BEST Products, SITE Architecture, and James Wines

A generous reader sent me this photo yesterday after reading the latest Preservation 101 chapter on plaster- “this is what you CAN do with bricks and plaster”. Exciting!


BEST Stores were a catalog and retail chain operating between 1957-1997, founded  by Richmond natives Sydney and Francis Lewis. BEST’s premise was based on large, spectacular showrooms where customers could interact with products before placing an order. Think Ikea, but without the warehouse section.

The Lewis men (father and son) were famous as art enthusiasts and it is a popular legend that they were always willing to trade merchandise for good art. They amassed a tremendous collection, much of which is currently held by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts- see some of the Lewis Collection of early 20th century art here.

The artistic inclinations of the Lewises can also be seen in the distinctive and architecturally pioneering architecture of the nine flagship showroom stores. Most were built in the 1970’s by the New York-based firm SITE to designs by firm founder James Wines. According to Wines, the acronym for SITE represents “Sculpture In The Environment”, which is an accurate description of the BEST Products stores. The one shown above was located in Chesterfield, Virginia south of corporate headquarters in Richmond and  was known as the “Peeling Wall”- (cue hyperventilation) it’s a concrete block building clad in cement with brick veneer ‘peeling’ out into space. One brick thick! Brick veneer not even trying to look structural! How playful! How arresting! (arch historian fluttering ensues)

To see more cool, clever things that the Lewises and Wines collaborated on for BEST Products stores, see the project profile at SITE here. Shown below are the Houston “Indeterminate Facade” building and Hialeah “Rainforest Facade”




Unfortunately, all of these fabulous buildings have been demolished or had their architectural oddities stripped away to become well, boring concrete block buildings. Sad!


One response to “BEST Products, SITE Architecture, and James Wines

  1. Good news! There is actually *one* of the SITE/Wines BEST buildings that has survived to 2014 with its unique architectural integrity laregly intact. At the time of the SITE project catalog book it was still in design phase, but it was later completed. The design features a false-facade broken away from the main building, behind which is a small linear “courtyard” of trees that appear to grow out of the store when viewed from a distance. Located on Quoccasin Road in Henrico County, Virginia (near Regency Square Mall), it is owned and used by West End Presbyterian Church, who so far in renovations have maintained the external design features and the row of trees.
    The building is very visible on Bing Maps:


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