Saturday, 13 September 2014

Standing the test of time

I was recently highly critical of Robinson’s refurbishment of the Farmer’s Arms in Poynton, with its fibreglass cow and bucket urinals. In response to this, John Clarke said in the comments:
Well, who's to say what's "appropriate" for pubs these days? If you have a certain fixed idea of what a "proper pub" should be like then maybe. However "the pub" as a concept is evolving into a variety of incarnations and what is appropriate for one won't be for another. I don't think these days you can apply a blanket "one size fits all" rule of thumb.
Of course pubs have always been designed in many different ways, but there are some design elements that stand the test of time, and some that rapidly go out of fashion and end up being changed into something else. A key point is that the primary purpose of a pub is for people to meet and socialise with each other (as opposed to just eating meals) and therefore the seating plan should promote that. It needs to be arranged so that most seats are looking in to the centre of each room or area, and the seating should preferably be mainly either fixed benches or settles as opposed to individual chairs. If you want to run a restaurant, fine, but it’s not exactly “pubby”.

If you look at the seven National Inventory entries for Stockport – the Alexandra, Arden Arms, Armoury, Blossoms, Crown, Queen’s Head and Swan with Two Necks, plus the nearby Nursery and Griffin, every single one is characterised by extensive fixed seating. These are pubs where the design scheme has lasted for at least 75 years. Indeed, you would struggle to find many National Inventory pubs that don’t have either fixed seating or settles. I can think of a few recent refurbs where eliminating comfortable seating seems to be a high priority, and I wonder how long they will last.

The second point is that colour schemes should be predominantly “warm”, to give a cosy and welcoming impression. This is well summed up by this extract from The Traditional English Pub by Ben Davies. The point that pub colours should reflect the colours of drinks is very well made.

I recently mentioned a Robinson’s refurbishment saying it used “a palette of light, neutral colours”, which basically is completely wrong. Pubs should use a palette of rich, warm colours.

Over the years, people have come up with all kinds of gimmicky pub designs, seating plans and colour schemes. They always think that the tried and trusted is old hat and they know better. But, by and large, they’ve all rapidly dated and been replaced before too long by the latest fad. If you want your refurbishment to last, you need to look at what has lasted before.


  1. By this definition, the warm and welcoming presence of the ever reassuring scatter cushion should be seen as an enhancement and natural evolution toward even greater "pubbiness"

  2. I like yr trad pub, I like fixed seating, but the test of a pub is how it trades in the future, not how comfortable someone from out of the past would be in it.

  3. Wood panelling, ancient photos and horse brasses. I'm sure some will be available when Sam Smith's close another pub.

  4. Many Robby's pubs had excellent
    decor and classical fitments,set in well designed layouts with appropiate features,of little use now as many are boarded up and derelict.No amount of pretty paint and fancy chairs will bring back the missing millions.

  5. Did you spot the ashtray in Mudgies photo, Anon? And the fact he has cut out the filthy yellow ceiling?

  6. Nicotine brown was the classic pub colour :-)

  7. I can think of a number of pubs that made the mistake of painting the walls A&E white after the smoking ban only to revert to a fake fagmolia later. Which just goes to show that anti-smokers pubs are rubbish.


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