Top tips for bar design

Bars and pubs made an impressive showing among the 2023 Dulux Colour Awards finalists. As a member of the judging panel for the 2023 awards, Brahman Perera spoke to Bars and Clubs to share some of his tips for design in hospitality.

Bucking the trends

The current trend in design is for more modern spaces – think polished concrete and metal accents. However, trends can change drastically within a short period of time. If you focus too closely on following trends, you might lose sight of creating a welcoming space for your clientele. For this reason, Perera advises against adhering too closely to what is popular at the moment.

“I think it’s important to just find a sweet spot in that balance without tipping over into something contrived or insincere,” Perera said.

Instead, Perera suggests focusing on the energy of your venue, and letting that inspire your colour and design choices.

“Is it an exciting, stimulating, daytime, sunny, loud kind of proposition? Or is it’s really intimate, moody, date night kind of place? I think that even having those conversations immediately start to discuss the colours that you may gravitate towards,” Perera explained.

To create a unique space, Perera recommends drawing inspiration from diverse sources, rather than just designs that are popular on social media.

“What can set you apart from the trends is having a wide variety of source material for inspiration, whatever that is, whether it’s art or music, history, or lived experiences or travel,’ Perera suggested. “The list is endless as to how inspiration can be found. The key is to mine that unique inspiration and think outside of the constructs of social media and Pinterest.”

Creating with colour

Colour is not just about wall paint. It’s important to think about colour in relation to the other materials used throughout the venue. Does it match your crockery, or will it match your velvet barstools?

This can feel intimidating if you’re only just starting to experiment with colour. Not to mention, repainting an entire space is no small venture and can be a significant expenditure. To dip your toe into the world of colour, Perera suggests starting small. Something as simple as implementing coloured stemware can make a big impact on your venue. This is because hospitality venues have the advantage of scale. Though new glassware would not make much of a difference in a home, the larger quantity of glassware required by a bar can really affect the atmosphere.

“I think in hospitality there are ways to build it gradually, without also breaking the bank or doing something that feels too permanent,” Perera commented. “From there, you can gain that confidence. Then, the colours can be layered as your confidence builds to change paint colours and complementary finishes.”

This consideration of the space as a whole was what set the Dulux Colour Awards finalists apart.

“The colours could be quite subtle, but if they worked in a really harmonious way that felt innovative and felt really considered, then that’s the story that we should be championing,” Perera explained. “It didn’t have to have 50 colours involved in it. It was more about how was that colour employed within the grand scheme of all the other finishes and the way that the interior was composed.”

Making big changes

While there are many changes that you can make without employing an interior designer, there becomes a point that you might seek out a professional designer’s opinion. That point is unique for every business and requires consideration of numerous economic and practical factors. Perera recommends starting with how the space reflects your brand identity, and how you would like customers, staff, and yourself to feel in the venue in the future.

“I think that having an understanding of that can also help in terms of how far or how far they want to go with the reach,” Perera said. “Is it that they need someone to review just all the furniture and the loose items? Is it that there’s an entire interior design overhaul that’s required? Is it that we need to engage a consultant that’s going to help with branding, menus, business cards, matchsticks, all the rest of it.”

Perera encourages blue-sky thinking in the planning stages, as this can be scaled back for functionality and affordability. Conversely, it is much harder to elevate a space that was not created with a specific vision in mind. Perera has noticed an uptick in conscious design in the hospitality field.

“The design is now catching up with the human engagement that was perhaps always there, because those people realize that that’s what people want. They want to be in a considered space that speaks to their lifestyle,” he said.

Hospitality venues require certain industry-specific considerations, such as OH&S and accessibility requirements and venue capacity. Retail spaces must also consider their economic requirements such as shelf space. However, working collaboratively with a designer or design team can address those concerns.

Additionally, Perera strongly advises against cheap makeovers. More often than not, these supposedly cheap changes become quite expensive when poorly-made materials break or deteriorate. Instead, it is better to buy once and buy well.

“A sustainable practice of design […] is to buy once, nurture, take care of and not have this idea that design is a trend, that every couple of years I need to completely reinvent this space,” Perera explained.

This is especially important in hospitality venues, which see a lot of traffic. Ensuring the longevity of your space also appeals to customers’ increased concerns for environmental sustainability and waste reduction.

The design of your bar or pub makes a big impact on your client’s enjoyment of the venue. Whether you’re opening a brand-new venue or making small updates, the most important consideration is what atmosphere you want to create. With a clear vision, you can create an authentic, exciting and welcoming space that your customers will love.

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