Kinnersley Kent Design recently completed the interiors for a new visitor center, retail spaces, restaurant and café at historic Hillsborough Castle and Gardens. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens re-opened to the public at the end of April following a five-year £24 million transformation project led by independent charity Historic Royal Palaces, who took over the management of the estate in 2014.
Alongside the creation of the stunning new visitor arrival, retail and dining areas, Historic Royal Palaces' major project included a sensitive refurbishment of the Georgian house, a reimagining of its gardens, and the creation of a new learning center. The transformation hopes to open the building and its estate to wider audiences and communities as a visitor destination.
Working closely with Historic Royal Palaces, Kinnersley Kent Design created the interiors for the Castle's two key visitor areas: The Lower Courtyard Visitor Centre and the Stable Yard. The scope of works undertaken by the design practice included initial master planning, interior architecture & design, and feasibility studies, working closely with lead architect Consarc, as well as retail and restaurant design, bespoke fixtures design and prototyping.
"The major project involved a mix of creative, practical and strategic thinking to define the new visitor journey," said Glenn Kinnersley, Partner at Kinnersley Kent Design. "Working closely with Historic Royal Palaces, we designed a range of welcoming spaces including inviting dining and retail options to appeal to both locals and tourists. The significant location required unique design solutions, so our team designed bespoke furniture and fittings that reflect the craftsmanship, heritage and beauty of Hillsborough Castle."
Located 20 minutes from Belfast and set in 100 acres of magnificent gardens, Hillsborough Castle is the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as well as the official residence for the Royal Family in Northern Ireland. The historic mansion has played an important role in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland since the 1980s. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in the State Drawing Room in 1985, and it was also a key venue for The Good Friday Agreement negotiations of 1998 and the Hillsborough Agreement of 2010.
The transformation of Hillsborough Castle's visitor facilities is Kinnersley Kent Design and Historic Royal Palace's fifth major project together, following retail and graphic design projects at Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London. Most recently, this has included the redesign of the tea room pavilion at Kensington Palace in London.
The Lower Courtyard Visitor Centre
The courtyard area at the lower end of the estate has been sensitively redeveloped by Kinnersley Kent Design and Consarc. The new, purpose-built space includes a café, shop, visitor information, ticketing and meeting spaces for tourists, local people, schools and groups arriving by car and coach.
Kinnersley Kent Design created the spaces with flexibility in mind, enabling Historic Royal Palaces to use them in a variety of ways responding to changing visitor needs and special event requirements. Thanks to considered spatial and customer journey planning, the various zones work effectively at different times of day and year, whether it's quiet or very busy.
The interior architecture creates an environment that feels comfortable, warm and welcoming. Suitably for a modern building includes some industrial touches, while also featuring traditional design cues that respond to the historic location.
The core material palette combines traditional and modern elements, with soft green-grey walls and ceilings, natural orange brick, natural grey stone tiles and light white-washed timbers and aluminum metalwork.
A key feature throughout is a beautifully designed floor, which transitions from grey ceramic tiles laid in a pattern in the gathering zone and alters into the same grey ceramic tiles combined with wood effect tile in the Welcome area. The flooring finally then transitions into a herringbone wooden floor in the Retail space.
Welcome and Retail Areas
The 2,000 square foot Welcome and Information Area and shop exhibit a light, natural and spacious feel. There is a classic understated elegance throughout, brought in through genuine materials, refined details and a high level of craftsmanship.
The Welcome Area is an easily navigated, open and flexible space, ensuring that it's an ideal place for people to congregate, whether for temporary exhibitions or as a meeting point. The welcome desk is clad in light, warm timber and topped in a striking grey lava stone - a luxurious touch that adds to the premium feel of the location.
The Welcome area transitions into the retail space, which features a timber vaulted ceiling reminiscent of a traditional outbuilding - an appropriate touch, given the Visitor Centre's role as an ancillary space to the historic mansion.
Kinnersley Kent Design created flexible wall and mid-floor retail systems. Combining different fixture sizes, heights and materials, they can all be moved as required to house various collections, from candles and throws to seasonal items and children's toys. Display tables made of light timber with elegant wooden or metal legs create a tasteful domestic feel along with accents of bone-china blue & inlays of a grey Broughton Moore stone from Burlington.
Servery and Café
The new 3,600 square foot café and servery features a richer, bolder look and feel - premium yet accessible.
While the works were being carried out, several exciting discoveries were made in the area including the remains of the original eighteenth-century Hot House walls. Kinnersley Kent Design worked together with architects Consarc to design the building around the discovery. These walls are thought to be from one of the earliest sets of large greenhouses constructed at a private residence in Ireland.
Kinnersley Kent Design incorporated the exposed brickwork into the design, using it as a dividing wall between the servery and seating area to create a 'walled garden'. The indoor-outdoor atmosphere is accentuated by large paneled windows on either side of the interior, as well as indoor trees and planters echoing the wall's prior purpose as part of a greenhouse. Terrace seating just outside offers the perfect place to dine on a sunny summer's day.
The bespoke terracotta banquette seating in the center of the room is moveable rather than fixed, meaning that the space can also be used for various private functions.
The designers incorporated the brick color tone into the scheme through the banquette, with other upholstered armchair seating in pale green to grey fabrics to create a subtly-jarring contrast.
For the servery, Kinnersley Kent Design carried out research into how customers use similar spaces to define best practice. The designers used their expertise to spatially plan the servery to ensure that it is easy to navigate and use, working efficiently even during very busy periods. The designers created bespoke serving units and joinery, paneled in deep green timber and topped in the same quality grey lava stone used for the welcome desk.
The Stable Yard
Built in the 1780s, the Stable Yard located at the upper end of the estate was restored and adapted to create a tearoom, shop and further visitor facilities. There is a new Clore Learning Centre located on the first floor, for cross-community learning and engagement programs.
The Stable Yard interiors feature a similarly classic, understated elegance as the Lower Courtyard. It is equally contemporary, but with a slightly more formal, refined feel. To establish a visual connection with the main Castle, it features a more luxurious finish, with elegant light grey painted timber and satin brass fixtures.
The Georgian building underwent extensive alterations over the centuries, including being transformed into barracks for the Governor of Northern Ireland's personal guard. A key challenge was transforming the narrow, L-shaped building into a cohesive space to combine new retail and dining experiences.
The 600 square foot shop sells a selection of quality jewelry, Irish craft pieces, chinaware and books, displayed on a mixture of bespoke cabinets and mid-floor units. Traditional cabinets and tables are reimagined in a contemporary way to create bespoke displays. One perimeter wall is lined with built-in glazed shelving cabinets, painted a dark navy blue inside. Walls are painted or paneled in a chic blue-grey tone.
Hiding the services in the ceiling was a big challenge. For a seamless finish, Kinnersley Kent Design created a new, lower ceiling with criss-cross beams to give the space further character. Statement pendant ball lights hang from the ceiling and wall lights from the same family are fitted on the paneled walls to illuminate the space in a refined way.
The retail store transitions into a lounge dining area, connecting to a sophisticated café. The retail and dining spaces are treated in a continuous, seamless manner to allow boundaries between the two areas to flex as needed.
The 2,000 square foot café-restaurant serves afternoon tea and other refreshments in elegant surroundings. A central café counter displaying cakes and other delicacies acts as an enticing focal point.
The comfortable space includes a choice of seating, from high tables to free-standing armchairs and banquettes, selected to suit quick as well as leisurely visits. The natural, neutral tones of the floors and ceilings create a soft backdrop for the rich deep colors of the furnishings and fittings. This includes tables topped in a deep aubergine color and upholstery in a range of blue fabrics and leathers.
Photography: Tom Bird