Pubs call time on poor design

Pubs may be disappearing, but sympathetic owners are ensuring foodies and traditionalists alike are well served by good design, says Tom Banks

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, as many as 52 pubs a week – more than seven a day – closed in the first six months of 2009. The BBPA says the combination of the recession and tax and regulatory burdens has been piling pressure on pubs, and there have been suggestions that the smoking ban has also taken its toll.

But despite these gloomy facts – and the continued growth of the gastropub movement – the design of the traditional pub remains alive and well.

The Campaign for Real Ale has run its Pub Design Awards since 1983, and last year the pressure group recognised the Princess Louise in London’s High Holborn as joint winner in the refurbished category.

Michael Drain Architects, which is retained by brewer and Princess Louise owner Samuel Smith to carry out new design work on all of its pubs, was responsible for the winning design.

Tasked with creating an early 19th-century gin palace look, MDA project architect Mark Wightman says, ‘We were given some old plans by Samuel Smith which showed how it used to have booths and screens, so we’ve reintroduced these and had new joinery made to match. Often, in old Victorian bars, small snug areas were torn out in the 1960s to create large drinking areas.’

The restoration of original features is also a key concern of Remarkable Restaurants owner Robert Thomas, who has been buying, restoring and redesigning pubs for the past 25 years.

Thomas says his first project, the Prince George in London’s Dalston, was ‘covered in Formica’ when he took it over, and removing this was ‘like going down a mine’, he says. ‘We uncovered an 1830s-era mahogany bar piece and a beautiful Victorian staircase,’ he adds. Thomas oversees the design process of all the chain’s pubs himself. ‘Typically, the trick is to not to get too fancy,’ he says.

RR also owns The Shaftesbury Tavern in London’s Crouch End, which was redesigned in July, and the Royal Inn on The Park in London E9, which is about to undergo a redesign. But Thomas recalls that his most ambitious project was The Salisbury on Green Lanes in Haringey. He says, ‘It was once a gin palace, but the floor had been ruined. So we went over to Italy to get a marble floor and brought back about 300m2 of it.’

The Salisbury is another Camra Pub Design Award winner, but Sean Murphy, a chairman of the awards, says they don’t just recognise ‘revivalist’ design.

He says, ‘We’re looking for people being honest with their use of materials and design choices. We don’t like pastiche. If it’s a modern design, it should use modern materials and, if it’s traditional, then traditional materials, like acid-etched glass, should be used.’

Zero Degrees, in Reading, which won a Camra award last year, is, Murphy says, ‘an uncompromising modern pub’. Winner of the new-build category, Camra says that the pub, designed by Spacely Designs, ‘makes an architectural virtue of its brewing equipment’.

And even a pub purist like Murphy realises that gastropubs can be designed sympathetically. He notes that The Castle Inn, in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, has an interior tastefully maintained and in keeping with the Georgian-era exterior. Restored in 2007, it boasts flagstone floors and a reclaimed mahogany bar.

On 10 September, another gastropub, The Adam and Eve, will open up in London W1, replacing a Gothic-themed pub, The Ben Crouch Tavern.

This pub has been bought by, and is being redesigned by, Geronimo Inns, whose portfolio ranges from the more affordable through to Michelin-starred premises.

GI joint director Joanna Clevely heads design for all its interior projects and is keen to refer to The Adam and Eve as ‘food-led and female friendly’. ‘We need to think about the mixed clientele,’ Clevely says. ‘The daytime worker, evening and tourist markets.’

She adds, ‘I source the materials and create mood boards at the beginning of each project. [The Adam and Eve] is going to be lightened up to build the day trade. The place is in need of bold colours and strong details – chromes, pendants, velvets and stripes.’

And in a nod to 1960s West End London and nearby Carnaby Street, Clevely says there will be illustrations of Michael Caine, model Twiggy, a Mini and an Austin Healey on the walls.

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  • clif e November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    it is not a suggestion it is a fact that the smoking ban have taken its toll, a lot of pubs and clubs have been around for years, in the past they have survived recessions, taxes ect because they still had customers, the government brought in there smoking ban which got rid of a lot of there reguler customers, so less customers means less money in the till.

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