That is the message from the design world, which believes pubs could be about to undergo a dramatic change.
This design revolution has already taken place in the restaurant and hotel sectors, with many reinventing themselves as the places to be seen.
Aidan Keane, founding director at Keane Brands, believes it is a crunch time for the pub sector in terms of interior design.
“Design is about setting a new benchmark. The world changed in many ways in 2016, and it would be great to think the pub might continue that change in 2017,” he says.
“The pub trade always seems unsure about whether to go back and reclaim its roots or look forward and find a brave new way. Hopefully, 2017 is the year it decides.”
Keane thinks other on-trade sectors have “jettisoned away”, leaving pubs looking “a bit dusty and old”.
“The pub trade can learn from the restaurant sector, which has totally reinvented itself. Restaurants used to be spaces that fed people. Now they feed lifestyles. People don’t go to rest-aurants to just eat any more, they go for the whole sociability of the occasion,” he says.
Being in tune with people
Mainstream pubs need to adapt to the way people are living and design spaces which work for that. “It is so much more about being in tune about the
way people live during their week and weekends,” says Keane.
While he accuses pubs of often being too male in design, he is against designing pubs specifically for women.
“Pubs need to be brighter, more optimistic, more confident, more go-ahead. To cut a new way. Break the rules,” he argues.
This means pubs should consider taking the same aspirational path as restaurants and reinvent themselves from a design perspective.
“Pubs have to realise that people are not just going to drink, they are going to meet people, do things and live a life,” he says.
He feels strongly that pubs should be selling more food, with different and better drinks, and hosting more entertainment.
“Pubs should be about fun, involvement, community welcomes, great comforting food, selling different and better drinks, and having more entertainment. Those are the trends I want to see – these are going to be the things that make the biggest differ-ence, not what cushions are on the chairs,” he says.
“Great design really smashes home when all these other things are in place. The design style has to fit the direction and aspiration.”
Harrison Design director Kevin Grima agrees that entertainment, theatre and food will have a major influence on interior design this year.
“One of the key, longer-term trends in food and beverage design is the fast-moving development of theatre in a hospitality environment,” he says.
“Dining areas are no longer about a visible kitchen and open counter at the rear of the space; food preparation is becoming far more visual and is holding court in the centre, or even at the front, of the venue. The aim is to find increasing ways to create a broader food and beverage experience to engage and entertain customers.”
He cites restaurant brands such as Caravan and Giraffe as leading the charge in this area. “They are trying to make food more interesting and more theatrical and are bringing the kitchen more and more to the front.
“People want more interest and want entertainment. They want to see how things are prepared and how things are cooked and how fresh it is.”
Adding ‘fire and sizzle’
Designers are also adding the ‘fire and sizzle’ of non-traditional cooking to eating areas when adding theatre to the operation. One example he highlights is the rise of smokehouse preparation, similar to barbecue, which is about charcoal and smoking. It is taking centre stage in mainstream US restaurants, a trend that is now moving across Europe and into the UK.
Another theatrical move is Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant in London, which boasts a butcher’s shop in its front window.
“If you look at the new Wagamama’s, all their cooking is at the front and is a real statement that ‘we are serious about food’. It is all theatrical,” he says.
The trend towards themed dining remains, but there are subtle changes taking place in the market, he believes.
“We are moving away from the formulaic, over-conceptualised approach we’ve seen in the past. Clever, authentically detailed ‘escapist’ design is emerging,” he reveals.
“A further trend is the move towards stripping back dining spaces to expose harsh industrial features, then overlaying them with a softer, high-quality finish. For example, concrete walls and floors are juxtaposed against a polished brass counter top or high-quality upholstery, fabrics and finishes.”
Another trend he sees becoming prevalent in 2017 is the play between rough and beautiful and feminine and masculine. This could see a beautifully decorated leather sofa set against a concrete wall. The result creates interest and an all-important point of difference.
He argues that this difference is essential as many high-street venues look too similar and are failing to distinguish themselves. For this reason, Grima says, distinct branding and local market knowledge is crucial.
“Right from the outset, food and beverage operators should insist on undergoing a formal brand evaluation and positioning process to develop unique selling points relevant to their own marketplace and to really stand out from the competition,” he says.
Darwin & Wallace, the four-strong pub operator, saw the potential of this site in south London which was recently voted Best Bar & Pub in Richmond by Time Out.
Previously known as The Lot, it was a former student pub that was very dark inside with little character. D&W recognised what could be done with the site, and Box 9 Design helped to bring the new look to life.
Louise Davies of Box 9 Design said: “A lot of people looked at that site and said ‘no way’, it was too hideous.”
Describing it as a “dive”, she went on: “It was like a challenge to turn this ugly building into something really beautiful. We completely transformed it from something commercial to something like an old, grand manor house in a European style,” she says.
The venue is now full of light and the once-defunct courtyard area has been transformed into a comfortable seating area for both summer and winter.
“We used a lot of tricks to get light into the place and draw people from the front to the back with a really lovely journey,” she says.
One major element that interior design needs to offer is honesty, he maintains.
“If you look at Dishoom, they have been to India to source from there. It is like you open the door and you are in Deli or Bombay because everything is realistic and there is an honesty,”
He also highlights Granger & Co in London’s King Cross as an example of design with “a rawness and honesty, but with an overlay of sophistication”.
While the fashion shows in Milan have a massive impact on interior design trends, following fashion may not be the right approach for every venue, Grima says.
“I would say to any licensee, don’t follow fashion, do something so you stand out alone. You can find your own niche, something you can talk about and base your scheme on.”
While theatre and entertainment are the dominant trends, a new inspiration – wellbeing – is influencing interior design.
Ardour Design, the company responsible for the design of the former H.en Restaurants in Islington and Brighton, says ‘wellbeing’ in spaces is very much on-trend.
Amy Ilic, co-founder of the Brighton-based agency, argues that this is a reaction to the switched-on social media-filled world.
“People are seeking out sanctuaries in spaces, places in which they feel calm and clear-minded,” she argues.
“This can be seen in the massive trend of hygge, a Danish word meaning having a cosy time, traditionally with friends and family.
“Bringing warmth and homeliness into spaces has hit the masses and people are seeking out hot chocolate moments in front of the fire and read-ing books on how to create this cosy vibe in residential and commercial interior settings.”
To get this look it is all about natural tones and materials: cork, wood, ceramic, rattan, tactile textiles like sheepskins and cashmere blankets.
She says that deep tones, almost black colours, are very much on trend, teamed up with plants, textile wall hangings, with a furry animal on the couch and a fire blazing.
“It is not only about how the space looks, but also how it feels through all the senses,” she argues.
However, the minimal utilitarian space that focuses on function will still remain in fashion.
“The pared-back look also has the purpose of making people feel good and healthy in a space – simplifying life and only owning functional items and what you truly love,” she says.
The idea behind this is that there is more room for the mind, making it a more productive space or a “clean space, clean mind”.
Tying in with wellbeing, materials such as glass terrariums filled with micro worlds of plants are also on-trend. And Ilic predicts that interesting man-made materials with an emphasis on sustainability, such as recycled plastics, will grow in popularity.
The well-being trend
Food brand design agency Eat With Your Eyes also believes in the well-being trend. Steve Oakley, creative director, agrees that this, along with escapism and experience, will have a major impact in 2017.
“Everyone is talking about creating his or her own level of escape,” he maintains.
“Nooks, snugs, secret spaces and private booths will be a big thing. Deep sofas, indulgent natural materials and textures with colour schemes are set to complement this trend.”
He predicts green as well as the soft, pale hues of Nordic colours will be influential, along with metallic elements such as mirrors and copper.
There is also a push towards mixing old and new, he argues. “Everyone is starting to use old stuff like etchings and engravings, maps and bits out of books that are really old and illustrative.”
This is a concept Eat With Your Eyes recently used in Huxleys Restaurant & Bar at Heathrow Airport, where the styling utilised “modern cool stuff with Victorian etchings”.
Experience is also expected to be a trend for 2017. Oakley believes coffee shops roasting their own beans are a precursor to pubs offering their own brewed beer. Microbreweries within pubs can offer a similar ex-perience to an open kitchen in a restaurant that creates an experience for the consumer.
“We want to see and smell the craft and the authenticity of alcohol being made; to be a part of the process and know that what we are eating is fresh and unique, not mass-produced,” he argues.
“When you get it right, it is such theatre and makes you stands out.”
- Pubs should be about fun, involvement, community welcomes, great comforting food, selling different and better drinks, and having more entertainment.
- Food preparation is becoming far more visual and is holding court in the centre, or even at the front of the venue.
- A massive trend is hygge, a Danish word meaning having a cosy time, traditionally with friends and family.
- Wellbeing –Nooks, snugs, secret spaces and private booths will be a big thing. Deep sofas, indulgent natural materials and textures with colour schemes.
Incorporating the product into the interior design is also something that should be considered. Oakley says licensees should consider having gin or whisky taps or even a whisky shed on site to highlight the product and the experience of drinking it.
During 2017 pubs have the opportunity to move outside the traditional flocked wallpaper, swirly carpets and old-fashioned décor.
Pushing the boundaries of design to consider theatre, entertainment, escapism, well-being and sociability will change the way they are viewed. Pubs should see it as a year to break the rules.