There is something unique and extraordinary about the traditional English pub (and goodness, how we miss it right now!). A good pub should invite you in, make you feel at home, and provide a respite from the world. Somehow, ancient inns add an additional level of comfort, a connection with a simpler past, perhaps. We’ve been thinking about what makes these spaces so special, and how that can be recreated in less characterful buildings. Lots of modern hotels, airports, shopping centres and apartment blocks want to add that homely traditional pub feel, but it’s difficult to avoid a sterile theme park invention. With that in mind, then, here are the elements we focus on when planning pub interiors in modern spaces.
Space planning for pub interiors
There is a large chain of budget pubs in the UK that consistently get this wrong! Regularly laid out tables of the same or similar shape instantly destroy the vibe. We know that in the hospitality sector the quantity of covers is essential to create a profitable business, but this can be done much more creatively. It’s important to break up those uniform lines that are reminiscent of a staff canteen. This takes a bit of creativity, but remember that people are usually happy to budge up around a tight table (perhaps not so much since COVID-19 ) much more than they would in a restaurant. Tables should be of different shapes and sizes, not only to give the ‘ye olde pubbe’ feel, but to accommodate the different kinds of customer.
If you have a big modern boxy space to work with, think about dividing the space. You can create a sense of intrigue by creating nooks and crannies, by sectioning off a large dining table with a raised floor, or simply adding stud walls hung with paintings. A favourite pub of ours divides two sections with a glass cabinet filled with antique bottles. Adding curves or slightly uneven walls deceives the eye and disguises that austere modern cube shape. Ceilings can also be an issue in buildings not built to house a traditional pub. The cosy country pub often has low ceilings, while the city centre watering hole frequently has very high ones. You may want to install a lowered ceiling, or you may want to put in some ornate ceiling decorations as seen in great Victorian city pubs.
Installing ‘original’ features
This needs planning, and as the mock-Tudor executive homes of the eighties will testify, a blackened-beam does not an ancient building make. There is a subtlety and a skill to creating ‘reproduction’ interiors. Firstly, think of the flooring. Flooring is absolutely crucial in most interior design projects – a bad choice can destroy the design. Flooring needs investment and could actually guide the rest of your design. A rustic distressed solid wood floor (or very, very high-quality vinyl) creates gravitas and will instantly give the cosy pub feel. Flagstones can also be a good solution for pub interiors.
Breaking up the walls with picture or dado rails is a nice touch, and a high ledge stuffed full of knick-knacks can often be observed in your traditional pub. Remember Anaglypta wallpaper? Well, they’re still very much in business and sell an enormous range of heritage embossed wallpapers, perfect for a cosy snug.
And finally, the open fire. Who doesn’t have fond memories of a walk in the pouring rain ending in a country pub with a roaring fire? If your space can have a genuine coal or wood fire, then fantastic. The likelihood is that in your modern building that’s not going to be the case. However much we love a fire, is it worth installing a gas or electric one? Every project is different and a small iron fire in a hidden area of the pub can look great. However, you may be in danger of parody if you install a huge range fire that clearly has a gas flame.
Keep it quirky
Genuine old pubs have collected furniture, decorative elements and even architectural features over decades, perhaps centuries. Over time, some tables would have been broken, some chairs reupholstered, and an awkward pillar added to support a ceiling. The whole charm of pubs is their quirkiness, their improvised improvements, the bizarre tankard or wonky flooring. We don’t suggest you install a haphazard floor (think of the health and safety!) but don’t, whatever you do, buy 40 identical dining sets. It’s a tricky balance to have, as new furniture does adhere to lots of standards that old furniture doesn’t, but do consider buying second-hand. Think outside the box. In the spirit of the ever evolving, improvised pub interior, you often see odd bits of school furniture appearing, even a gym bench or, of course, the more traditional church pews which have made regular appearances since pubs began.
Certainly consider a budget for junk shop finds, or local auctions. Local to us here in Winchester is The Black Boy, which is packed full of extraordinary taxidermy including a stuffed giraffe. The style may not be to your taste, but it certainly provides a talking point for the punters. Many landlords share their collecting passions, and it may be appropriate to have a loose theme to the items. The White Star in Southampton displays some fantastic images and memorabilia from Southampton’s yachting and cruise liner heritage and The Hinton Arms near Cheriton, Hampshire, is stuffed full of old equestrian prints and paintings. The personal touches are why we are so very fond of certain pubs. They represent much more than a place for a drink. As you walk in, you should immediately feel like the guest of an old friend. With a bit of thought, a bit of passion, and a pint your hand, it’s possible to create a cosy pub interior pretty much anywhere.
We’ve worked on several traditional bar and pub interiors in rather unusual settings. We love the challenge of creating quirky, individual spaces so if you’re planning to launch a pub or bar, give us a call for a no-obligation conversation.