Designing Britain Home Page OTC graphic title
  Oral testimony and the Interpretation of the Crafts
  Oral History
  Themes
  Picassoettes
Birth of coffee bars
Picassoettes in coffee bars
Lyons Corner House
Golden Egg Restaurants
  Resources
  Biographies
Other Images
Glossary
Reading
  Assignment
  Image Archive
  Author
  Home
 

Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Oral testimony and the Interpretation of the Crafts > Themes > Picassoettes in coffee bars
 
THE WORK OF THE PICASSOETTES IN LONDON'S COFFEE BARS

The Picassoettes worked on interiors for at least five London coffee bars, and probably considerably more. The main source for this stage of the module is the following article that appeared in the journal Architecture and Building in 1955. The article has not been referred to before in published writing relating to the coffee bars or to the work of Newland, Hine and Vergette:
Paul Reilly and Helen Low, 'London coffee bars', Architecture and Building, March 1955, pp.83-95.

As an article it begins by putting the coffee bars in a social context but concentrates on the design of the interiors and includes a section on the ideal layout for a coffee bar. Whilst being the best existing source of images of the Bayswater Group's coffee bar work, it does not discuss them at all. The aim of the article was to look at the elements of the interiors that exemplify what the authors see as the coffee bar 'look'.

It is important when looking at the three main texts for this module to understand their context and the attitudes of their authors. Paul Reilly was a member of the Council of Industrial Design (CoID) which published Design magazine (source of the articles by Anthony Adams and Ken and Kate Baynes). The CoID, under the directorship of Gordon Russell, saw itself as the arbiter of good taste in design. This meant that a clear distinction was made between commercial and popular taste, and the designers' taste championed by the CoID. These articles represent the attitude of the design establishment to the coffee bars, and should be read with this in mind.

The majority of the article is 'Paul Reilly on DÉCOR' and is taken up with images of the interiors and exteriors, split in to the following sections: textures; murals; light fittings; sculptures; counters; tables and seating; indoor plants; and artifice. Reilly's introduction contextualises the images. He describes the coffee bars as 'the new Bohemia', and like 'shoe shops and men's outfitters they tend to congregate in two and threes in order to snap up each other's custom'. He also asserts that 'more may be expected wherever there is a student population or wherever foreigners have settled, for their appeal seems at first sight to be to the young and to the cosmopolitan'.

Reilly looks for the source of the coffee bars. Their names: Mocamba; La Ronde; Cabana; Negresco; Sarabia; El Cubano; Moka-Ris, all suggest exotic 'foreign-ness'. Reilly picks up on a Mediterranean theme in the names but they are as often American (Las Vegas), or African (Negresco and Mocamba). Reilly looks to the Festival of Britain in 1951 for their inspiration. The Festival


 
... showed Londoners the possibility of eating modestly in pretty surroundings; the wall papers, trailing plants, cone and diabolo light fittings, natural mahogany furniture, the bamboo and the decorative tiles were all freely used by the Festival designers.
 
Activity:

Write 500 words in response to the following activity:

Look at the images of coffee bars containing work by the Picassoettes. Do the bars have a clear theme and do the ceramics fit in with the decor?
 
Reilly wrote that most coffee bars are,
 
…as yet independently owned, each with its own reputation to make. There is thus none of the uniformity associated with a chain of milk bars or tea shops; that may come perhaps as profits fall and financiers move in to buy them up…but until that happens variety will remain a healthy feature of these gay little centres that have done so much to enliven the West End of London.
 
This assumption is difficult to be certain of but it does appear that the early coffee bars were characterised by a degree of individuality, quirkiness and humour that appealed to a young audience and owed little to big business or franchised catering outlets. Newland's own comments on the way they worked on the coffee bars bears this out:
 
click here to hear audio Listen to audio
Yeah well, coffee bar design. Of course one of the first essentials was it had to be attractive, it had to be jolly, for want of a better word, gay. And fairly large scale and fortunately going back to all the hand-building we'd done and press-moulding it was within our sort of repertoire. And we could do six-foot press-moulded figures, standing, and size was no limitation. Colour, because of our tin-glaze, we had, yeah? Yah, did you use all manner of technique? That's right and design was no problem because we'd been through so-called art school.1
Copyright the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts, 2002.
 
The sense of jollity, attractiveness and fun was applicable not only to the ceramics but to the coffee bars as a whole. It was also to be a characteristic of the work the ceramists produced for the Golden Egg Restaurants in the early 1960s. The following section on the J.Lyons restaurants shows a very different design aesthetic and an interesting comparison to the venues which the Picassoettes designed for.
 
Gondola, mural. OTC00014 Gondola, mural.

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Pinocchio, stairs with plants. OTC00015 Pinocchio, stairs with plants.

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
 Sombrero and rug over light, Las Vegas coffee bar. OTC00016 Sombrero and rug over light, Las Vegas coffee bar.

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
La Ronde with bamboo alcoves and pots. OTC00017 La Ronde with bamboo alcoves and pots.

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Sarabia shop front with tile panels by Vergette, figures by Newland, Hine and Vergette. OTC00009 Sarabia shop front with tile panels by Vergette, figures by Newland, Hine and Vergette.

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
El Cubano, toucans and tropicana. OTC00018 El Cubano, toucans and tropicana.

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Moka-Ris OTC00020 Moka-Ris

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Le Reve OTC00019 Le Reve

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Orrery - interior OTC00021 Orrery - interior

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Orrery - exterior
OTC00318 Orrery - exterior

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Gondola - interior
OTC00013 Gondola - interior

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Negresco Shelves  (Reproduced with permission from Marcus Vergette) OTC01001 Negresco Shelves (Reproduced with permission from Marcus Vergette)

Click to view larger image View larger image
 
Activity:

Write 1000 words in response to the following activity:

The Internet as a research resource. Build a bibliography of websites which give information about coffee bars, the 1950s and any other topics you judge to be of interest to a researcher looking at London coffee bars and restaurants of the 1950s and early 1960s. Don't just list them: make an annotated bibliography to show you have looked at the site and evaluated its usefulness.
 
Footnote:

1. NEVAC, AC118side1, (00:35:00 onwards), audio recording of William Newland, 1994.
 
Top