Tasty decorating ideas to take away

Restaurants and bars are often trailblazers when it comes to decor innovation, with great ideas to take away and try at home

Glass panels, exposed brick, neon lights and chandeliers at the Red Hen

Glass panels, exposed brick, neon lights and chandeliers at the Red Hen


Serious foodies would say that the decor is simply a side dish to what’s on the plate, but interioristas know that the truism “you eat with your eyes” extends to the diner’s surrounds.

Ann-Marie O’Neill, creative director of O’Donnell O’Neill Design Associates (ODON), is responsible for the look and feel of many of the capital’s best-looking hotspots. Formal may be out of fashion when it comes to eating and drinking, but an emphasis on lighting treatments and comfortable furniture is key.

Lighting helps create atmosphere and in a recent refurbishment at San Lorenzo’s on South Great George’s Street, she installed concealed and indirect lighting to flatter the faces of its customers: “People get dressed up to go out and want to look as attractive as possible”. Even as they wait to be seated, coloured backlight at the bar washes waiting patrons in a warm rosy glow.

Sound attenuation is another key element in creating the right atmosphere. Carpet underfoot, as used at the Vintage Cocktail Club, and curtains to keep out winter draughts, hung along interior walls, are tricks of the trade that translate well into the home, she says.

The Old Spot gastropub makes smart use of the latter. Brian O’Malley and Stephen Cooney are the men behind The Old Spot, which is in Dublin 4, and where the interior is as warm as the welcome.

In the bar, filament lighting, exposed beams and a patterned floor make it feel inviting, while upstairs bare bricks and prints hung in gilded frames add texture.

Jar, on Wexford Street, is the pair’s latest venture, located where Solas used to be. This time they’ve gone for a very contemporary aesthetic, designed by Odos Architects, with Scandinavian style brass light fixtures, a brass bar, exposed stone walls, a modern oak floor and luxurious, diamond upholstered leather furniture.

O’Neill used locally fabricated glass and steel room dividers in Tribeton in Galway to help break up the vast warehouse, a trick that will transfer to a home looking for an industrial aesthetic.

The sprung seating in her design for Sophie’s, the rooftop restaurant at Harcourt Street’s Dean Hotel, made by Co Armagh-based Derry’s Furniture, encourages people to linger. It should also be a consideration with built-in seating in the home.

Creating a sense of drama is a key ingredient in restaurant and bar design. In Platform Pizza in Bray, O’Neill installed a Narniaesque wardrobe that you have to enter to access the bathrooms. It works a charm on children, who never tire of the novelty.

Look inside Ireland's best designed pubs and restaurants

Liquor rooms

Rather than using Instagram or Pinterest, where ideas are omnipresent, Trevor O’Shea, Bodytonic founder, uses his imagination to bring new ideas to the mix, such as the dressing up box, where 1970s disco, Rio carnival and New Orleans Mardi Gras costumes will be available for anyone in the mood to take on a new persona.

It’s just one of the features of WigWam, the new bar that has replaced the Twisted Pepper on Middle Abbey Street.

Now running gigs, club nights and festivals, Bodytonic also runs The Back Page, a pub in Phibsboro that includes an astroturfed outdoor space called The Green, and The Square Ball, a pub on Hogan Place with a retro-inspired gaming room called The Arcade.

O’Shea didn’t intend to operate bars, but fell into it by accident when, in 2006, while looking for an office space an estate agent showed him The Bernard Shaw on South Richmond Street.

At the start it was very much a make and do approach to the interiors, he explains. “The end result was in the lap of the gods. Sometimes it worked. Other times it didn’t.”

A definite success has been the converted double decker bus in the beer garden, that operates as a pizza restaurant.

He now employs Rachel Fingleton, a recent NCAD graduate who joined the company as an intern, who he describes as his Jonathan Ive [chief design officer at Apple] and they 3D map every space and virtually walk through it to see how the plans look and feel before they do any physical construction work.

Constantly on the lookout for new ideas, Ann-Marie O’Neill travels constantly to explore dining and drinking experiences in other cities. She was one of the first people past the three sets of hostesses at André Balazs’s celebrity hotspot in London, Chiltern Firehouse.

As well as people watching to see how customers interact in a space, she eavesdrops on their conversations to hear what they like and don’t like.

No matter how amazing a place looks, most fit-outs have a life span of three to five years, O’Neill says. “If the place is popular it will need sprucing up after three years, at least a paint refresh and upholstery or furniture update.”

If we observed the same rules at home our properties would always looks smart. In just three years some eateries undergo a complete personality change.

Take SMS Luna, the upscale Italian American semi-subterranean spot below Super Miss Sue, on the corner of Drury Street and Stephen Street.

It started life as Pop Down and featured a greatest hits menu of all the best bites in John Farrell’s restaurant stable. Then it morphed into Luna Steakhouse and now it is pushing a Mad Men-inspired aesthetic with booth seating, atmospherically low ceilings and a Campari bar where the cochineal-coloured bottles add back-lit colour to the warm brass lighting fixtures.

Ideas to take home: four ideas to try

Divide and conquer
Give your home the industrial edge of Tribeton in Galway, by breaking up open plan spaces with steel and glass room dividers. Banquette seating can also help divvy up a large space and works especially well in kitchens.

Let there be ambient light
San Lorenzo’s atmospheric aesthetic is thanks in part to its recessed lighting that makes people look good, and its warmly back-lit bar.

Are you sitting comfortably?
The sprung seating at Sophie’s, at the Dean Hotel, Harcourt Street, makes you want to linger and should be incorporated into any built-in seating in the home.

Create a warm glow
Warm metals such as the brass fixtures used in the newly-opened Jar, on Dublin’s Wexford Street, designed by Odos Architects, and the copper clad walls of Angelina’s, the new neighbourhood spot on Haddington Road designed by Ann-Marie O’Neill of O’Donnell O’Neill Design Associates (ODON).

It’s curtains for noise
The Old Spot on Bath Avenue, designed by ODON, makes smart use of fabric to help soften sound by hanging curtains on walls to act as dividers and to muffle tinny noise, and also in lieu of doors to access services in the dining room.

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