A function room – but not as we know it…….The newly updated Southern Cross Bar on the corner of Wellington’s Abel Smith and Cuba Streets is not so much a corporate function room and bar; more a nostalgic lounge full of classic kiwi influences, where the locals can gather for quiz nights, plays, bands, dancing and all manner of events.
Its designer, James Warren of John Mills Architects has been involved in the redesign since 2004 and this latest update is stage four of a long, yet rigorous process in which the clients were very much involved.
The bar had been done previously in the 90s and was “pretty cold and hard with concrete tiles, a stone fireplace and custard colours. It was a harsh environment, even when the fire was going,” says Warren.
The challenge was to make the space more flexible, It had to better relate to the main bar and garden spaces. To that end, two large copper clad walls slide away and connect spaces. Booth seating fold-out tables and timber screens line the bar’s end wall and low level peg board ceilings contrast with a wide range of purpose-mixed colours.
Materials, construction details and colours reminisce on the classic New Zealand caravan, complete with fold-out tables, two toned and piped squabs and a back-lit fold-out awning to cover the bar when not in use.
Warren has warmed up the space with abundant colour, based on the owner’s collection of old railway tea cups. The result is an eclectic fusion of greens, cobalt blues, reds, teal and yellow alongside two different stripey wallpapers and natural plaster.
Furniture and fittings were selected from the same era. Throughout the design process, the owner spent time trawling the internet for an assortment of furniture, lights and artwork and these are rotated daily from a huge storage room out the back. They complement the all-important and quintessential Axminster carpet, purchased brand new.
Warren says the project was an enjoyable process but there were certain stresses in terms of never knowing precisely what you were going to end up with. “It kept you on your toes but it was not particularly easy. There were four people with a vision but I was responsible for putting it together and that’s quite difficult. But the structure and rigour underpinned the project from Day One and that was an exciting framework.”