Cheek to chic

You’ve found the perfect café, but how comfortable will that chair be by the time you get to espresso? Nicky Churchill checks out some budget options

Our city streets are being bombarded with new cafés, restaurants and wine bars. London in particular seems to have an ever-changing restaurant and bistro scene, with bigger and better being the current trend. Last year it was the Atlantic Bar and Grill which led the way, this year so far it seems to be Ron Arad’s Belgo Centraale, which now dominates the Neal Street area of Covent Garden.

Furniture undoubtedly has a significant role to play in the design of a restaurant interior, with seating having to satisfy a number of criteria, the two most important being comfort and looks. In addition, the chair has to be able to withstand abuse from customers, it should be reasonably lightweight, and it may need to be stackable.

In the past, many of the up-market European manufacturers have offered limited ranges, and what has been on offer has been both price-prohibitive and difficult to obtain. Inevitably, this led interior designers to create their own – Julyan Wickham at Harvey Nichols’ Fifth Floor, for example, and Rick Mather for the Zen chain.

Today, restaurant furniture is a big market, with many manufacturers competing to offer exciting and original designs at a competitive price. We take a look to see which “off-the-peg” chairs have been specified recently, most of which have list prices in the 100 bracket.

From Spain, Jorge Pensi is possibly the most well-known designer of chairs. His successes include the recent Gorka (3) for Akaba. Available through London agent rds-Solutions, this is offered in two versions, both of which have been used in classy bistros and in-house staff cafés. The polyamide shell version was specified by Malcolm Mills Design Group for Corney & Barrow at London’s Broadgate, and also features in Cyberia Café sites in Kingston-on-Thames and Edinburgh. The basic version is available from 110. The beech veneer model, used at the Stepping Stone Restaurant in London’s Battersea, is marginally more expensive.

Also from Spain comes manufacturer Carlos Jané Camancho, available through sole UK agent Conran Shop Contracts. The company’s Arabesco (4) Chair, designed by Pedro Miralles, has a beech frame with tapered legs, and is available in a number of stained finishes. The backrest can be wooden or upholstered. It may look expensive but on large orders is priced as low as 110 per chair. It was selected earlier this year by interior design practice Dd’A for Aggies, the new restaurant-cum-café at the Business Design Centre in Islington.

If you want to be patriotic and buy British, Ryan & Company has a range of good looking, reasonably priced chairs, all under 100. Nicholas, Jake, Oscar (2) et al are particularly suitable for bars and restaurants, being elegant and lightweight yet very solid. Oscar, one of Martin Ryan’s more recent designs, was chosen by Din Associates for Shoeless Joe’s (see page 16). The main area features 95 Oscar chairs which have been used together with Ryan’s Chameleon table (6), both supplied by Viaduct.

Oscar has also been selected as part of the new Cranks image. Here architect BPTW went for the black frame and beech seat version (supplied by Conran Shop Contracts) which has already been installed at the branches in St Christopher’s Place and Covent Garden.

From Italy, the latest designs from Philippe Starck are now making an appearance. Olly Tango (7), designed by Starck for Aleph, has been selected for Olivetto, the sister restaurant to Olivo, which is soon to open in Pimlico. Here, the architect, Piero Pugh from Sardinia, chose the light walnut finish for the 30 or so restaurant chairs, supplied by Viaduct and priced at 155.

A very different design is Starck’s larger than life Lord Yo (5) from Driade, which is surprisingly under 100 per chair. This stylish chair with its polypropylene shell has been specified by architect Dempster Thrussell and Rae for the new Heathcotes Brasserie in Preston. Viaduct’s Manchester dealer Ralph Capper supplied 90 Lord Yo chairs in cream.

And from Italian manufacturer Zeus, the latest addition to the Anonimus range (1) by Ron Arad can now be seen at Belgo Centraale. The chair, first shown at the new Zeus showroom in Milan in April, is an adaptation of the three- legged stool launched last year, and features a curved seat and back which make it amazingly comfortable. The 150 installed at Belgo Centraale were supplied in natural maple with a graphite finish to the frame. But at 250 list price, it won’t be affordable to many.

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