Sense of Place

Local stories and a local spirit of hospitality

In association with

Traditional elements of Estonian culture, an emphasis on local natural materials, and modern technology combine in Baltona Duty Free’s new duty free concession at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport.

Baltona Duty Free’s new duty free concession at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport celebrates Estonian culture and natural heritage through a shopper journey modelled on a fairy tale walk through a forest.

The main 800sq m duty free store is the centrepiece of a major development programme by airport operator Tallinn Airport. The revamp is intended to express a strong local flavour at the airport that styles itself as ‘the cosiest airport in the world’.

A strong local brand presence includes popular confectionery brand Kalev, Liviko spirits, A. Le Coq beers and Lumene in skincare.

Sense of Place comes to life though in the design work of London-based The Design Solution.

“The design of the main free store was envisaged as absolutely integral to the airport’s pledge to be ‘the world’s cosiest airport’,” said The Design Solution Director Nick Taylor.


“We aimed to make it cosy – with a commercial edge. The design uses traditional elements of Estonian culture and has a huge emphasis on local natural materials, particularly in the strong use of local timbers to reflect the fact that around half of Estonia’s land area is covered by forests.

“The store journey is themed as a forest walk, including wonderful semi-private seating areas that provide a break in the walk. These are decorated with themed graphics in a traditional woodcut style that echo classic fairy tales. In a whimsical touch, the walk-through pathway even features subtle decorative signs in the floor that guide shoppers through the store, like breadcrumbs guiding characters through the forest in a fairy tale.”

Taylor added: “The dominance of local wood is physical as well as spiritual, such as in the ‘cut logs’ effect ceiling features and the warm tones used throughout, giving the whole space a natural, cosy warmth and beauty. The wood theme also blends with modern technology through the huge digital screens that have wooden surrounds. The first large screen is a great welcoming encounter and further screens are spread through the store to share promotions and messaging.”

The Design Solution believed it was important for the space to be a part of the fabric of the airport, generating a seamless experience. “To complement the natural, warm finishes, orange tones, and birch plywood surfaces, we engaged local artists to bring another layer of Estonian culture, including graphics on the walls and the ‘secret’ seating areas,” he explained. “These are bordered by wooden slatted enclosures featuring products such as perfume bottles displayed in ‘ice’ blocks.

“I think Tallinn has a particularly striking Sense of Place that provides a very useful lesson for airports of every size across the globe in that the airport’s personality is driven as much by the spirit of the place as by the physical design. Tallinn Airport has clearly worked very hard to deliver a holistic approach that drives exceptional quality across every aspect of the customer journey and they understand that the retail journey has to share that same spirit.

“Our design aims to blend with the genuine warmth and authenticity of the welcome by creating a stress-free, engaging retail adventure that shares local stories and a local spirit of hospitality.”

The key is that Tallinn has a clear identity, unlike some airports. “It talks to its passengers in a single tone of voice, and it’s a voice that makes you feel instantly at ease, un-pressured, and free to explore, engage and relax,” said Taylor. “We’ve had a wonderfully open and shared conversation with Baltona and the airport throughout this project. One of the key differences I see at Tallinn Duty Free is that, across the categories, the major brands don’t overwhelm the design concept.

“There’s a fantastic harmony that blends brand presence with the local stories that we share through the space. Tallinn Airport and Baltona should be congratulated not only for their remarkable spirit of cooperation but for sharing with The Design Solution in ensuring that the local story is fully expressed by the scale and quality of the retail space.

“Rather than the major brands wholly dominating the space – which is the norm at most airports – they’re actually better expressed by being integrated into the local story and, crucially, the local brands stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Hopefully, there is a lesson there for other airports and retailers to learn from.”

Baltona Duty Free CEO Piotr Kazimierski said that the airport “offers a unique expression of what Estonia is all about, including the pride of the people and the country’s natural beauty”.

He said: “If it’s done in the right way, Sense of Place is something that sells very well; it’s something that passengers are looking for, and airports too. At major destination hubs you can see that Sense of Place is perhaps easier, not least in the need to ‘invest to express’, and that’s obviously harder for a small airport to do.

“Of course, you also need the right partners and there are lots of economic details to address, such as capital expenditure and concession terms. But if you can find a way to make it happen then I think the payback can be very strong. I think you must do it because it works; it sells, people like it, they talk about it, word spreads very quickly; and so it grows and you sell more. It’s an investment and we’re now working on the best way to capitalise on that.”

The Moodie Davitt e-Zine | Issue 243 | 16 July 2018