Design focus: The Huxley

February 1st, 2013 | Posted in: Features,News

There are some refurbishments that go all out to capture that familiar, comfortable vibe that can take years to hone. The Huxley, the ground floor bar at Edinburgh’s Rutland Hotel, has pulled this off after its £200K overhaul by owner Signature Pubs, revealed late last month.
Interior design consultancy Tibbatts.Abel was drafted in to reimagine the Rutland Street hotel, which also has its fair share of inventive touches.
According to marketing manager, Leanne Rinning, who along with GM Murray Ward kindly showed me round, the current economic climate had a large bearing on what was delivered. She said, “When we last refurbished the Rutland around five or so years ago, it was before the economic downturn, so the interior design reflected this in being a lot more opulent and glitzy. Now, in light of what’s happened in the world since, we’ve gone for more of a down-to-earth, sociable, eclectic look. So far, our customer feedback has focused on the comfort factor and how cosy it is, despite being a sizable space, so what we set out to do hasn’t gone unappreciated.”
And it wasn’t just Signature boss Nic Wood who kicked about ideas with the designers, as GM Murray Ward explained, “Nic is very hands-on, but all the staff were invited to contribute, and so they all became involved in some way or other, and this made for a design that’s more operationally friendly for starters.”
And this exercise also unearthed some other interesting gems. Murray said, “We found out that one of the bar managers had a friend who was qualified in woodwork, and she went on to make our wooden menu holders. It’s attention to detail and utilising independent Scottish businesses that has contributed greatly to what we’ve done here.”
The red and black heaviness of old has been obliterated, and replaced by a colour scheme of light greys and greens, bringing an airiness you’d expect from a corner unit with a wall of windows. To describe the rest of the interior would take an eternity as it’s so busy, so I’ll concentrate on the highlights.
Reducing the size of the bar hasn’t chipped away at its impact, in fact it’s more arresting than it used to be. It was constructed from scratch and rebuilt using stainless steel. The bar front is clad in an antique tile that’s bathed in a green LED light. Above the wooden bar top is a black wrought iron shelf that looks like a cage which serves as a gantry, and this frees up the white tiled back bar which, unusually, is lined with wall-mounted beer fonts.
The bar overlooks the main body of the kirk which is partitioned with a curved burnt orange banquette facing away from the bar and towards the windows. Tables and an array of contrasting comfy chairs are dotted about elsewhere, and there’s a black metal sculpture bolted on to the ceiling that looks a bit like a map of the London underground. Hanging from this are bell-shaped black pendant lights.
The imaginative lighting merits a mention in itself and has been garnering a lot of positive feedback. A circular cluster of black angle-poised lamps resemble a giant spider on the ceiling, although I’m told that this wasn’t intentional. Wall mounted lights made from a few bottles and piping also look great.
The Huxley has a few nooks and crannies which have their own individual little quirks. In one corner customers can hide away with a view up Lothian Road, there’s another with a Chesterfield that’s not overlooked by the rest of the bar, but overlooks the bar FEBRUARY 2013 DRAM 27
itself. Then, right at the back of the bar, in the furthest left hand corner, is a raised area that’s all on its own. There’s another unusual light fitting here made from black netting, like a large hat from Ladies Day at Ascot, with some dog-themed pictures and hot dog signs that reflect part of the bar’s food offering.
And quirkiness goes hand in hand with an unhurried service ethos that they hope will resonate with the people of Edinburgh. Says Leanne, “Some might say the design has a vintage quality and it’s also fairly unique in places, with the tiling at the front of the bar and little touches like the table top tea caddies and the old treacle tins, the contents of which have ended up on my ice-cream! The seating encapsulates a little bit of everything and is fairly eclectic. We want the Huxley to be the home of social entertainment, and it’s arguably one of the best bars for people watching in the capital. We want to encourage an environment where customers can come in and have a coffee and a blether and leisurely graze on food. It’s very much a home from home.”
One of the major operational changes was the bar reduction, and this has opened up the space considerably. Said Murray, “We’ve downsized the bar by about 50%, but we have a lot more storage space than before, and there are about 30 extra covers now, plus additional standing space, and this helps the customer flow.”
With this re-design Signature has turned the page on a new chapter on the history of The Rutland, which, as a unit, is now a lot more multi-faceted. Murray explains, “We had a lot of brainstorming about the name The Huxley and we looked at the history of the building and such, but we came up with the name arbitrarily, which I think suits what we’re doing here. We launched Kyloe Gourmet Steak Restaurant and Grill a year ago, and with the best of intentions, we wanted to slightly distance ourselves from that so that we could bring operationally independent premises under the one roof.”

Jason Caddy

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