Built in the 12th century, Drakenborch is thought to be the oldest surviving residence in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The national monument – once the living place of the ruling family Van Drakenborch – is now home to men's fashion store Coef. Amsterdam-based Carbon Studio, in collaboration with KUUB, executed a meticulous introduction of the retail space into the historical building, a project which understandably came with a slew of limitations.

The architects didn’t let that stop their creativity. While the walls and ceilings had to remain untouched, this gave the team an opportunity to experiment with un-intrusive build-outs. The retail interior was erected from the (non-monumental) ground up: in fact, this furthered the circularity of the project, as the elements – built with materials such as untreated metal, recycled leather and marmoleum – can easily be dismantled and reused or reprocessed.

Technical fixtures are embedded into the marmoleum floor, which is paired with a black steel organizing grid carpet. Functional zones marked in 20 cm perimeters on the grid give structure to the spatial layout. The main route is left without this carpet, indicating the way for shoppers. Contributing to the functionality of the space is the modular furniture system. It includes four-m-high furniture and lampposts; the round forms of the furnishings serve to create visual balance with the industrial materials.

As customers make their way through the space to the upper level, a painted medieval tale unfolds before them on the walls. These murals, according to Pieter Kool of Carbon Studio, depict a ‘Romeo and Juliet-like story about the battle between the two ruling families Van Drakenborch and Van Oudaen, who controlled both sides of the Oudegracht’. The Oudegracht river, which Drakenborch overlooks, runs through the centre of the city. Each addition to this room is made to highlight these details rather than conceal them – all horizontal surfaces are mirrored, to reflect the existing features back to viewers.

Sneaker fans will be impressed to find a five-m-high wall dedicated to the footwear in the arched-ceiling basement space. To counteract the area’s lack of natural light and accentuate its shape, Kool and his team utilized mirrors, glass, white tiles and light lines.