Design for the future: bar interiors

From vintage furniture to high-tech design, the newest bar and club interiors display a mix of traditional and modern, reports Mark Ludmon

Modern bar and club design is not just about good looks but about the whole experience. “With the plethora of bar and restaurant openings, owners more than ever are looking for something different to attract the right clientele,” says James White, director of architecture and interior design studio March & White. “What has been becoming apparent is that restaurant and bar owners aren’t just commissioning designs that act as a backdrop but looking at how interiors can create an experience for customers. This trend for experiential design can either be found in subtle references – for example, the underground unbranded spaces that are more like living rooms than bars – or more glitzy spaces that immerse you in the world of Great Gatsby-esque interiors.”

March & White helped chef Virgilio Martinez and Gabriel and Jose Gonzalez to create a Peruvian experience at new London restaurant and pisco bar Lima. With a playful but elegant design, the venue has strong native influences throughout to create a taste of Peru in Fitzrovia. James was also part of the design team that revamped The Arts Club in London’s Mayfair. “In the last year, I’ve seen a number of clients return to the idea of the members club, showing that even in an economic downturn there is an appetite for more exclusive environments that use design to express their individuality and personality.”

Some of the latest trends in interior design were showcased this September as part of the London Design Festival and exhibitions such as 100% Design, Designjunction and Tent London. Bold graphic patterns were a recurrent feature in the latest work from designers, according to Tom Philipson, a director of design specialist Your Studio. Researching future trends, he found geometric patterns were the most stand-out graphic style, from fabrics and furniture to interior walls and floors. “In fashion there has been a steer towards African-inspired colourful patterns which is a trend we are definitely now seeing working its way into interiors,” he adds.

Highlights for Tom at September’s events included Camille Walala’s designs from Darkroom, featuring bold black-and-white squares, circles and zigzags for ceramic plates, while chair manufacturer Ercol used a soft-toned pastel-coloured geometric pattern, from large-scale graphics on the wall to fabrics on its furniture. “Applying these graphic patterns correctly and creatively will really give a bar interior a strong identity, so expect to see more of this over the next few years,” Tom says.

He notes that London Design Festival events also confirmed the continuing popularity of vintage furniture, which has become a standard feature of many new bars and restaurants. “This trend was not only born out of wanting the vintage look but also from bar owners wanting a stylish look on a low budget,” he says but points out there is now demand for higher-quality pieces, reflected in higher pricing. He also saw furniture designers exploring creative design modifications and up-cycling. “Expect this trend to continue to become more and more inventive as recycling gains more importance and more vintage-inspired design is created,” Tom predicts.

The trend towards vintage furniture is reflected in the latest collections from hospitality specialist Geometric Furniture. Examples include an Edwardian chair and 1940s-style carver but Geometric furniture designer Jennifer Brobbin points out: “Our customers choose to have a mix of both classic and contemporary furniture.” Another trend represented in Geometric’s collections is demand for painted furniture as an alternative to a lacquered finish, she adds. Examples include its 2574 dining chair from its Elements brochure, which has been supplied to a gastropub group. Manufactured from solid beech, the chair has a sleek appearance with an “all in one” fashioned seat and back.

Furniture and lighting company Andy Thornton introduced its Vintage Urban collection this year to meet demand for “lived-in” industrial-style and eclectic interiors. It offers lighting, tables, chairs, stools, sofas and shelving in a mix of materials from aged leather and distressed denim to reclaimed pine and heavy-duty cast iron. It proved a good source for Martin Brudnizki Design Studio for Jamie Oliver’s Union Jacks in Covent Garden, which has a retro, cool and quintessentially British look, with lots of vintage detailing. The vintage-style seating from Andy Thornton included draughtman’s bar stools in a mix of pewter and weathered yellow finish. The round curved bar stools have a wooden seat and back rest on a tubular steel frame, suitable for casual eating at the bar or the tall restaurant tables. Andy Thornton also supplied three special Detroit iron refectory tables with reclaimed pine tops stained in turquoise and distressed metal.

A playful industrial design contributes to the experience of The Factory House (pictured), the new restaurant and bar in the City of London from bar operator Davy’s with input from drinks consultancy Fluid Movement. The design by hospitality specialist Mystery alludes to the Victorian age of innovation and industry with a contemporary and sometimes humorous nod to the modern City. Passing an old-style “clocking in” station, guests descend a helical staircase to a copper-faced bar and the 180-cover dining room. Key features include vintage machines and inventions to echo the factory feel such as reclaimed antique train station clocks as wall sculptures, decorative gauges, pipe work and valves on the walls, a gold-framed oil painting of an 18th-century industrialist wearing a digital watch, and a Victorian coffee roaster that has been renovated as a functioning waiter station.

Dan Einzig of Mystery explains: “We have tried to re-interpret the trend for urban interiors by having fun imagining a subterranean gentlemen’s club – where the original great industrialist thinkers might have met and exchanged big ideas – and by designing an irreverent premium brand that celebrates them and the inventions that built their fame and fortunes.” He adds that it was important for Mystery to create a more engaging and long-lasting brand experience through humour in design. “That often means breaking out of the realms of working graphically in two dimensions and instead creating an array of 3D artwork installations, large and small, that we hope customers will have fun discovering over time a little more with each subsequent visit.”

Art installations are an established feature of the interior of Urban Leisure Group’s bar Graphic in Soho, London, where artists such as Ben Allen, Eine and Mark Wallinger have helped to create a unique look. The latest six-month installation is by Jim Sharp, a renowned 3D artist, in collaboration with Bombay Sapphire Gin. He has produced images on the walls and in the menus that look tranquil and simple until viewed through 3D glasses available at the bar.

Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling have worked with artist Thom Headley for a UV mural that has been added to the eclectic 1980s interior of their club Maggie’s in Chelsea, London. Using special UV paint on top of the painted design, the back-bar mural depicts 80s images such as Margaret Thatcher, Pacman and Mr T from The A-Team, illuminated by UV lighting.

Bars and clubs are starting to integrate tablet technology into their design to enhance the experience for customers. While technology companies such as Socket Mobile, Bleep and Aptito are making it possible for interactive digital menus, iPad docking stations were integrated along the bar at Chaophraya Group’s Palm Sugar Lounge bar in Liverpool in a refurbishment by design practice JMDA. Manufacturer Disgo has started to target the bar and club sector after developing a successful value-based proposition for consumers with its range of Android-based tablets. “They can be used in bars and restaurants to provide a wow factor,” explains Disgo’s purchasing director Luke Noonan. “It gives a bar or restaurant an element of kudos if they are using tablets, making them look trendy.”

The most popular application is for digital menus where customers can browse food and drinks, but Luke says it is easy to create bespoke applications for Android-based tablets that would allow individual venues to go further. “The customer could build their own cocktail and send the order straight to the bartender,” he suggests. “It has taken off in the US so it’s only a matter of time before it comes to the UK.” Other uses have been tablets hard-wired into tables in sports bars where customers can access sports-related content as well as order drinks.

Technological advances are also presenting new options for furniture, such as fibreflass. “Fibreglass furniture has become very popular for bars and clubs as it can be manufactured into any shape, size or colour, which lends itself very well to ultra-contemporary designs,” explains Mark Went, managing director of manufacturer Sui Generis Landscape. “It’s also been warmly welcomed by nightclub and bar managers as products made from fibreglass can be wiped clean, are weatherproof and last a lifetime. Fibreglass is very lightweight which allows all members of staff to move furniture around in all outdoor areas to create different ambiences and seating arrangements throughout the day.”

For the future, bar interiors continue to reflect both the contemporary and the vintage, depending on their different markets. “Many popular concepts currently feature a soft, traditional comfortable seating area as well as a design-led, modern bar area,” points out Vaughann Turnbull, national sales manager at hospitality furniture supplier GO IN (UK). “Others seek the organic, ‘natural’ look throughout, using beech and oak to good effect, albeit with contemporary design twist. Laminates are making a comeback and look great in a range of colours.”

Vaughann adds that strong colour mixes are popular, with designers seeking a wide choice of colours. “Trends are constantly changing, and modern takes on antique golds and greens are still popular, while others are looking at blacks, greys and reds. Patterned fabrics can be dynamically mixed and matched with plain materials and leathers to striking effect. Leather is still a popular look, and by specifying the excellent modern imitation materials, this ‘look and feel’ is easily achievable, practical and cost-effective.”

Case study: Apero, London

The history of South Kensington as a centre of culture since the 19th century inspired the interiors at Apero, the new restaurant and bar in the 19th-century vaults of London’s Ampersand Hotel. The design was created by Dexter Moren Associates in collaboration with Gorgeous Group, with features including a five-metre-tall cabinet of curiosities.

Guests enter via a brash-mesh staircase, while a chandelier shaped from intermingling aluminium rods illuminates the entrance. A marble bar runs along one side of the room, with seats upholstered in cobalt blue leather. Further seating is tucked around the original Victorian arches, with banquettes and chairs upholstered in tan leather. Some areas of the original brick walls have been painted white, while others have been left as exposed brick. Warm brass finishes to the joinery complement the tones of an antique brass mirror.

Case study: South Place, London

Art installations and contemporary design can be seen throughout the City of London’s new South Place Hotel – the first hotel from restaurant and bar operator D&D London. Designed by Conran & Partners, it includes the ground-floor cocktail bar 3 South Place which has a mix of modern and vintage furniture. This is complemented by artwork commissioned from artists such as John Vincent Aranda. Upstairs is the equally stylish Atrium Bar, a covered outdoor terrace with a bespoke sculpture by Grace and Webb.

Case study: Amber Lounge, Monaco

Lyndon Design, a leading British manufacturer of handcrafted upholstered furniture, has provided a bespoke range of luxurious soft seating for Amber Lounge, the luxurious Monaco nightclub owned by Sonia Irvine. Featuring elegant, sleek white sofas in a crisp cotton fabric, Lyndon’s collection blends traditional craftsmanship with modern design and boasts clean lines with uncluttered form. Incorporating a hardwood frame with polished beech legs, the range offers many different assembly options and features alongside the bars, dance floors and terraces.

Case study: Boujis, Hong Kong

The London-based Ignite Group brought in British design practice Blacksheep to create the interiors for the latest overseas outpost of its Boujis club concept. Due to open in October, the club in Hong Kong encapsulates British design aesthetic, with Georgian-inspired decoration and traditional furniture including a union flag image glowing out of a gold-smoked mirror set in the bar. The venue features timber panelling, stained deep blue, and luxurious turquoise banquette seating alongside modern LED lighting in the bar and high-tech AV systems and large HD video screens on the ceiling and walls of the club area.

Case study: Filini, Chicago

Scottish design practice Graven Images has been shortlisted for its work on Chicago’s Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in the global Gold Key Awards for hospitality designers – the only British design studio on the shortlist for best mid-scale to up-scale hotel design. In a project including its Italian restaurant and bar Filini, creative director Jim Hamilton selected features and materials reflective of Chicago, including the use of steelwork throughout to pay homage to the city’s skyscrapers. The winners are announced in December.

Originally published in the November 2012 edition of Bar magazine.

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