When old meets the new

Heritage properties are tapping into a bygone era, translating stories from their past into contemporary, visual elements to try to attract a younger audience. Laura Snoad looks at some of the latest identity projects in this sector

Heritage properties are currently stepping up their game to attract and engage a new, younger audience, by tapping into stories of British quirk and country living.

Luke Gifford, co-founder of Lukecharles, which has recently worked on the National Trust’s restaurant identity pilot, which opened in January at Surrey’s Polesden Lacey, says, ’The project is about making trust properties relevant to a younger type of member. We’re trying to get people to think, “Why not meet a friend at Polesden Lacey rather than a café in Dorking”.’

This new emphasis can be seen in a flurry of identity projects for heritage properties for the National Trust and privately owned houses such as Holker Hall in the Lake District, redesigned by True North, and Hampshire’s Heckfield Place – set to become a hotel with branding by Someone.

For each project, the crux is to reveal local significance and individuality and tease out existing stories from the property and translate them into contemporary visual elements.

National Trust design and corporate identity manager Craig Robson says, ’Our brand guidelines [overhauled by Wolff Olins in 2009] are enabling. They’re a coat-hanger that projects – usually commissioned at a local level – can hang clothing on, perfectly suited to the individual property.’

For the identity of National Trust property Tyntesfield near Bristol, which launched last week, Ice House Design created motifs inspired by the house. Ice House creative director Jack Owen says, ’We’ve included a Peruvian bird as a cheeky nod towards the fortune of original owners the Gibbs family, which was made by importing bird shit [guano].’ The humour creates a less stuffy view of the house and the motifs reinforce low-tech engagement popular with ’make do and mend’ types as they act as a graphic treasure hunt, says Owen.

True North is currently working on the identity and brand guidelines for the privately owned Holker Estate, the logo of which was inspired by a snake motif that was found on its stained glass. Similarly, the colour of the consultancy’s identity for The Georgian House museum in Bristol was inspired by the building’s interiors, says True North creative director Alan Herron.

Because heritage property identities will be spread disparately and discreetly around the sites, it is important to create an immersive system of colour palette, graphic language and typography rather than just a clever logo, explains Owen.

At National Trust site Corfe Castle, for which Ice House created interpretation installations, imaginative use of type played a large part in directing the feel of this windswept ruin, and was made bold and punchy to pick up on the property’s key stories of war, betrayal and murder. Ice House also created a 9m-long multilayered, polished-metal timeline with quirky, vibrant scenes by illustrator Nadine Wickenden.

This flexible approach and contemporary illustration style is a direct response to Wolff Olins’ brand overhaul in 2009. The National Trust’s Robson says, ’The brand guidelines give the framework for the personality of properties to shine through.’ This approach is also clear in the National Trust’s new packaging, developed by Studio H, and restaurant offer, created by Lukecharles. Like Ice House, Studio H developed a suite of motifs inspired by National Trust properties, to be used on its packaging.

Studio H creative director Rob Hall says, ’The motifs have a “new-retro” feel inspired by Festival of Britain-type styles and can be easily manipulated for new products without having to commission new illustrations.’

The colours nod to some of the Farrow & Ball hues found within heritage properties, but with some lively, modern tones thrown in, says Hall.

The new line of packaging for the National Trust’s toiletry range features textile flowers aiming to tap into a younger market keen on craft and Cath Kidston-style kitsch, says Hall. ’Your grandma would probably have a dim view on the quality of the stitching because it’s deliberately raw and naive,’ he says.

The Polesden Lacey restaurant has been decorated with an eclectic mix of old kitchenalia and vintage cups. A 3D canvas was created using layered portraits and ephemera of Polesden Lacey’s Mrs Greville, a high society hostess who received George VI on his honeymoon.

Key messages for the point-of-sale signage include focusing on how locally the food has been sourced, drawing on visual cues from allotments, such as enamel markers. The signage has been designed with blackboard inserts so that it can be customised by staff to highlight recipes and produce that tie into the house’s story – such as Mrs Greville’s coffee and walnut cake, a favourite of the Queen Mother. It’s a microcosm for the trust’s overall brand guidelines.

And it is not just the National Trust that has seen the opportunity to use the vintage trend. The identity, by & Smith for Coworth Park hotel and spa, aimed to be ’undeniably English’ and its typography resembles a modern take on the Government’s wartime Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

The holding site for Heckfield Place, with an identity by Someone and Web design by John Henry, depicts a vintage bell jar – a metaphor for the creative environment of the hotel – and earthy workmen’s boots, to be replaced on opening with estate-grown produce or spa towels. Someone founder Simon Manchipp says, ’The hotel building was constructed in the Age of Enlightenment, a time where ideas flourished. So an antique from the Age of Enlightenment is used both as a vehicle for and a protector of ideas.’

Designing for heritage properties

  • Typography, materials and colour schemes are key. ’Materials must be sympathetic, but it can’t look too much like the original structure,’says Ice House Design creative director Jack Owen
  • Low-tech, unobtrusive engagement caters for the needs of a variety of visitors without disturbing the integrity of the house, says National Trust design and corporate identity Craig Robson
  • Interpretation should provide bite-size elements of the property’s key stories, which direct visitors to more information, says Owen

Latest articles