Architects and designers SHH have created a sleek and sexy new bar and restaurant for premier champagne and wine bar brand dion, set within a historic building on West India Quay in London's Canary Wharf. The Canary Wharf bar, the third to open under the dion brand, is the first to feature the new interiors concept, which marks a departure from the design concepts of the initial two outlets (in St Paul's and Leadenhall Street, in the heart of the City).
"The new bar will become the flagship venue for the brand", commented dion's owner Jo Chalker.
"It is the largest of the three bars to date and situated at the hub of what is now London's most intensive financial district, with huge business potential for high per capita spend. We needed a dramatic design scheme to do justice to the new location and we chose SHH because we had confidence in their ability to inject high-octane glamour into the project - but also because they are very professional and capable and great to deal with as people!"
The new bar, with capacity for up to 360 people, occupies the ground and lower ground of the space, as well as an external entrance area (The Veuve Clicquot Terrace), bordered by bamboo planting and lined with tented pavilions.
As well as being responsible for the interior architecture and design of the space, SHH have also applied the brand to new menus, matchboxes and signage.
The West India Quay building in which dion is housed has a fascinating past. Built at the apogee of the slave trade in 1802, it formed part of the single largest and most technically-advanced building of its era; one of series of nine linked buildings, which covered almost a mile in combined frontage and which could service four clipper ships at any one time. Only two of the buildings, built to store sugar, rum and coffee from the Caribbean, now survive. These are Number Two Warehouse (in which dion is located) and Number One Warehouse, now home to the Museum of Docklands. The other seven buildings were destroyed during bombing raids during WWII in 1940. Number Two Warehouse is home to a series of popular mid-market bars and restaurants at ground floor level and also houses two storeys of retail, with residential units above.
Certain of the key features of the original warehouse were listed and untouchable from a design point of view. "These became key features from the outset", commented SHH's Project Designer Addy Walcott. "We chose to accentuate them by creating an environment of strong contemporary contrasting elements." The listed features included two original walls (at ground floor and lower-ground floor levels) and one front wall; original cobbles in the outside Terrace area and flagstones on the lower-ground floor and stunning original timber columns (10 on the ground floor and 6 on the lower-ground).
Design Brief and Concept
The design concept was to develop and accentuate dion's status as a luxury brand, creating 3D and 2D brand associations in terms of pattern, colour and materiality.
"Champagne is a homogenous product", Jo Chalker added, "and customers know exactly what they are getting with each bottle in terms of quality. The individuality of our offer has therefore to be built around the brand's staff, and the ambience and atmosphere of the bar itself, to which the environment's personality contributes greatly."
Previously, the space had been used as a restaurant, with two thirds of the space used for back of house. For dion, the configuration was inverted so that two thirds of the new space is now front of house, with ample kitchen facilities now condensed at the rear of the ground floor area.
Structurally, SHH exposed all the existing timber columns, scrapping the plasterboard that contained them. "That kind of intrinsic personality is rare on a project" commented Addy Walcott "and it would have been a shame not to make the most of them".
The space on both levels was long and thin with no natural light apart from two tiny sources and was therefore very challenging to design around. SHH's response was to use lighting creatively and maximise reflective surfaces throughout the scheme. The client's brief for the space included a request for a glitzy, gold staircase and a feature display area to showcase dion's champagne offer.
Customers arrive at dion via The Veuve Clicquot Terrace (sponsored by the key champagne brand). The terrace area is demarcated and made more private by black metal planters containing bamboo. Within this border feature are three gazebos (with black rattan sofas inside) and a row of seven "poseur" tables in steel and black granite with a black granite return. Pathway lighting between "poseur" tables kicks the light out and creates shadows - as well as demarcating the terrace further from its neighbours
Other tables in the space have white marble tops, accompanied by Verner Panton "S" chairs. The three gazebos can open up as one big party room or three separate rooms and can be hired out. An external bar serving the space offers champagne and oysters.
The entrance to the bar itself features a dedicated reception area, backed by a black glass wall and with a feature bespoke reception desk made up of tightly-packed brass poles (a design feature used throughout the scheme).
A dramatic feature display wall leads away to the left, made up of white, split-stone, angled bricks with glass shelving set in front of it to display the range of champagne, fronted by a series of vertical wires, off which hang further intermittent brass poles (which reference the rigging of the tall ships from the historical harbour). The bottles, shelving and brass poles are all side-lit and all catch the light like a jewellery box, further enhancing the preciousness of the product. This display area incorporates all the key elements that SHH sought to associate with the brand and which are used throughout the space and also in the graphic applications.
Beyond the wall is the 7.5m long main bar, which uses electro-luminescent tape, set within a glass counter, to create a glowing white surface (also used for the reception desk), as well as a mirrored back wall bottle display. The brass pole idea is used again here, with a solid brass pole bar front.
A black ceiling raft runs almost the full length of the left hand side of the space, above both the main bar and display wall, in a black gloss Formica laminate, which is a perfect match for the black glass used for the wall sections immediately around the bar.
Lighting is low level and used as an accent, either in the form of side lighting or reflected back from the feature wall, glass and mirrored glass in the space. The timber columns and beams are lit by downlighters and freestanding gimble fittings (freestanding because they cannot touch the fabric of the listed columns/beams).
A further black ceiling raft above the fireplace is edge-illuminated to highlight the brickwork and bring a soft glow. This raft, as well as the ceiling rafts over the bar, is mainly present to hide services. The rest of the ceiling exposes the underside of the original beams and is painted inbetween in a soft oyster paint. Both the ground floor fireplace and one on the lower-ground have been reinstated by SHH in their original location and will feature Ecosmart flueless fires that are smokeless and burn liquid rather than gas, as it would have been impossible to install ducting from this location.
Seating on the ground floor is chrome and black leather, whilst tables are bespoke in gold back-painted glass (same as the stair treads). The flooring throughout is a new and rich dark timber (dark-stained oak).
A dramatic feature staircase leads down to the lower ground floor, set within a black glass void. It is a simple design to make the gold treads stand out (frosted glass, sprayed gold). Frosted glass risers are backed by electro-luminescent tape. The balustrade is made up of brass poles on tension cables, encasing the glass balustrade and rising up two storeys, illuminated from the top.
The lower ground floor is a smaller and more intimate space, with a lower ceiling height. Tables on the lower-ground are white marble and bespoke, whilst the flooring is the existing flagstones. This is a smaller floor with 120 capacity (with 240 upstairs). The bar in this area is the same as the ground floor bar in treatment but is less than half the size (at 3m long). A sliding wall partition enables a separate private party area to be created and hired out for eg private wine tastings.
SHH completed the job on a very tight budget and timetable - four months from May 1st for a complete refit, including lighting, sound system, security and kitchen. This broke down as 8 weeks from concept to design development and a further 8 weeks on site. "This was a challenging programme" commented Addy Walcott, "but we are delighted with the end result, which communicates both the sense of welcome and aspirational luxury the brand embodies. Our goal was to make a huge impact on the developing Canary Wharf bar scene with a unique venue that celebrates champagne and socialising and I believe we have definitely achieved that!"