By Annabelle Love
IT is not rocket science to suggest that how a bar or restaurant looks and feels has a major impact on the type of customers it attracts, whether or not they will keep on coming back – and ultimately how successful it is.
So it is no surprise either that a whole industry has grown up around the design and development of new builds and the refurbishment of everything from wee, intimate pubs through to luxury five-star hotels. Much like trends in so many other aspects of our lives – clothing, food, music – certain ‘looks’ are hot right now when it comes to the licensed trade and others perhaps a bit more passé but one thing is clear, if you have a vision, there is a talented designer out there who can make it happen.
Globalisation and the rise in foreign travel means that there are more cultural influences coming through from other parts of the world and this can often be a source of inspiration for new bars, restaurants and hotels.
Science also has a part to play – two years ago, for example, a major study in London, the Campo Viejo Colour Lab experiment, found that changing the colour and music in an environment could improve the taste of wine by up to 15 per cent. Red light and sweet music apparently boosted enjoyment, bringing out fruitier notes, while green lighting improved freshness according to the 3,000 people who took part in the trial.
There are plenty of fun elements to the process of opening up a bar, but the interior design aspect can prove tricky and yet it is one of the key factors in making customers feel comfortable.
Recent trends were very much about the impact of craft beers, with an emphasis on reclaimed materials like wood and steel and up-cycled furniture, rather than going for brand new everything. At the other end of the spectrum, New York-style bars were also popular, channelling a more luxurious feel with marble, granite and LED lighting used to set the mood.
Adam Tibbats, a director at Tibbats Abel, says his favourite part of the process is literally walking into a place and ‘feeling’ the space before coming up with a series of ideas to put to the client – and then going back at the end of the project and seeing how it has actually come to life.
He also spends time considering issues like the demographics of an area, the client base and what is already on offer.
Adam explains, “We are very conceptual and we do like to treat each job as an independent job and follow suit with the nature of the building, what will complement it in the best way. My favourite part of design is the conceptual design, walking into a space for the first time, feeling the space and working with how we feel it will best suit the offer that the client needs and then conceptualising that and presenting it. Stage one, and then the final stage, when you walk in and see the creation and people in it, actually enjoying it – those are probably my favourite parts of the job.
“We create interiors for people, we don’t create them for anybody else but the customers going into them and enjoying them. We’ve got to put something into practice and to see the consumer who we targeted for a specific unit spending time in a relaxed atmosphere or a dance atmosphere or whatever, that’s what gives you the buzz.
“We treat ourselves as a consultancy, so we look at the demographics of the area and our client’s needs through their offer and then we take strands through that and the local area and so on and build a brief around that, taking into consideration things like client base and what else the area already has to offer. It’s all very much job-specific.
“We basically follow the client’s needs and hopefully produce a package to amalgamate their offer and the interior into something that is contemporary, vibrant and will attract people and do the best for them. We have to make sure we are unique and not replicating other offers in the area so that we are putting our client at the top of the food chain.”
Adam, who works on projects valued at anything from £100,000 to around £4million, says he takes inspiration from everywhere – and admits he can’t help casting a critical eye over interiors even when he is out socialising.
He adds, “Certainly if we’re looking at installation art pieces and all sorts we take them from everywhere. You might see a post box one day, for example, and think, ‘I could make that into a light fitting.’
In terms of current trends, he says that the industrial look is still proving popular – even though it might be regarded by some as a bit old hat. Colonial influences and Scandinavian themes are also coming into design.
Adam says, “A lot of people are still replicating a very hard industrial feel which I personally think is a bit done and dusted but we have also seen a lot more vibrant colours coming through for the summer. We always try to create a lot of mood through lighting anyway but I think things are moving into a more of a neutral palette but a lot lighter again, a lot fresher, punching the colour through the fabrics and the furniture, rather than these sort of dark timber and steel influences that are a bit old hat. They can still look good though, especially if they are still done well and maybe have another twist to them, whether it is a punk twist or something like that.”
While the market is buoyant and has certainly improved over the last 18 months, money is not everything when it comes to design projects. In fact, if the budget for a small space is excessive it could mean that the licensee will struggle to earn enough money to repay loans and investors.
Adam explains, “Everything needs to be thought of in terms of creating good profit margins for the client and making sure they can get their investment back over a period of time. We design anything from five-star hotels to small budget pubs but obviously everything is specific to the volume of customers they are going to get through and their offer.”
Just as with our homes, it is important to keep re-investing in a venue to keep it looking fresh – but that can mean relatively simple touches like a lick of paint, fitting new flooring or having furniture re-upholstered.
Decor should obviously reflect the core values of a bar, restaurant or hotel, so it is worth thinking about whether you want to create a homely, family-friendly place, somewhere modern that will appeal to a younger crowd or a more sophisticated, high-end offering.
Jeff Taylor, Contracts Director at Select Contract Furniture likes the fact that there is so much diversity from a design point of view, because it means that every job can be totally different – yet it still works. He says, “Generally speaking, the natural elements seem to be very much the theme and have been for a while – albeit tweaked a little bit. It’s about timber, natural colours, and splashes of accent colours.
“We deal with a wide range of clients from restaurants and hotels – anything from three, four and five star – and obviously they’ve all got very different ideas. Some people are looking for exceptional value for money whereas others don’t mind spending a little bit more just to get that extra edge. You get so much scope and that is one of the beauties of the job to be honest. It also means that there is not a definite theme and that makes it really interesting and exciting.
“Some people do want something a bit different and we try to encourage that because, from our own personal point of view, we like to make every job that little bit different. We have a huge range of chairs – literally thousands – for example, and depending on the individual client’s needs and the end look that they are trying to create we can find something that is going to work. We offer a bit of design element as well because we have been in the trade a long time and we also have designers working with us on jobs so there is more than one lot of input going in, which again makes it quite exciting.
“I think everybody likes to use their own ideas and you do see things all over – whether it’s up here in Scotland or down in London – that you might draw inspiration from. There is so much scope. You can take elements from one thing that you’ve seen and combine them with elements from another. Very often clients have a fair idea what they want but they may not have the expertise to put it all together.
“A lot of clients now know that they don’t have to go for the ordinary and I think they get real enjoyment from the positive feedback when their customers tell them how much they have improved a place, particularly when it’s a refurbishment rather than a new project. It can be stressful for them when it gets to the end of a project but there’s a very enjoyable aspect to it too. We try and help with the enjoyable side.”
The benefits of designers and clients working closely together is perfectly illustrated by a recent collaboration between Gillian Morris of the Davidson Baxter Partnership and Angela Pert, of PG Taverns Scotland Limited, on country bar The Fork & Field, in Mid Calder, Livingston.
Angela saved around £30,000 on furniture and lighting by sourcing items herself – before asking Gillian to cast her expert eye over them to make sure they would still work with the overall vision.
She explains, “I spent hours trawling the internet, bookmarking stuff and taking lots of pictures and I found alternatives, that in some instances were significantly cheaper. I found a wheel of lights, for example, that I’ve able to customise myself with items that are really pertinent to us. Gillian has been great to work with – she is very approachable and her experience was invaluable. We worked really well together.
“Doing up a commercial property is very different to doing up a house. My advice would be, don’t be afraid to shop around and don’t be afraid to ask your designer questions.”
David Johnston, Development Director of Montpeliers Edinburgh Limited, says it’s important to be sure of what you want – and also to enjoy the process.
He says: “It’s very important to know what your product offering is going to be and be 100 per cent sure that it is strong enough as a stand alone food/drink offer before you start thinking about design.
“It’s very easy to get bewitched by fantastic designers, or the whole design process, and your business ends up being more about that, than the actual product.
“Write a very strong creative brief. What are you trying to say about your product? Who are you targeting? What do you want it to feel like? Be quite exhaustive with that, so you are sure yourself what you are talking about.
“It’s very much about having a strong business plan and making sure your design fits that, not the other way round. You have to know when to hold your ground, but at the same time you are paying a designer to be creative and challenging so you have to know when to listen to them as well. “It’s important to be confident in your business decision-making throughout the process.
“My biggest piece of advice would, be not to let it get on top of you and to enjoy it – easier said than done sometimes!”