Behindbars

Bridget Stott looks at the new-style bar and the designers who embody them with rich fabrics, graceful curves and raw textures

Lavish white leather Barcelona chairs to lounge in, chocolate suede poufs to perch on, and hand-waxed bean bags to die for – it’s no wonder that the adored and adorable frequent the new-style bars in droves.

Stylish bars are the new way to ride the crest of the design wave, and with them comes an increasing demand for chic, contemporary bespoke furniture designs. Julyan Wickham, designer of London venues Bank and Zander, explains why. “Tough, durable furniture in a contemporary design not only adds to the general ambience of a stylish venue, but actually comprises a substantial and crucial component of all bar and restaurant projects,” he says. “In fact, many designers are now actively encouraging their clients to let them create original one-off pieces for a specific project.”

Cellar Gascon is a chic new bar in London’s West Smithfield, with elegant interior and bespoke furnishings by Sophie Douglas of design consultancy Fusion. The overall design was heavily influenced by the existing architecture. With this in mind, Douglas went for a slightly masculine, gentlemen’s club feel that also works as an innovative take on the traditional wine bar.

The dining area features a continuous classic banquette which fits neatly under a row of elevated windows overlooking the street. The banquette is covered in supple waxy leather in violet-blue which sits alongside egg-shaped swivel chairs and bar stools covered in a rich chocolate leather. These contrasting leathers complement a single row of square tables with highly polished mahogany tops. Opposite, random-sized panels in anodised aluminium and black, padded leather clad the long, curved bar. Their shiny, hard finishes complement a floor of dark-stained marabou timber and contrast with naturally raw textures, like exposed brickwork and original 1950s plywood pendant shades.

To give the bar an increased sense of theatre, a raised platform defines the dining area, while a raised salon at the far end of the room contains a custom-built humidor and low seating. The area also displays a stylised map of south-west France and a collection of books, giving it a lounge feel.

Another new, seductively small drinking hole in London is L’escapade. Hidden away in a basement on Chelsea’s fashionable Draycott Avenue, the bar’s location and interior fit-out is designed to appeal to wealthy, style-conscious society types and young-gun fashionistas. L’escapade’s designers, Andrew Norrey and Martin Brudnizki, who created venues such as Abigail’s Party in London’s Brewer Street and Bambou in Percy Street, use a clever mix of colour and sharp architectural angles to define the L’escapade (c) experience. A palette of dark aubergine walls, morello cherry-coloured timber floors and a Pucci-inspired wave of lush pinks, lilacs and clarets set the tone for a laid-back, late-night feel. However, a shock awaits in the gents – walls in the brightest sugar-pink imaginable.

Seating areas are defined by curvy club chairs in ox-blood wool and two- and three-seater couches wrapped in an oatmeal raffia-weave. Ubiquitous chocolate leather cube poufs and dark timber drinks tables complete the scene. Each seating area is divided from the next by floor-to-ceiling screens containing irregular-sized timber slats inspired by barcode design.

L’escapade’s only true weak point is its lighting. Though it is designed as a late-night bar, the only source of illumination is via a feeble glow from little uplighters hidden behind parchment wall boxes. Better lighting can be found around the two-sided bar counter. The bar front is clad in shiny black tiles, while a large mirror behind it gives it a hard-edged, Studio 54 feel.

When the Westbourne Hotel opens in London’s Westbourne Grove in August, it will be the showpiece for design group CA1. The consultancy created the interiors and furnishings for this 20-bedroom hotel. The team decided to select the best aspects of the international style from the 1940s and 1950s, including the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, for the hotel bar. “We chose comfortable and generously proportioned angular shapes that work in complete harmony with the existing architecture,” says CA1 designer Ben Mathers. Everything is made from and covered in natural materials, selected for their durability and the attractive patinas that will develop as they age. “A good quality leather is best for bar furnishings,” explains Mathers. “Experience has shown that people will jump and dance all over furniture, so it’s best to be prepared for the inevitable drunken onslaught.”

Although the bar at the Westbourne isn’t expecting too much wild dancing, it is prepared for spills, thrills and cigarette burns. A wall-length banquette in hand-waxed, ox-blood leather is set into thick, indestructible timber frames of tropical green olive, a material also used for the tapered legs on freestanding 1950s-style table and chairs. Similarly inspired print fabrics, with button detailing in clusters of three, cover chairs and cushion covers. “Every material has been carefully selected to create a coherent look,” says Mathers.

Loaf is another venue that went for top-quality natural materials. This huge 1200m2 venue cost £2.6m to complete and occupies two railway arches in Manchester’s trendy Deansgate. The space has been divided into zones which includes a vast bar area, a dining room, chill out space and a night club. Loaf can handle a big crowd, so furnishings have to be resilient to cope with Manchester’s beau monde.

Raw designers Andrew Kirk and Matt Rawlinson were responsible for the overall design concept, and bespoke furnishings. Materials chosen to complement those furnishings include limestone, slate, marble, raw brick, glass, flint stones and solid oak to give Loaf a modernist appeal. “We didn’t want the furniture to date too quickly, so we specified natural materials and clean, angular lines to create individual pieces with a timeless quality. Everything is designed to be functional and practical, with clean lines and no gimmicks,” explains Kirk.

Stylish bars, it seems, have evolved to become a window on what’s happening at the cutting-edge of interior style. They not only allow designers a chance to experiment and showcase their most innovative work, but also give the public a chance to experience the latest on the interiors front.

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