Design Focus: Bracken, Erskine

Bracken is a fern that spreads pretty quickly in woods and on hills, and one quick swatch around the stowed out SKB Inns’ refurbished bar and restaurant of the same name on the day I hung by to have a nosy at the design told me that news travels even faster when a beloved bar gets the biggest facelift of its life.

It’s in Erskine’s Bridgewater Shopping Centre , and GM Nicola Shae turned out to be quite the authority on the building’s history as she kindly walked me round the finished result. Said Nicola, “I worked here 15 years ago when it was an Eagle Taverns pub, and in that time it’s been named The Bridgewater Tavern, Jades, The Whuppity Scourie, before it returned to being called The Bridgewater Tavern again, directly before it was Bracken.”

Despite being a real head-to-toe job, the design’s been immensely well received by all the regulars according to Nicola. “Even though this has been the most extensive décor refurbishment in the bar’s history , the locals have really embraced it. All you need to do is take a look at our Facebook page – it’s loaded with positive comments from customers. There weren’t that many structural changes apart from some pillars that we added to separate the bar from the restaurant – oh, and we also added plants to the shelf right across the the bar, because many pints have been knocked off of that shelf over the years and, as the bar’s a raised area, it’s quite a big drop over the other side!”

According to the builder on the project, Matthew Wallace, live plants aren’t something that he has to factor in to many builds/refurbishments of the same ilk. He said, “The use of live plants was unusual, but the rest of the build was pretty standard and went fairly smoothly, and this came about because I had such a great team of people on board. In terms of the structural changes, there were the new pillars to add as well as some minor alterations to the stair layout, but the rest was a standard ‘strip it back and refit it’ job”

Now for the bit where I take you through the venue illustrating the design highlights. But just before I do, you should also know that the function space (and that used to be a hairdressers and a bookies) is getting some finishing touches right now and is yet to open. The minute I walked in to Bracken I was impressed at the size of the place (and at that point I wasn’t even aware of the function suite) and all the plants, which are, of course, bracken ferns. Such a profusion of them made me think that it was probably healthier inside than outside, and the car park that serves the entire shopping centre. To the right as you enter is the restaurant area, which has the most simplistic design of all and a lower ceiling than the bar, with grey-ish wooden floors (that actually run throughout) and slate grey marble-top tables, paired with grey tartan and plum coloured chairs. The wait-to-be-seated desk is clad in wooden blocks on its customer-facing side (actually tiles with a tongue and groove that snap together to create the facing) and these wooden blocks are also in the design DNA of the main bar area that is directly ahead of you as you enter. Walking through into it, the bar is on a raised area on the right hand-side, and all around it are various types of seating, like tall ‘posing’ tables and stools, banquette seating in the same grey tartan, as well as some crushed velvet statement pieces. Most of these are boxy in design and kind of isolate the sitter. There’s also a throne-like one in the far corner of the bar, as you enter.

Designer Ruth Smith explained, “We wanted some statement pieces to contrast with the rustic colour scheme and all the tartan and wood and slate and rope (the lighting hangs from the ceiling on thick and twisted rope, apart from in the restaurant where spotlights are used) and these chairs are it!” I also asked Ruth for her favourite part of the design She said, “I think it has to be the ferns because as well as really lifting the design, it also acted a natural contrast between areas, like between the restaurant and the bar as well a between all the other sections in the bar.”

I have to agree with Ruth on all the bracken. It’s lovely. I also like the rope lighting and the ‘Jenga’ (that game where you balance blocks of wood on top of each other until the tower topples over) style wooden block towers that she referred to, and which are dotted about the walls and excellently used as both partitions as well as ornamentally, with the odd splash of paint on them that ties in with the other colours that have been used on the walls, like grey and purple, likewise the blue gloss paint on much of the woodwork. These wooden blocks also make up the back bar, which also has blue opaque glass ‘nooks’ and clear glass shelves making up the gantry. The bar top is grey painted wood and the front of the bar is clad with a narrow stack of slate tiles in grey, bleeding in to the occasional bout of brown and fawn. Above the bar are silver metal glassware racks and pendant lights that look like metal flowers with exposed filament bulb centres.

GM Nicola also told me that they have quite a few forward bookings for the function suite, the first of which are for the end of August. She even gave me a sneak peak. It’s a lot bigger than I imagined, boasting grey painted walls, similar tartan banquette seating along the walls (in shades of pink and purple) and a bar in the corner, with a beige marble top that glistened in the light.

All in all, Bracken is a design triumph, and I think the regulars will continue voting with their feet well after all the original bracken plants have wilted and been replaced by new ones. Or fake ones!

Unit 14 Bridgewater Shopping Centre
Erskine
PA8 7AA

Jason Caddy

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