‘All architecture is shelter.’ – Philip Johnson
The pub is the ultimate shelter. Once you’re inside, it provides warmth, food and drink. The storm of everyday life is kept outside the pub doors and you can forget the changing weather of human existence for a few hours.
Most shelters are functional. The Anderson shelter, designed to protect people from bomb blasts during World War II, isn’t considered the most beguiling of interior spaces. Perhaps a nice table feature doesn’t matter when people are being wiped out by bombs, but the point still stands. The public house, however, is our most venerated shelter, and a cornucopia of design ideas and aesthetics that would turn Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen weak at the knees.
The problem with the pub is we barely see the design, caught as we are in the social melee of banter, camaraderie and drinking. We rarely look down, or up or even into the distance, focusing instead on our companions in front of us. It’s only a weirdo who goes around the country taking pictures of pub carpets. But since I have literally done that (so you don’t have to), I have decided there are four main areas of pub design. Variations exist on each theme, of course, but next time you’re having a pint in your local, have a look around you and drink in the design. Maybe you’ll see things you never knew were there.
1. Dry hops and brass, trinkets and paintings of The Hunt
This is classic country pub design. Large wooden tables with knots abound, the bar counter is made of dark wood that doesn’t respond well to modern sanitiser spray and the hops flake off on to your shoulders like beery dandruff. There is home-made cider called something like ‘Old Hazy’ on tap. No one has heard of quinoa.
2. Dartboard, pictures of Tottenham Hotspur’s 1981 FA Cup winning team, benches, red curtains bleached by the sun and ale coasters above the bar
Small town pubs that orbit London are not everyone’s best bitter. These pubs haven’t changed for decades. However, on match days they come alive with the possibility of happiness. The carpet may be old and faded, but the most interesting thing about the place is the array of photos behind the bar. Snapshots of regulars, old staff and pets tell stories of lost years in merriment, community and fellowship.
3. Renovated old cinema/bingo hall/corn exchange/church, ridiculous carpet, round tables, mismatched chairs
This is the pub where the carpet is king. Look down, you’ll see. Patterns ranging from faux fleur-de-lys to constructivist, art deco, post-mortem, mathematical or downright lurid dominate this kind of pub.
4. School chairs, weak tables, craft beer, a huge mirror taken from a skip, menus written in Helvetica, wooden floors, candles that burn too quickly in jam jars
This pub has an island bar and serves Pilsner Urquell as the house lager. There are beards here you wouldn’t believe, and tattoos you should never see. This is the pub you told your friends you would never drink in, but somehow, over time, you just kind of ended up here, didn’t you?
Authored by Kit Caless
Kit Caless is a writer and broadcaster. He is a regular contributor to Vice magazine and to publications as varied as Architectural Digest, the Guardian and New Statesman. He is co-founder and editor at Influx Press, a small independent publisher of fiction and creative non-fiction. He is also the author of Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation (Square Peg, 2016).