“We wanted it to feel like you were walking onto someone's porch," says Akram of The Book Club's entrance area, with its potted-plant wall. The graphics on the right map out the space's two floors. “We worked with a sign writer who hand-painted it, so it had the quality of something crafted rather than quickly printed and stuck on the wall. Details like this are intended to last for years, to show the incredible amount of time invested in the project.”
The designers’ first decision was to gut the place. “Home's interior was wallpapered, with a lowered ceiling, lots of cladding, and false walls — all of which came out,” says Haythornthwaite. Structural details like the electrical conduit on the ceiling, usually left to the tradesman’s eye, were then meticulously arranged by the designers.
They were very hands-on during the build, spending long hours laboring alongside the contractors. “There was about one month of nonstop making on-site,” recalls Akram. The furniture was one of the few elements they outsourced. The final selection included a mixture of secondhand pieces and the pair’s own designs, the latter produced by specialist craftsmen Turners and Moore.
In the bar area, the idea was to reduce visual clutter by writing the daily cocktail menu directly onto the white ceramic tiles with dry-erase markers.
The mosaic above the bar references the designers’ chief source of inspiration for the space — La Colombe d’Or, a famous hotel and restaurant near Nice, whose clientele included Picasso, Matisse, and others who occasionally paid their bills in art. Akram and Haythornthwaite sought to evoke the vibe of the landmark moreso than its look: “It has a mythology as a place where people came to relax and talk about ideas,” Akram says.
Because the three floors above The Book Club are occupied by office space, the designers tried to cater to office workers as well as the public. The dining area upstairs seats 80, and a few long tables give it a communal feel. There’s a sense of utility to many of the objects: “You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to buy a simple spun-metal lampshade,” says Haythornthwaite. After a lengthy search, they used replacement shades for pool tables, sourcing them from a supplier in the Netherlands.
The paddles in the Ping-Pong area aren’t just for show — guests can bring their own and padlock them to hooks, mimicking the practice of keeping one’s own tankard behind the bar. Rough-edged Douglas-fir cladding gives the room warmth, as do the curtains, which are made from various roll ends.
The light and airy dining area gives way to what Akram calls “a dark version of Alice in Wonderland” in the club spaces downstairs. Removing a false wall revealed huge ducting that the designers chose to use as a feature by back-lighting it. Elsewhere, film-noir spotlighting, bare brick walls, and the ceiling of bulbs create a sense of walking through a stage set.
Inspired by a scene from the 2006 Norwegian film The Bothersome Man, the bulb ceiling was the most audacious and time-consuming feature of the project. Haythornthwaite’s solution for suspending 23,000 bulbs over the 500-sq.ft. area? Twist floristry wire around the bayonet of each bulb, then tie the wires to sheets of mesh stretched across wooden frames. Because of the scale of the labor involved, the designers organized a series of "lightbulb parties," plying their friends with wine in exchange for help with the monotonous task.
The bulbs were sourced in two batches. The first, which came from a nearby recycling facility, were mistakenly ordered by a hardware store with the incorrect filament. The second were an obsolete line from a supermarket chain.
The vintage furniture — much of it made by classic British brand Ercol — came from Sunbury Antiques Market, held two Tuesdays a month at London's Kempton Park Racecourse.
The antiques market also provided the wine carafes seen here on a 16-foot-long table that bisects one of The Book Club's downstairs walls. The satisfyingly thick glass vessels originally functioned as dye bottles in a textile mill.
The client initially proposed incorporating a working library into the venue, but this proved too costly. Rather than shelving up a selection of hand-picked thrift-store books — a popular but hackneyed motif in gastropubs — Akram and Haythornthwaite used books as a purely decorative element, filling an alcove from top to bottom.
Shai Akram and Andrew Haythornthwaite in their London studio, sitting beneath Akram’s collection of clothespins from around the world.