Monday, 15 October 2012

Back To The Beginning: The Colebrooke Style

It doesn’t take an optimist to realise that architecture and design can influence behaviour, and the concept behind the Colebrooke Row design began when the bar was but a twinkle in our collective eyes. Before the site was even found, there was an unwavering determination to what sort of bar it was going to be: simple, intimate and elegant without pretension. Beyond the execution and delivery of drinks, it was paramount that the bar’s interior would promote a lively, conversation-inducing atmosphere. The Colebrooke space had to be one in which the relationship between burgeoning technology in the drinks craft and the simple pleasure of enjoying a cocktail amongst friends could play out. Tony’s Sicilian heritage and a mutual interest in Italian fifties design was key in this dream coming to fruition. The bar wouldn’t be a case of fooling time, of directly emulating a fifties Italian café, but rather it would incorporate these design tropes and update them for a unique modern-day drinking experience.

Italian Life in the Fifties

During the early fifties, the horrors of World War Two lingered both in the mind and in the economy of Europe. Across the continent, the public were desperate to forget rationing, to forget deprivation and dilapidation and, in Italy in particular, people were still determined to enjoy themselves. During these post-way years Italy became a hub of creativity, forming the base for a new generation of innovative minds. From a cultural viewpoint, the years after World War Two began the transformation of Italy into the modern country we know today.
Italy assumed a leading role in post-war design, establishing a reputation for style and sophistication in a number of design fields including automobiles, furniture and furnishings, lighting and glass, ceramics, interior design and fashion. These disparate fields were characterised by a modernist approach, utilising materials that were formally regarded as ephemeral or makeshift products, which allowed objects to be successfully reinvented. Although moral standards and censorship remained high, the country began a process that led to what we now consider as Italy’s traditional, laid back lifestyle – a perfect accompaniment to which was a glass of wine or aperitif. Bars and cafes – particularly tiny wine bars - sprung up in cobbled stoned alley ways, small in stature but big in inspiration and designed to get rowdy.

These back-street cafes were filled within the hour of their opening and consequently patrons would bump shoulders so that soon there were times when everyone in the bar knew each other. These cafes were pure celebrations of the aperitvo hour - Italy’s stop-gap between lunch and late dinner, that glorious time in which to unwind from work and begin the evening. Spritz after Spritz would nourish a whole post-war generation where labourers, writers, artists, musicians and the occasional crime lord would eat, drink and cause a rabble. When we came across Colebrooke Row, it was clear that this was a venue that had the potential to encapsulate the alluring Italian café style. Tucked away in the corner of a dead-end, North London street no. 69 has a light footfall and this ensured that people would have to seek out the bar on purpose. The space inside was small, with a beautiful original staircase creeping up the back, inspiring a living-room feel.

Vico Magistretti

Simplicity is the most difficult thing in the world

In terms of furnishings, although the bar should be stylish, it was essential that at all costs it didn’t come across as vain. We looked closely at timeless Italian designers such as Vico Magistretti, Gae Aulenti and the Castiglioni brothers all of whom immortalised themselves by promoting streamline, intuitive designs that shunned excess. When questioned about his methods of work Magistretti often commented ‘la semplicita’ e’la cosa piu’ difficile del mondo’: simplicity is the most difficult thing in the world, and this statement resonated with the Colebrooke ethos.

Gae Aulenti 
In post-war Italy, the exceptional designer Gae Aulenti was working to create installations, lighting and interior designs that belied any one style or influence. Rather than follow a trend or fashion she designed only to allow the focus of a room to be its occupants. Aulenti believed that people make the room a room, and any design feature which overpowers this neglects the harmony of good design. Her own style was modest, and Vogue quotes her as saying; "Advice to whoever asks me how to make a home is to not have anything, just a few shelves for books, some pillows to sit on. And then, to take a stand against passing trends...and to return to lasting values." This attitude is clearly reflected in her designs: elegant, unusual but always highly functional, Aulenti’s work is testament to the uniquely Italian balance of imagination and functioning beauty. In particular, both Aulenti’s and Magistretti’s simple designs for tables formed the inspiration for the low rise tables that fill the floor at Colebrooke Row. Their height is conducive to the leaning- in- closer of those who sit at them. When the bar opens, the small tables are quickly filled, sometimes by two groups at the same time who then embark on cocktail comparisons, sharing their thoughts about the drink in hand or perhaps the day’s events.

Gae Aulenti Table Design
As evening progresses, the small room begins to take on a life of its own. In this way, the design encourages a natural surge in conversation, for people’s spirits to rise and as the volume of the patrons increase, the sound of Italian fifties crooners from the speakers fades into the background. The lighting of the bar contributes greatly to this dynamic. During the fifties and sixties the Castiglioni brothers produced a remarkable number of popular designs. Their lamps, in particular the "Luminator" (1955) and "Bulb" (1957), employed exposed light-bulbs which shone out from a radical minimalist structure.

The 'Luminator'
These iconic designs were the inspiration for the vintage light-bulbs which hang over each square table in the bar. Naturally devised to create a darkened but soft atmosphere in addition to serving as a practical light source, the light can be dimmed to reflect the evening’s mood in all its transfigurations.

Bygone days of Italian lifestyle and design may have inspired the bar but a passion for modern techniques and innovation as an applied philosophy control the product expertly crafted by the Colebrooke bartenders.                 

The Castiglioni Brothers

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