Coach House Restaurant, UK
Thursday 15 Nov 2012


Coach House, is the new 6,000 sq ft restaurant and café designed by SHH at one Britain's most historic sites, Hatfield House.

A tea-room for Hatfield House visitors was already operating on the estate, with profits contributing to the ongoing costs of maintaining the historic property. Its simple format, however, was no longer equal to the demands being placed on it by the high volume of visitors. A new design was commissioned to enlarge the café and restaurant space and this coincided with a major master plan for the house and grounds, initiated by Lord Salisbury and undertaken by Brooks Murray Architects. The master plan was aimed at expanding alternative revenue sources, as well as improving year-round access to the grounds for visitors. The restaurant, housed in a former 19th century coach house, was to be joined by new retail facilities in the surrounding former stable buildings.

The brief to SHH from operators Levy Restaurants and the Hatfield House estate was to create a facility with day-long and year-round appeal, which would provide a quality food service offer for visitors to the new attractions in the grounds; tenants of the office space in the adjacent buildings; visitors to the main house in season and destination visitors from the surrounding area, where good eateries were in relatively short supply. 

"This was a large logistical project carried out on a short time frame," added SHH Associate and Project Leader Brendan Heath. "The service aspect was particularly demanding in terms of the budget, with new air source heat pumps, all new electrical services and hot water boilers required, which necessitated an upgrading of the electrical sub-station."

SHH worked very closely with Levy Restaurants' in-house Innovations Team on the development on the design concept for the Coach House project. The guiding design principle was for the restaurant to look at home in its nineteenth century setting, whilst at the same time being undeniably contemporary. The key to achieving this was selecting materials that made direct reference to those used in the surrounding buildings; using them in an almost hand-crafted manner and applying them to very simple forms. "As we were designing a space within a former working building, we felt that anything too pristine would be out of place, so the materials are used in a very honest way", commented Brendan Heath.

The restaurant has been expanded to include two floors and now provides 70% more floor space than the original tea room. Kitchens, food service counters and seating are situated in an L-shaped ground floor area, with a direct connection to the outdoors through a new glass extension, created as part of the overall architectural works. The first floor provides additional seating, accessed via a new spiral staircase within in a generous void and before opening out onto a roof terrace with views south towards the main house.

Operationally, the new offer is designed around three distinct service points: The Bakery, The Deli and The Chef's Table, providing flexible usage and hours of operation.

The Bakery, open from first thing in the morning, offers breads, cakes and pastries with the ovens placed on full display to entice customers with the smell of fresh baking. Also serving tea and coffee, this counter operates continuously throughout the entire day.

The Deli and The Chef's Table begin operating from late morning and primarily serve lunchtime customers. The Deli counter offers salads and sandwiches, with The Chef's Table serving hot food direct from the kitchen - now visible through the new, full-height opening formed in the rear structural wall. The high visibility of the kitchen, with its central cooking island, underlines the emphasis on fresh food, made to order.

Revealing texture was also an important part of the design. Next to ‘The Deli' counter, the render was removed from one of the building's original walls in order to expose the red brick behind, in the process revealing holes, timber in-fills and iron nails from previous building work. This sits alongside black-stained rough timber boards used as cladding for the full height back bar joinery, a direct reference to the material used on the outside of the building. All of this sits on a new tiled green slate floor.

The new all-glass extension opening onto the outdoor courtyard uses solid oak flooring as a means of emphasising its separateness from the original building.

The first floor, with its exposed black steel roof trusses, continues this use of oak flooring, with the connecting staircase taking the form of a new black-painted, cast aluminium spiral stair supplied and installed by Albion Designs.

Bespoke oak bench tables have been installed adjacent to the food service counters, with two further bespoke communal eating tables in the adjacent overspill seating space. The latter integrate display shelving in welded mild steel.

The only elements without a British connection are the hand-blown, coloured glass pendant lights used as a feature in The Bakery area. These are from Niche Modern in the USA, from whose extensive range SHH chose seven shades, suspended at different heights, to create a striking focal point.