Portabello Restaurant Bar and Grill

Portabello Restaurant and Bar on South Parade in Oxford's Summertown.

We were asked to assist with refurbishing this extremely popular premises, working with the owner to develop his aesthetic vision for the transformation, we provided design advice and working solutions throughout the process. The turnaround refit was 12 days in total which was achieved for a re-launch just before Christmas.

The general concept was to marry elements of Victorian charm and contemporary Soho house chic to give a warm, harmonised functional and aesthetic space, close, expansive, crisp and bright, and create a space to reflect their reputation for quality, providing a fitting backdrop for their renowned menu.

Particular attention was drawn to the need for less intrusive lighting whilst promoting a real sparkle. Ceiling spotlights were inset to help reduce glare and all lighting was placed on dimmers. The pendent lighting which we used as a subtle signature piece we dotted around the bar and over the seating to the right of the bar are from Northern lighting based in Sweden.

Beautiful cast bronze wall lights with an innovative cold cathode Carat squirrel cage bulbs (a breakthrough invention as alternative to the traditional energy inefficient incandescent version) are by renowned Belgian lighting company Tekna.

The entrance welcomes with its victorian patterned tiles which make an immediate statement - creates a greater sense of space and has attitude. At the entrance we also included lots of antique mirror work vertical and horizontal with borders of moulding, and moulded panel work used repeatedly throughout to add texture and a version of gentleman's club warmth. This can be seen quite clearly in the inky green snug area to the left of the bar. 

As the space when you enter seems to divide into halves we intentionally made the decision to work with some of the through bar views and using mirror where necessary to give reflection of other spaces and angles that gives a better and useful sense of wholeness. 

The tanned, distressed leather banquet seating was existing and became a strong
player in the colour dynamics of the space. The rich blue green holds its own and relates the strong victorian aesthetic element perfectly. 

The beautiful blown glass pendents travel down the line of the banquet seating. Close to the bar we designed and produced a wine storage/display cabinet painted in a very dark blue with integrated LED lighting that highlights the space with a level of sweet shop visual treat.

A waiter and serving station was created in panelled woodwork with Carrara marble, which made the link between guest and food deliberately close. Clean white marble tops and a mosaiced pattern slip glazed metro tiles to the wall, add a playful charm. They also highlight the scale of the room, bringing the front and rear into view at the same time and giving each of these spaces equal status.

This project was an absolutely pleasure to work on, and has been a hit - with even the restaurant's most loyal regulars. For more details about Portabello, visit their website here 


Victorian Porch, front garden design and bespoke iron railings in Oxford

Part of a series of Porches we have carried out this season.

The Porch is part of a larger body of work at the property that consisted of a complete revamp of the front garden bay window area alongside an overhaul of the driveway and its multiple levels. It is also the completion of the full renovation at the premises, including the basement extension

A planting scheme was also initiated that complemented the nature of the local environment.

In the summer of 2012 planning permission was granted and the project started in December later that year. We begun by excavating the whole of the front bay area to the start of the driveway.
A substantial retaining wall and series of tiered planters were created to reflect the shape of the bay rising in 450mm stages to allow one to jump down but not create an actual stepped area. The planting in this area was based on woodland plants that could cope with the shaded conditions and that perhaps would not require the same level of attention as other plants. It is a natural spectacle for the occupier of the house at lower ground level,  a backdrop and bit of theatre - the tiers just recede enough to allow some of the sky light  through and retain a sense of openness. From the driveway it is not at all obvious that the area exists at all aside from the verbena and the heads of a large variety of lavender ascending. This forms a visual soft stop for cars entering the drive.

The driveway itself was reconfigured from a solid concrete platform to a paved option using hand made chestnut clay pavers that allowed ground water to permeate. The design incorporates curves that gently handle what otherwise would have been an austere frontage due to the imposing scale of the architecture and the volume of red brick. This design makes the space softer , approachable and more palatable. The start of the pathway to the Porch and the end of the handrail form one start point for the curve which arcs towards the Quince tree in the top bed (see illustration). The curved flow is counterstruck in the space left over from the arc by opposing the direction creating a greater sense of an organic system. The pattern is echoed in the curvy iron railings that were commissioned and made to our design. Restoring iron railings is a key project in the North Oxford Conservation Area, and we felt these were an elegant contemporary take on a classic victorian railing. Aside from the practical nature, they carry the sense of undulating movement from the floor to the vertical and give a restrained, elegant graphic show with the red brick wall as a backdrop. This again adds a needed quality in direct contrast to the red brickwork.

The curves as mentioned lead you to the Porched area - the previous Porch was dissassembled and a new large, insulated and enclosed Porch was built. The whole of the facade was kept and reused with a front and rear door designed by ourselves. The front door is placed just behind the arched facade. This gives the impression from a distance, that the door is arched also. The interior has a beautiful spanish encaustic cement patterned floor which brings a happy surprise to the entrance area.

The interior was kept simple. Vertical pine boards and the light created by the conservation velux alongside the silver pendent add a touch of Scandi elegance to the show. The Oak hall furniture is designed and made by Rogue-Designs in our workshop, and was made to fit the the right hand wall as you enter. The shoe rack is a double construction with adults shoes above and children's below.