Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - February 2015

* The Cow Jumped Over the Moon *

Pub design gimmicks never stand the test of time

GOING BACK forty years or so, Robinson’s brewery seemed to have been afflicted by a virus for drastic, then-trendy pub refurbishments. These had no regard to the pubs’ traditional character and typically involved severe knocking through, “Spanish arches”, white artexed walls, 24-panel glass doors and low, lounge-style chairs. Fortunately, they eventually came to their senses and began carrying out more sensible and traditional-minded updates – the fairly recent revamping of the Armoury in Edgeley being a good example.

However, in the past couple of years they seem to have adopted a more drastic and self-consciously designed approach, and with the scheme at the Farmer’s Arms in Poynton many would think they have taken a flight of fancy too far. It is described on their website as follows:

“Upon entry you are greeted by the gaze of Ermantrude, a full-size fiberglass cow. Hand painted, her floral design emulates the upholstery that adorns several new seating areas and is a taster of what awaits. Elsewhere, customers will be charmed with a flutter of butterflies across the ceiling and a pantheon of cascading flowers that seemingly grow from the walls creating a theatrical focal point that has never before been seen in a Robinsons pub. Major structural work has also taken place with the addition of an impressive orangery. New wallpaper, which resembles the shadows of trees, covers the walls of the new extension and seems to move with each cloud that passes overhead.”

On top of this, the urinals in the gents’ are formed from stainless steel buckets!

In the 60s and 70s, there was a vogue of doing pubs out in themes that made them look like a Wild West saloon, a jungle or a smugglers’ cave. No doubt it was all thought very trendy and innovative, but it rapidly became old hat and over time all of these interiors have vanished. Pub gimmicks never last, but sadly designers have to constantly rediscover that what seems modern and cutting-edge today will look sadly dated in a few years’ time. What works in pub design is what stands the test of time.

* A Cold House *

Warm colours in pubs convey a warm welcome; the opposite is also true

THE TRADITIONAL phrase to describe a welcome is “warm”, and a glowing real fire is widely seen as a welcoming sign, as in the phrase “hearth and home”. From this it follows that any interior colour scheme designed to convey a welcoming feeling should predominantly use “warm” colours such as reds and browns. The darker shades of blue and green may be included in small doses, and glossy black and mirrors can play a part in reflecting light. It has been said that the colours used for pub interiors should largely reflect the colours of drinks.

On the other hand, lighter colours such as grey and pale blues and greens convey a much colder impression and therefore come across as much less welcoming. Yet in recent years they have been much more widely adopted in pub design schemes in an attempt to appear contemporary. I’ve recently been in two fairly ordinary local pubs where the front of the bar counter has been respectively painted pale grey and pale green, which just doesn’t look right, while another of Robinson’s refurbishments was described as using “a palette of light, neutral colours”. This might work for a modern art gallery or nouvelle cuisine restaurant, but for a pub it appears frosty and offputting.

This is another example of designers rejecting the lessons of the past in favour of something deliberately modern and different. “We don’t want our pubs to look like the old-fashioned pubs”, they say. But the old-fashioned pubs were painted and decorated like that for a good reason, which the owners of these pastel-shaded emporiums will eventually realise.

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