The Rake's Progress
Kim Min Su -- Interior Design, 10/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Carved from the first purpose-built music hall in England, the Inc Bar restaurant and cocktail lounge also represents a first for Llewelyn-Bowen & Associates. Making its commercial debut with this project in suburban London, the firm was founded by celebrity designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, the flamboyant face of many room-makeover shows on BBC TV.
"Inc Bar was an exercise in grand luxe, an almost evangelical mission to bring design indulgence to a restaurant interior," Llewelyn-Bowen says of the over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek glamour he concocted for his American client, Frank Dowling, who owns seven other bars and restaurants nearby. To conjure up a contemporary aesthetic that eschewed minimalist cliché while referencing the riverside Greenwich neighborhood's sometimes raffish past, Llewelyn-Bowen irreverently mixed the traditional and the modern—with a good dash of decadence thrown in, too. "I'm obsessed," he admits, "with making tradition sexy and modernity historical."
The 1830's music hall has accordingly become a three-level, 3,300-square-foot stage for Llewelyn-Bowen's performance. Up- dated with a balustrade of steel and glass, the original lobby staircase leads up to a double-height restaurant in what used to be the auditorium. The onetime orchestra pit is now the colorful Pit Bar, its handblown glass chandeliers hanging above a bar faced in backlit panels of tutti-frutti terrazzo.
Behind the bar, rows of antique clocks strike a period note, while allusions to Greenwich's changing fortunes take the form of historical prints and paintings, shown on 15 plasma screens installed on the restaurant's blue walls. The floor, bar stools, and other furniture are zebrawood, the exotic du jour. It also clads the column that supports the mezzanine's Balcony Bar.
The high jinks continue behind the restaurant in the two more intimately scaled lounges. Larry's Bar, named for Llewelyn-Bowen, features his portrait over the fireplace. Dowling Tartan, a custom green plaid named for the client, is used for walls and window treatments. The carpet—an extravaganza of non-repeating swirls—is also Llewelyn-Bowen's design.
But the rakish Brit saves his cheekiest effects for the Divan, a dimly lit nook decorated with risqué wallpaper—a pastiche of rococo erotica hand-drawn by you-know-who. "I love 18th-century pornography. Everyone seems to be having so much fun in such beautiful landscapes," he says. His ribald, jade-colored vignettes look right at home with the velvet-covered sofas, stainless-steel fireplace, and baroque gilded mirror. Has the makeover artist designed a make-out room? "Probably," says his head of studio, Pia Munden. "It's asking for trouble, really, isn't it?"