Reclaim to fame

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Furniture specialists and designers are coming up with new ideas that take current design trends in new directions, Mark Ludmon reports…

Beware the proliferation of cut-price websites offering “me too” furniture for bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants, warns Jay Rushton, operations manager of hospitality interiors specialist Dawnvale.“The contract furniture sector is full of website ‘me too’ providers,” he says.“The products are bounced around for the best prices which results in box shifters with no real support or understanding of real manufacturing and design needs, and a saturated market where there are no real winners.” Instead, designers and operators in the premium end of the bar and club market are increasingly turning to customised and bespoke furniture for their venues, giving them a point of difference in a  challenging market.“Most seasoned operators and designers have seen the usual Italian products, typical imported stock items and high-street brands available to all,” Jay adds. “Albeit this is a good stock up for some operators, but the market trends are steering manufacturers and suppliers to provide a more exciting and less limited provision of furniture.”

This trend has also been seen by Lee Pollock, founder of leading hospitality design company Lifeforms, which is increasingly working on bespoke furniture for bars. “You have to try to stand out, but you have to find ways of doing that while still being cost-effective as cost is still a big factor at the moment,” Lee says.This is a particular challenge with so many new bars and refurbishments seeking an industrial, vintage look with furniture to match, he adds.“You have to try to be as different as you can which is difficult when suppliers of reclaimed furniture are all supplying the same things. Because we are design-led, we can do something a bit different and be unique rather than go to suppliers.”

Lee points out that the vintage trend has been about for a few years but it is showing no sign of a let-up. Recent examples in his projects include bench seating made out of reclaimed delivery pallets, softened by the addition of cushions.“A lot of this is dictated by the cost as, if you can find a reclaimed chair, it is generally cheaper than a brand new piece,” he adds.“We are putting it in but trying to be clever by mixing it with something like a really nice deep-buttoned booth seat. It’s about providing that reclaimed look but trying to customise existing furniture – maybe painting the legs a bold colour or putting a new top on a table.”

Jay at Dawnvale says different trends can be seen across the hospitality sector, but mainstream bars are still going for vintage and reclaimed items, with a greater demand for natural materials, raw metals and matt finishes.“Classic and designer models are still strong, with a large amount of reproduction items supporting the growth.” At the medium to high-end venues, clients are still looking for inspiring new ideas, he adds. “Bespoke versions of core models are still being adapted to provide suitable alternatives to the mainstream.

The higher-end designers and clients in the contract market are still on the look-out for new products that offer inspiration and are not already saturated in this arena. Bespoke design is often the best solution while incorporating materials and finishes new to the market. Plus, we are able to trial and test unique surface textures in our production workshops to ensure true individuality.”

Designers and operators at the luxury end of the market are particularly keen on truly unique bespoke furniture production, Jay says. “It allows not only the designers to expand their visions but provides the production and manufacturing teams a chance to incorporate new and exciting ideas and materials for something a little bit different.” At Chaophraya restaurant in Birmingham’s Bullring, Dawnvale created fixed seating booths in a specialist solid surface material called Krion, which it distributes. It features a bespoke engraving which is then illuminated and fitted with the upholstery.

The industrial “lived-in” look continues to be in big demand at Andy Thornton, a leading supplier of furniture for bars, restaurants and pubs. Its new Urban Vintage range includes pieces such as the Factory leather bar stool which features a hard-wearing tubular steel frame that is both lightweight and sturdy.The frames are finished in a tarnished iron patina and have plastic bungs fitted to the bottom of the legs to protect timber and tiled floors.The upholstered seat and backs are available in a choice of distressed leather or hard-wearing washed denim.They are fixed to the frame with leather loops and rivet-style fixings.

It is part of a broad range of retro and industrial furniture and lighting from Andy Thornton, with newly sourced pieces being added regularly.

Demand for more flexibility and versatility in furniture is reflected in the new 2012 catalogue from hospitality furniture specialist GO IN, which introduces around 100 new furniture products and 270 new cover fabrics to help designers create unique and individual interior solutions. It encourages mixing and matching of colours and materials so, for instance, backrests and seat cushions on chairs and sofas now no longer need to be the same colour or pattern.

Variations on the classics feature in new ranges from Taylors Pub & Restaurant Furniture which, at the Hotelympia exhibition in London in March, presented a new look for bentwood chairs inspired by traditional designs.Working with a manufacturer in the Czech Republic, the British company has created reproduction chairs with a variety of finishes such as patination with a fish-scale design. “Bentwood chairs have started to be specified a lot more over the past few years in the standard format but we are giving it an extra twist to have more authenticity,” director MartinTaylor explains.Taylors also unveiled a range of lounge furniture based on 19th-century designs but adapted to be more compact for venues where space is limited.

Dawnvale showcases its latest ideas for furniture at the North West Design Centre on the outskirts of Manchester, which was set up last year as a project resource centre for designers and operators in the hospitality industry. New products from Dawnvale include its VIP collection, aimed at late-night bars and clubs, featuring illuminated stone and glass tables with insulated ice buckets, bespoke booth seating options and a selection of luxury loose seating. Other collections include Night & Day which provides an array of outdoor weatherproof booth seating, dining and lounge tables, chairs and high stools. It offers a mix of materials from illuminated glass and mirror steel through to iroko hardwood, marble, weave and polypropylene, while accessories include branded parasols and banners through to bespoke planters and heating.“The range is a far cry from the usual low-grade aluminium stacker,” Jay at Dawnvale adds.

For bars looking for cost-effective ways of sourcing furniture, leading contract furniture company Warings Furniture has launched a new online leasing scheme. Through ThinkSmart Business Leasing, the service has been introduced after Warings Furniture director Graham Waring saw how difficult and time-consuming it could be for some businesses to obtain credit for important refurbishments.“We’ve made leasing simple,” he explains.“Leasing to the hospitality industry is not a new concept, but has always been difficult, especially for new start-ups that have been trading for under three years, as many leasing companies have strict criteria and lots of checks.

“Our new service is a great opportunity for, say, an independent restaurateur who wants to refurbish up to £15,000 over a three-year period.They can apply to ThinkSmart for credit approval through the Warings website and get a voucher to use on furniture of their choice without difficulty.” If a venue has experienced a downturn in trading, operators can quickly increase turnover by giving their venue a fresh new look, including new furniture, Graham adds.“Leasing gives businesses the freedom to trade with their working capital instead of locking it away in their furniture which has very little asset value.”

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