It was a dark evening last November when I asked Dom Moorhouse, one of the principles in the Packhorse at Southstoke community pub project if they had an interior designer. Nope. Would you like one? Yes please.
It’s always a joy to contribute something back into the community and I had fond memories of sitting in the Tap bar with a pint and doorstep sandwich, so volunteering and being part of bringing this amazing property back to life held particular appeal.
The Packhorse at Southstoke had been closed for 6 years during which time it had faced the prospect of being converted into residential units with offices below. The villagers said no and more than that, put together a plan of action to buy the pub for the community. It was an extraordinary effort. They finally secured it and set about resurrecting the hub for this very special village.
My first visit was to a shell of a building, most of the interior plaster had been removed, floorboards were up, stud walls for new inside lavatories (there’s posh!) being created. Nick Alexander was in charge of the restoration and has been a joy to work with.
First fix for the lighting design was the first issue. We wanted to keep away from ceiling lights to help keep some of the 17th century ambience. My view was that it was better to have more and have softer light emanating, than a few really bright lights. The wall lights throughout would have natural toned linen shades except for the Red Dining Room and Tap Bar. For the Tap Bar I wanted to see bare filament bulbs- they are slightly quirky and give a lovely warm glow. I also felt they suited the pared back look of this interior.
Flooring was another important issue. The Red Dining Room had half original elm flooring, the rest was pretty manky pine. Nick sourced a brilliant match for the elm boards. For the other room we needed a sympathetic flooring that would be entirely functional. Unnatural Flooring was the perfect solution. It looks like sisal matting but will take wine spillage, food etc. Great for a restaurant room. The new loos were the other issue. We didn’t want to lose the magic of the elm boards in the hallway but again had to be fully practical. Kardean was a perfect choice here- looks like patinated floor boards but again, really easy to clean.
Colours were obviously a critical concern. I felt where possible we should recreate the schemes as they had been. The Tap Bar was distemper with black woodwork, deep dark stained skirting boards and nicotine stained ceiling. I selected Farrow & Ball lime paint Pointing for the walls, Off Black for the woodwork and the ceiling was simply sugar soaped and waxed. The red tiled floor was simply cleaned. We carried this colourway through the Cross Passage, a fabulous space where coffins were once carried through on their way to church. We managed to retain the original peg coat hook and front and back doors were stripped and waxed. We wanted to keep this space as pared back and simple as possible. The original paned window, the bar onto the passage was simply cleaned.
The black woodwork and putty walls were carried through to the South Bar using Clunch with the Off Black to give a slightly smarter feel. It’s a fabulous room with large Georgian windows. This room a little smarter than the Tap Bar but still needing that paired back look. Upstairs I wanted a different feel for slightly smarter dining so went for Picture Gallery Red. The final room in Bone, a soft backdrop to a room used for meetings or large parties.
I had been given access to a collection of photographs of the village including the vicars photo album along with several boxes of used picture frames. I scanned selected photos, cleaned and painted frames, reassembled and they now hang in the Tap and South Bar. Its fabulous to be able use photos of the building and the village over the past hundred or so years. They really tie the interior to the village and give it a sense of place.
As a 17th century ale house I wanted to keep soft furnishings to a minimum. I’ve used pre-worn looking fabric to soften the wooden window seats and popped in a couple of cushions. For the curtains upstairs, I wanted them to be as innocuous as possible. I wanted people to notice the fabulous stone mullioned windows and not the curtains. For the whole interior design of the scheme its been about the light touch. I wanted it to look as though it hadn’t been “done up” just given a really good clean. I was there yesterday hanging the curtains and an old gent from the village came into the Tap Bar. “But you haven’t touched it!” he said. Perfect. Its quite funny just how much effort has gone into making it look as though nothing has really happened!
The biggest bone of contention for me in this project was the signage. The sign existing outside was to my mind hideous and the village wanted to keep it as a token of continuity. A compromise was reached of adapting the design. I still really hated it. But, when cleaning the sign preparing it for painting, a new design was found underneath. It’s totally charming, bucolic and has more than a whiff of Hovis about it.
It has been a strange interior design project for me. Most of the time people give me a project and I control everything. Here there have been so many people involved, decisions taken that I wouldn’t necessarily have made myself and over the past week furniture has moved in that I wouldn’t have allowed past the threshold. But its not my project, its belongs to the community and the shareholders. Budget has been a massive consideration and I think its been spent wisely.
On Sunday the little boy on the left in this picture, Gerald Perkins, will open the pub to the public. He’s now 90. What a wonderful connection of people and place. This grand old building, celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, is now good to go for another 400 years.