The Changing Face of Shopfronts

The Changing Face of Shopfronts

The Changing Face of Shopfronts

In this Blog we want to take a quick look at the changing face of shopfronts in the UK. They have come along way from their humble and somewhat simple beginnings.

What is a Shopfront?

A shopfront is the entryway of a shop located on the ground floor or street level of a commercial building, typically including one or more windows for display. A shopfront has two functions as a way to protect and insulate the store as well as doubling us as a visual to attract attention to the business and its merchandise.

Whether you are visiting a large city like London or a small village in the North of Scotland you will be sure to see UK trade in the form of shops and displays. This has been the case for years and years and started way back in the Medieval Period. 

Medieval Period (476 – 1492)

During this time, there was a large shift from the common market stall to a fixed presence the in the form of a shop front.   However due to glass being so expensive only the rich could afford to have this permanent fixture so it was very rare to see. Those not so fortunate would use wooden shutters.  The shutter at the top would be to make sure the goods were not damaged from the harsh weather and the bottom shutter would be used to display the goods which would fold up and lock away at the end of the night.

Georgian Period (1714 – 1830)

Moving into the mid to the end of the middle of the eighteenth-century shop fronts began to take shape in the form of bow-fronted oriel windows sitting either side of a central half glazed door.    Glass was becoming more of commodity than a luxury item therefore it was naturally becoming more popular to use.  This was by far the most popular way to have your shop and was made up of plate glass, cast iron and steel which means that shop fronts could get taller and be more sophisticated and elegant than before.

As shopping continued to move away from market stall and street vendors towards more conventional shops/stores in the late 18th century this brought the concept of shopfront and display windows to retail.
One of the first shopfronts was in Charing Cross in London. In 1799 a man by the name of Frances Place became a partner in a tailoring business and after success with this decided to set up his own shop in Charing Cross. The entrance of which was made up of a timber shop front complete with large plate glass windows to sell and promote his products. Even though this was frowned upon by other retailers and businessmen alike he stood by this and even claimed:

sold from the window more goods….than paid journeymen’s wages and the expenses of housekeeping

Shop fronts became increasingly more popular with retailers designing and creating attractive shop fronts to entice more customers to come in and buy their products! The done so by using bright and eye-catching lights, advertisements and good window displays which of course is still huge to this day Early shop fronts were constructed from timber with plate glass. Many shopfront windows were split into multiple small glass panels due to the price of manufacturing large glass panels being so much. Old shop fronts however would give very poor thermal performance compared to modern shop fronts due to materials used, timber and plate glass. This meant that shops were often cold and more exposed to the elements. As retailers were wanting potential customers to spend as long as possible in their shops this wasn’t an idea situation!

WH SMITH Shop Front Example
WH SMITH Shop Front Example
Old Windows Shop Fronts
Old Windows Shop Fronts

Victorian Period (1837 – 1901)

During this time, the UK experienced huge urban expansion which naturally led to an increase in the number of shops in our local towns and cities alike.  Typically deigns would be tall windows with timber structures in place.

Victorian Shop Front
Victorian Shop Front

Modern Shopfronts

Modern Shop fronts are primarily constructed from aluminium or toughened glass assemblies. Aluminium shop fronts changed the look of the high street as this material has a better resistance to the elements and does not rot the same as timber. They are widely available in a wide range of colours and finishes to suit any retailer and also has the ability to be fabrication/constructed in many different configurations. The colours are primarily picked from a RAL chart which shows you the wide range of colours that are available to have your aluminium powder coated. Some retailers play it safe and stick to silvers and whites other go all out and have the whole shopfront their company colours.

Bright RAL Colours Shop Fronts
Bright RAL Colours Shop Fronts
Green RAL Shop Front
Green RAL Shop Front

Advances in the aluminium frame technology has allowed prices to stay relatively low while offering a great look, practicality and longevity. Also modern aluminium frames can now be installed with a thermal break these thermally broken sections are aluminium inside and out but have a plastic (polyamide) centre insert to stop the cold transferring through the metal outside into the store. Aluminium frames can also be fitted with double glazed units which offer great thermal performance especially when compared to shop fronts of the past with their plate glass windows. Advances in technology with glass production has opened up massive possibilities with regards to size and shape of display windows with many retailers now opting for toughened glass assemblies that appear frameless to maximise display area, light etc.

Toughened Glass Shop Front
Toughened Glass Shop Front
Frameless Shop Front
Frameless Shop Front

All in all, modern day shop fronts are definitely more practical, longer lasting, require less maintenance and conserve energy by keeping in the heat but I know in some people’s opinion you can’t beat look the old vintage look. In this day and age is it possible to have all the benefits of the new modern shop fronts and still have the old vintage style that everyone loves….

Vintage Shop Front
Vintage Shop Front
Coffee shop Shop front
Coffee shop Shop front

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