It’s easy to take for granted the stunning, beautifully finished interiors that feature in so many bars and restaurants. But the immaculate appearance hides the processes – usually difficult and painstaking – that created it.
Nor should we forget that bars and restaurants are punishing environments: interiors that must start and remain ‘fit for purpose’, capable of coping with the wear and tear inflicted by both staff and customers.
So: how’s it done?
To find out, H&C News met with WFC Contractors, the award winning fit-out contractor, and asked them to talk us through one of their projects. We were delighted when they selected the high profile, high volume (in excess of 1,000 covers a day), and high style (art deco) Brasserie Zedel near Piccadilly Circus in London.
Brasserie Zédel was once part of The Regent Palace Hotel, which was designed in the Beaux Arts style and opened in 1915.
In the early 1930s, Oliver Percy Bernard OBE MC (1881 – 1939), an English architect and scenic, graphic and industrial designer, was commissioned to redesign some of the Beaux Arts interiors.
Bernard is generally recognised as one of the key figures in the creation of the art deco style, and the interiors he designed in the basement of The Regent Palace Hotel were quite astonishing: the “incredibly mannered” ‘Chez Cup Bar’ under the entrance rotunda was created in 1934 out of the former billiard room, and is now the Crazy Coqs Cabaret & Bar, which has been immaculately recreated from the original architectural drawings. The hallway of tobacco-coloured travertine is retained in today’s foyer, and most impressive of all is Dick’s Bar (now Bar Américain), an extraordinary survival with its broad, horizontal stripes of stained birch veneers and jazz age columns.
After the Second World War, the hotel fell on hard times and gradually declined in reputation until, in 2004, the Crown Estate decided to redevelop the building as part of its long-term strategy to upgrade Regent Street. Initial proposals caused concern amongst conservation societies, worried about the potential loss of the historic interiors.
Dixon Jones were selected as architects by the Crown Estate, precisely because of their expertise in the adaptation of historic buildings, and they worked with Donald Insall Associates to restore the building’s significant 1930s art deco bars and restaurants.
According to Architecture Today Magazine, the interiors of Brasserie Zédel are “probably the best and most authentic series of 1930s interiors in this country”.
As the background indicates – and the photographs show – this was never going to be an easy project: quite simply, no shortcuts or ‘quick fixes’ would be possible. The conservation officers would ensure that the listed interior was protected every millimetre of the way (literally), and the architects and interior designers would insist that their design intentions were never compromised.
At the same time, the requirements of a modern bar and restaurant, and accompanying facilities – from cloakrooms, reception and kitchen to bar fittings, and furniture – had to be met.
Meticulous conservation was therefore required, but new fittings and fixtures had also to be installed without betraying the past or compromising the requirements of the present.
The project team
In effect, this was a project with a very large team. Design co-ordination and main contractor works were carried out by WFC. Keytask were responsible for the client’s project management and overall project budget. The team included: conservation officers; architects – Dixon Jones and Donald Insall Associates; David Collins Studio designs; owners and management. As well, of course, as the many specialist contractors required to implement both the restoration and the installation of the new, operational facilities.
Co-ordination of all these ‘inputs’ was critical: inevitably, many elements of the schedule overlapped, but no element could be allowed to compromise the quality and precision of the restoration and installation works.
Only a visit – highly recommended – to Brasserie Zedel can give visual ‘life’ to the specific demands and requirements of the project, but here are some details as an indication:
- Project duration: 6 months
- Main contractor’s budget: £4.2 million
- Joinery budget £1 million, and it’s easy to see why: the wall panelling had to be matched with high quality joinery and fittings throughout
- Marble flooring and surrounds: the quarry had to be visited to ensure that the new marble truly ‘matched’ throughout
- Lifts: a difficult challenge not only to insert modern lifts, but to ensure that their ‘styling’ was in keeping with the art deco environment
- Wallpaper: see below. Matching ‘listed’ wallpaper is not straightforward!
- Tiling: only a visit to the ladies or gents can convey the beautiful but intricate new wall tiling that has been installed – a really demanding job for a craftsman
- Furnishings: new bars, new serving counters, new furniture – all to meet the exacting standards required.
- Electrics, power and fire precautions: visibility needed to be kept to an absolute minimum in order to preserve the integrity of the art deco interiors – no easy task, and one that required some intricate and creative ductwork and design.
WFC’s ‘critical’ list
H&C News asked WFC for the challenges that taxed them most – here they are:
- Matching the listed wallpaper in the link corridor: this required taking a rubber cast of the existing paper and having it replicated in PVC, which was then applied to all the ground floor and staircase wall panelling. Not an overnight process – it took months to achieve the desired finish!
- Site traffic: with certain areas of the site having finished walls, floors and ceilings, management of site traffic was paramount. Additional staffing levels were required on the site in order to ensure that areas and finishes were protected and treated with the care and attention they deserved.
- The new canopy on the front elevation of the building: this was the most problematic element of the project. Fixing a new canopy structure onto the listed façade presented a number of issues, starting with the lack of ‘as-built’ information about the structure. Although work on designing the structural connection details began at the start of the project, this element was one of the last items to be fitted.
- Listed elements: throughout the project, the team had to apply to English Heritage for permission to drill holes through or fix to any listed element. These were marked on a plan and submitted well in advance of the works being required. The problem was, as in any project, things change so new approvals had to be obtained for amendments, which in turn affected the tight programme that was in place.
The outcome – a triumph
As the photographs show, Brasserie Zedel is stunning: a triumph of design, restoration and craftsmanship in both the 20th and now the 21st centuries.
You can find a multitude of online reviews of both the interiors and the food in seconds, so we will confine ourselves here to quoting from just one review. Jay Rayner in The Observer comments:
“Now, the huge, columned ballroom has been returned to its former glory. The marble is back, the gorgeous original lighting has been restored and £750,000 spent on 23ct gilding in all the right places. There is also a new cabaret spot and a stand-alone bar…”
“The very best restaurants are film sets in which diners play both cast and audience. No restaurateurs know this better than Chris Corbin and Jeremy King…their latest venture, the gilded, plumped, marble-clad and sconced Brasserie Zédel, is a vast, bums-on-seats crowd pleaser, a love letter to the classic Parisian brasserie, a soapy wallow in all the things we adore about French bourgeois ideals.”
His review also lavishes praise on the food – and pricing. Enjoy the article here, and be (very) tempted to book a table.
WFC – award winning fit-out contractors
WFC is the award winning fit-out contractor specialising in the UK leisure industry. The organisation has a 30 year track record of delivering high quality Main Contractor and Project Management services for leading leisure industry brands, from one-off projects through to national roll-outs. WFC has a high level of client retention: 70% of work is repeat business, and many clients have worked with the company for over 10 years.
The team at WFC believes that its role as a fit-out contractor is to support the objectives of its clients and their designers. WFC is not content with its current reputation as a professional contractor with a personal touch, but is always striving to be the contractor of choice for clients and employees alike.
WFC has the expertise and resources to complete complex refurbishment and fit-out contracts to a high standard, working with our clients to make the best use of their budgets. We pride ourselves on our ability to complete fit-outs and refurbishments within challenging timescales.
Clients include independent and multiple venue operators. Encompassing clubs, pubs, casinos, health clubs, restaurants, hotels, theatres, bowling alleys and bingo halls – our track record speaks for itself.
For more information click here
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED
020 7734 4888