Standing empty for a considerable number of years, The White Hart pub in Bedfordshire has finally been restored to its former glory. Appointed by owner Punch Taverns and tenant Oakman Inns & Restaurants, the Hunter Patel Creative Group has reimagined the venue’s interiors to offer a fusion of traditional features and modern comfort.

The picturesque Georgian town of Ampthill in Bedfordshire is home to Grade II Listed pub, The White Hart. Last year, Oakman Inns & Restaurants took on the lease and the restoration of the pub with freeholder Punch Taverns. Together, they planned to open The White Hart to the public in May 2015 after a major £1.3m refurbishment. 

The town was keen to see the former coaching inn returned to the heart of the community, with the council and local heritage groups adamant that any enhancements were carried out sympathetically to maintain the character and history of the building.

The physical restoration work – alongside Oakman’s determination to become a part of each of the communities it serves – gained much local interest. Regular news briefings, the recruitment and training of local staff, and the involvement of the town council ensured that Ampthill residents were kept informed throughout the process.

Punch Taverns and Oakman Inns appointed commercial interior design company Hunter Patel Creative Group to carry out the design. The company was tasked with carefully and skilfully designing striking spaces that celebrate the building’s heritage whilst offering a viable commercial working space.

Oakman wanted to tailor the pub interiors to the target market of its other establishments, envisioning quality fixtures set in sophisticated yet relaxed surroundings. Whilst each of the Oakman venues has an individual and unique character, they all exude a similar casual, comfortable quality by using muted, warm colours, enhanced traditional features, natural materials, and comfortable seating.

The original design brief required Hunter Patel Creative Group to focus primarily on the external areas, bar and restaurant of the venue. The Grade II Listed property presented a challenge for the designers, who sought to find a balance between maintaining the historic heritage of the 18th century building, and addressing the needs and tastes of contemporary customers.

Very little could be changed in terms of the building’s structure, meaning branding and signage could not be displayed as a permanent fixture or alter the building’s original features.

The design of the courtyard had to be re-evaluated half way through the preliminary phase of renovations to meet Listed building requirements.

Internally, it was decided that ceramic tile flooring would be the best product from a practical standpoint, though an all tile floor solution would not offer the warm, historic aesthetic desired.

Instead, a hardwearing wooden-effect ceramic tile was used to complement the original timber floor, embellished with an inset chequerboard tile border. The design also presented an opportunity to incorporate water-cut letters with the pub name into the flooring, becoming an integral part of the renovation.

The Hunter Patel Creative Group also created an open kitchen and service area in the pub, as Oakman Inns has this feature in the majority of its establishments. This feature allows customers to feel part of an open process. 

The overall design inspiration for the project was drawn from a classic English theme, including Chesterfield button-back chairs, exposed timber, log fires, and woodland-inspired patterns. Modern accents in the form of geometric patterns, flashes of bold colour, and contemporary artwork were then scattered amongst the traditional features.

The design team also felt it vital to highlight some of the Grade II Listed features, such as original brick fireplaces, a piece of fresco artwork, and the original timber panelling and framework.

Finally, signature furniture pieces in soothing colours, such as leather and chrome barstools, leather furniture and reclaimed bar furnishings, were used to create style statements. The intricate craftwork of the bespoke oak bar and the collection of bold yet traditional artwork featuring stags, add to the pub’s sense of character.

The distinct zoning of the various areas, from dining and informal seating areas to the lively bar, complement each other aesthetically by using various flooring finishes to guide guests through the spaces.

Pravin Patel, director at Hunter Patel Creative Group, says: “Oakman Inns had a very specific idea of the kind of look and feel they wanted to create, and it was a fantastic experience to work with such a forward-thinking, pro-active team.

“Working within the limitations of its Grade II Listing status presented some challenges, but we are immensely proud of the way we have all persevered to preserve the integrity of the building and managed to retain its charm and character.

“The finished design has transformed this former dilapidated coaching inn into a high street jewel, which not only takes pride of place within the community, but also in Oakman’s portfolio of stylish, comfortable hotel and bars.

“It is always a privilege to be part of a project that will really make a positive impact on the local area, and The White Hart was certainly one of these projects. We are pleased to say that the positive response to the changes has meant that the village’s former coaching inn has regained its pride of place in the community.”