterile, stark store.

whole foods 365
Photo: 365 by Whole Foods

What are some specific examples of how you brought that hand-crafted feeling into the store?

For one thing, there aren’t a lot of hidden parts to the store—everything is exposed, whether it’s the view inside the kitchen or where the meat and seafood are prepared. It used to be that the word “authentic” was important in the retail world; now the word “transparent” is important, meaning that people want to know where things come from. If the preparation is hidden behind a wall, you’re not really sure if they’re crafting it here or making it someplace else. 

From a design point of view, one way handcrafted comes in is through the graphics and signage. There was a lot of handwork done—hand-stenciling, hand-lettering, things like that. The graphics were done to be lively, visually engaging, playful, and a little whimsical.

Sounds like it was made for the Instagram generation. How else does the design cater to this crowd?

We’ve created social spaces inside and outside of the store for people to sit and eat and gather. Outside the store there will be seating platforms—not just benches and tables, but platforms where multiple people can all sit together—and communal-style tables.

And it’s not too fussy from a design point of view. The prototype is very current in its design approach, but there’s no aspect of it that’s too overdone. And we feel that speaks to millennials.

Did you take inspiration from any other buildings or artists?

The original inspiration for the graphics was this super cool Los Angeles nun/artist from the ‘60s, Sister Corita Kent. The connection with her came from a branding group here in New York called Partners & Spade, who had it in an initial design deck—but we loved it and latched on to that as an idea. We don’t ever imitate what people do, but we used her original brilliance and were inspired to create something fitting for this time and this brand.

whole foods 365
Photo: 365 by Whole Foods

And how do the Friends of 365 factor in—in this case, By Chloe and Allegro Coffee?

The whole idea of the store is to increase the hang-out factor. We believe that the addition of the Friends with their own unique spaces [which were not designed by English’s team] increases that hangout factor—it becomes more like a food hall.

The president of 365 said nobody really hangs out at a Trader Joe’s or Kroger, [but] people will want to hang out here.

And buy their groceries at the same time—bonus!

Exactly. Because it’s a smaller store, it doesn’t feel like it’s a burden. Sometimes supermarkets are so big that it feels like drudgery making your way through the aisles. [But here], the shelving is lower, the layout is easy to understand, the store is small, there are vistas across the store. You walk in and you don’t feel overwhelmed by it— and the shopping experience has more of a social emotionality around it.

So what’s on your shopping list? Get some inspo from some of the most popular dishes on Instagram—or stock up on superfoods to build a holistically healthy pantry.

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