Bars and restaurants designed with a distinctive theme in mind have a unique atmosphere. Bridget Stott soaks it up

THE stream of new and revamped bars and restaurants continues to flow, with strong branding and design finding its way not just on to menus, but also seeping into the exotic furnishings of some venues.

Essential to many concepts is a theme which effortlessly links every element, from its location to the furnishings. Once completed, successful themes work like satellite dishes, sending out hundreds of subliminal, aspirational signals to the subconscious. These in turn gently stimulate the ego and reinforce that elusive, yet essential element of a restaurant’s success – the feel-good factor.

Can – 50-52 Long Lane, EC1 Can, on London’s Long Lane, epitomises this integrated approach to interiors. It is a modern and functional bar serving mainly canned beers, and is designed by Jump. Owner Steve Switzman originally commissioned the two-man consultancy to create a slick urban-style bar within the confines of a Victorian building in Smithfields. Jump took its brief a stage further by integrating a sleek and deceptively simple branding concept based on the beer can. They fused its hard, shiny, curvaceous elements with what the product symbolises – fast-paced instant consumption, energy and expendability.

“The products and their immediate surroundings often generate theming ideas,” says Jump designer Shaun Fernandes.

Some products are functional, as well as inspirational: effective distribution and recycling is demonstrated by a prototype can crusher which squeezes empty cans flat between industrial rollers, before dropping them into a recycling collection skip below. The cans reach the crusher via a pneumatic vacuum system of clear Perspex and stainless steel tubes.

The tube system was inspired by technology used in banks and hospitals to distribute coins and x-rays. Customers dispose of their empty cans by slotting them into tube mouths just inside the entrance to the main bar. The empty can is sucked through the tubes at 200mph, and on to the crusher’s unforgiving rollers.

“The system ensures effective can disposal and reinforces the themes of speed, energy and recycling,” says Switzman.

The basement toilet areas have also had the theme treatment. Individual cubicles resemble cans with their curved, brushed aluminium doors which double as promotional billboards – they have clear plastic slip covers to display posters. Toilets and hand basins come in curvy stainless steel. Above the basins, customers can view the suction tubes in action from one side of a glass splashback.

The basement also contains a wall of glass-fronted, deluxe-style vending machines containing a wide variety of essentials, from salted nuts and sandwiches to disposable cameras. “These were included in the design, as they relate back to the themes of speedy distribution and disposal,” says Fernandes.

Space is at a premium, so coats and bags are stored in a row of gym-style lockers. The basement area is lit by can-shaped low-voltage fluorescent tube lighting, hung from the ceiling, which emits a soft, yellow glow to contrast with the glare of metallic fixtures and finishes.

On the ground floor, the focal point of the bar area is a large horse-shoe-shaped oak counter next to a clear glass floor-to-ceiling, can-shaped storage column with room for up to 1300 cans.

The bar area has minimal furnishings, simple bar stools and wall-hung stainless steel counter tops. “The lack of tables and chairs encourages people to mix and mingle,” says Switzman.

Jump also developed a graphic identity for Can based on the matrix dot pattern printed on the base of beer cans. The façade window features the logo in out-sized lime dots, while cards and stationery are hole-punched with the logo.

Other devices include illuminated, interactive pixel boards which keep a record of the number of cans crushed, while video cameras relay the crusher’s activities on screens in the bar areas. “Using interactive design as part of the overall theme has worked for us and has proved very popular with customers,” Switzman adds.

Itsu – 118 Draycott Avenue SW3 East-meets-West restaurant Itsu, a 70-seat venue on London’s Draycott Avenue, is all about fresh, colourful ingredients. Wolff Olins was brought in to create an identity for the venue, formerly known as T’su, which would appeal to both old and new customers.

Voted Time Out’s Best Oriental Restaurant of 1999, Itsu is owned by Julian Metcalfe of Pret a Manger fame and Clive Schlee.

As well as focusing on Itsu’s use of ingredients, the design team refined the concept to include the unbroken, moving line of Itsu’s food conveyor belt and to symbolise how food is essential for survival.

The team spent a day in the restaurant examining 30 of the dishes available and analysing their colours. The recurring colours were matched against Pantone swatches, and later translated into Itsu’s colour theme.

The designers used varying-sized blocks of different colours to correspond with the ratio of ingredients used in each dish. Each block of colour contrasts with the next and runs on in a continuous straight line.

The colour block line concept is also a focal point of the new interior scheme. Brightly-coloured, custom-made ceramic tiles from Bilbey Chowdhary form a horizontal line on the neutral interior walls. This pattern is repeated using squares of translucent-coloured transfers, also positioned horizontally across the centre point of Itsu’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

“We chose translucent decals for the windows to reinforce the line/food theme and to let passers-by view what’s going on inside,” says Karen Strutt, graphic designer at Wolff Olins. “Itsu is about colour, texture and the brand,” she adds. “What was really satisfying about the Itsu project was that established customers from the T’su days returned, and overall sales increased by 40 per cent.”

Designed to contrast with the dark stained timber flooring, Itsu’s downstairs dining areas feature light ash timber furniture with stainless steel bases and black leather or natural woven raffia upholstery. Matching bar stools surround the elevated food conveyor. Upstairs, the long, narrow bar has a strong Japanese influence. Two-seater wall-hung, booth-style counter bars and stools in dark stained timber finishes match the flooring to create a calm, undiverting environment. Cream paper and black bamboo blinds shade the windows.

The Park – 105 Salusbury Road, NW6 The Park in Salusbury Road, north-west London occupies a Thirties building that used to belong to the London Society of the Blind. Owned by Billy Brannigan, Martin Saxon and Rupert Maunsell of Queenspark Developments, it houses an 80-seat contemporary Italian restaurant, bar and private dining room with a Roman-style assagini (café). Consultancy Drury Browne and furniture designers David Murphy and Duncan MacVine were told to avoid creating either an excessively contemporary look, or one that resembled the rather twee Mediterranean stereotype. The Park’s identity, created by Dew Gibbons, also echoed these themes.

Architect Tom Drury of Drury Browne says the industrial-look rough concrete finishes and Art Deco features of the original building were a major source of inspiration.

These influences translated into several oversized pieces, such as the large iroko and oak timber reception desk in the entrance area, a monolithic bar counter and the restaurant’s huge concrete-clad, wood-fired pizza oven.

To prevent these strong visual statements from having an overwhelming effect on their surroundings, a high glass ceiling above the dining area provides a light, spacious feel. Industrial touches include a mix of shiny, pebble-grey epoxy resin and dark-stained chestnut and oak timber flooring.

A Mike Stubbs painting, featuring layers of transparent varnishes, provided inspiration for the scheme. The painting led to the idea of creating layers of colours that appear to float away from the cream-painted walls using square panels hung 75mm from the wall face. Painted in shades of cream, purple, brown and pistachio, they echo the colours of the Art Deco period. Narrow uplights between the walls and the panels highlight the layered, shadow-gap effect.

Drury worked closely with furniture designer Murphy to continue the Art Deco/floating theme. David chose blonde ash table tops and plywood chairs for the café space. Seats were designed to look as if they are floating slightly above their stainless steel frames.

A palette of autumnal tones, taken from the colours in the nearby park, was used to define the interior of the bar, restaurant and private dining room. Chairs upholstered in autumnal shades of brown are positioned in mix-and-match combinations around oak-topped tables.

Swivel bar stools with stainless steel support bases are modified versions of the restaurant chair. These bases match the deco-look brown leather Mies van der Rohe-style sofas.

“By identifying what was already there and applying several interpretations with a layered effect, we created a stronger sense of identity and visual appeal, that meets the brief and appeals to the informed urbanites that inhabit the surrounding area,” says Drury.

Profile: Jump

Canadian Shaun Fernandes Рone half of Jump Рthinks that a foreign perspective helps both he and Austrian Ren̩ Chavanne view London with a critical eye. Both have a keen desire to develop other projects such as Can.

Jump is a young, multidisciplinary design consultancy which seeks to define a new attitude towards the creative act. The group wants to establish strong identities by blurring the lines between design disciplines.

‘The key is not to go so far with branding that it becomes gimmicky,’ says Fernandes. ‘Usually, we judge a range of ideas and concentrate on working closely with the client on a mix of strong themes. To do this successfully, we set out to find clients who want to go that bit further.’

Since forming in November 1997, Jump has worked on a diverse range of branding projects, ranging from its work on Can to an exhibition space for Emap Publishing, City offices, food packaging and a recipe book.

Jump was born out of the creative working relationship forged between Fernandes and Chavanne. Both designers worked together for several years at Ron Arad Associates.

Chavanne studied product design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and joined Ron Arad Associates following graduation. He rapidly moved from product/furniture development and computer imaging to running the design department, working on a wide range of projects for Kartell, Alessi, Vitra and Moroso.

Fernandes studied architecture at the University of Waterloo in Canada. He moved over to the UK in 1993, joined Ron Arad Associates and worked on, among other projects, the Belgo chain of restaurants throughout London.

Their different backgrounds combined to forge a strong creative bond. Brainstorming ideas and drawing up plans is their preferred method of working. They don’t rely heavily on technology because they’ve found this to be a false economy. Too much imaging and 3D work, they believe, can result in very fixed design ideals that are at odds with their spontaneous creative style.

‘It’s often better to work in a more flexible way so you can re-model ideas to suit a changing environment,’ says Fernandes.

Each project brings new challenges. Fernandes says both he and Chavanne enjoy working with other consultancies on joint ventures to try and push the boundaries. ‘This can lead to stimulating and surprising brand-conscious results that people are really drawn to and can identify with,’ he says.

When just embryonic, Jump was commissioned by Emap Publishing to design an exhibition space for the relaunch of Menswear magazine at an Earls Court trade fair. The brief was based around the magazine’s new style of branding, entitled Get Fresh.

More recently, the duo created new interiors for City-based Hamilton Corporate Finance. Jump decided to link the five floors of its warehouse-style offices using a plywood dividing system. Light, easy to manoeuvre and colour-coded, the system is duplicated on each floor to create a sense of corporate unity throughout the building. The system is designed to be as flexible as possible, and it also integrates with existing furniture, from the reception desk to the boardroom table, bringing an unusual design element to a typically corporate environment.

Jump is currently designing and developing the brand of a new Belgian-style ice-cream, working in conjunction with London ad agency Magic Hat. The ice-cream will be vacuum-packed in resealable, clear plastic cubes which convey messages of innovation and insulation.

Jump is also designing a book which explores the relationship between food and architecture. With contributions from Philippe Starck, Richard Rogers, Ron Arad, Maris Sal, Richard Meier and Peter Isman, the book aims to be more than just another coffee table trophy. Jump intends to add value by creating a product rather than a book-style launch for the project.

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