Since the inception of Third Man Records in 2001, Jack White’s label has grown to include not just an office and recording studio, but multiple outposts, like a record-pressing plant in Detroit, a live-music venue in Nashville, and record stores in both places. As of this week, a third record store, in London, has officially opened its doors. In all three cities, Third Man is not only a way for White to promote the music he loves and the gospel of vinyl he preaches, but to flex his interior design muscles, which some fans may not know he’s actually been training for years.
To get the London space ready for customers, the floor was refinished and the tin ceiling installed.
The London store, located in Soho not far from music history landmarks like Trident Studios and the 100 Club, is White all the way. The façade is bright yellow (Pantone 109c to be exact), as is much of the main floor, save for the red tin ceiling and hanging light fixtures, and the black-and-white acoustic tiles on some of the walls. On the lower level, there is a small live-music venue called the Blue Basement, where White played a surprise performance this past Saturday to celebrate the store’s opening. (After, he played another set atop a nearby balcony which The Guardian reports belongs to the artist Damien Hirst.)
White performing in the Blue Basement, with hair to match the decor.
“It’s our first time to go international with what we do,” White tells AD. “We only sell our own records and things that we produce and are involved in. We don’t sell other people’s records. It’s very unique and a boutique environment, so it’s an experiment in a way.”
The scheme of primary colors seems to be White’s design calling card, just like black, white, and red was the trademark of his band, The White Stripes. Within Third Man London, the bold shades have a certain rhythm. “Anything green is usually storage or leading to storage,” says White. “Blue is everything to do with live music.” (In the Nashville store, blue is only seen when you’re facing west, and red when you’re facing east.)
The record bins found at all of his stores “have a form-follows-function attitude to them and a real 90-degree, basic carpentry [thing happening],” White says.
Though the semi-monochromatic rooms keep the small space from feeling too busy, there is plenty to catch customers’ attention aside from the records and merchandise for sale. “We’re trying to have a little unique experience, every 5 to 10 feet in the place,” White says. This includes a London phone booth, painted yellow, with a custom, music-making phone designed by Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering inside; a book vending machine; and a recording booth where you can make your own vinyl record. Fitting this all in the store was no easy feat.
“Everything in London is so old-school. There are no actually rectangular rooms. There are all just jagged, strange 37-degree corners and things. So, we had a lot of interesting moments trying to make everything work,” White says. Contractor and fabricator Will Slater and architect Busby Webb helped, as did the fact that nearly everything in the store is custom-made. “I start to feel excited about design when I feel a constriction,” White says.
There is no question that design and music are intertwined for the rocker, who, in addition to his work with The White Stripes, has made music as a solo act and with the band The Raconteurs. In fact, before his career blew up, the Detroit native was a 15-year-old upholstery apprentice, learning the trade from a local upholsterer named Brian Muldoon. Together, they made music under the name The Upholsterers and even hid copies of their songs inside pieces of furniture to be found years later.
“The sound-absorbing acoustic tile is one of my go-tos when it comes to Third Man projects. I love the mood to be that when you walk in [from the street], you can feel a difference in sound,” White says.
After his apprenticeship and right before White Stripes fame, White opened his own upholstery shop, calling it Third Man because he was the third upholsterer on the street. “It was strange that there would be three on the same street. When I was coming up, there was nobody under 50 in Detroit that was doing upholstery,” he admits. Many years and 12 Grammy wins later, White is still passionate about the craft and even has an upholstery shop with a sewing machine, cutting table, and more equipment in the garage of his Nashville home. “I’m really hoping to, a few years down the road, find a bigger building to work in and actually start getting a crew of people and start building furniture from scratch that I design, unique pieces,” he says.
To enter the live-music venue, you follow the blue neon sign downstairs and push aside a blue velvet curtain. “You’re just going underwater,” White says.
For now, he’s been refurbishing furniture pieces, making small sculptures (some of which decorate Third Man London), and fitting it all into his busy music schedule. (White recently launched a website to show off all of his design projects in one place.) He’s also thinking about where to take Third Man next and says Tokyo would be a dream. “Record stores are just churches to me. They’re just so important and so special. And I’m so glad that they’re still around,” he says. “I’m so glad that I and Third Man had a very tiny part in trying to keep them alive and root for them across the board.”