Starting point: a cool, fresh idea. Finish line: happy users. What every architect/contractor/fabricator wants, right? But in between, there are a million ways to go astray. We recently completed a project for the new Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth that shows how an unusual design concept made it to successful completion.
Anyone who has tried to design a chair or sofa knows that finding a scheme that both looks and feels good is tricky. This is why most seating is derivative of existing forms. Things that look like what we expect them to be inspire a base level of comfort with users, and that’s important.
So what should a designer do when introducing a strong visual theme derived from forms unrelated to seating?
DIGSAU, a local architecture firm, took on that challenge in an interesting way. Their client was a brewery. Their inspiration, clearly, a barrel. Their scheme for a brewpub interior is pictured above:
Barrel-shaped booths line the far wall. Very cool, especially since the far end, instead of being a dark plane, is a window looking onto the main street of the town. The client loved the idea. So DIGSAU refined the concept:
The next step in this process is what separates successful seating design from failure: they tried it out on real people. A prototype booth was constructed at Dogfish Head’s original location, and the public was invited to try it and comment.
Just looking at the photo, what would you predict would be the most common feedback? On the whole, people liked the design but consistently asked for two improvements. First, they wanted some upholstery for better back support. Adding this had the secondary benefit of pushing them a couple of inches forward in the seat, keeping their heads from hitting the booth as it curves inward. And they wanted the floor to be flat. Curved floors actually feel very strange, and are quite difficult to navigate in high heels (or after a few beers.)
The design was modified as requested, and the project was released to the GC. That’s where we got involved. We had worked with Lighthouse Construction on a previous project. They loved our work on that job, and, after constructing the mockup booth, realized that our level of craftsmanship was required.
There are some tricky things about this design. The solid planks need to be cut precisely to length and width, and they need a durable finish. That kind of work can’t be done on site. But the booths are also very large, and so they needed to be fabricated in pieces that could be easily moved and assembled on site. Building large, delicate objects and shipping them all over the place is what we do. (Most of the time, we’re making custom boardroom tables.) So we’ve developed ways to make even the biggest, most unwieldy object into something more like IKEA furniture: shippable, and easy to assemble. We decided to make each booth as a separate construction, consisting of four pieces (Left side, right side, top, and floor). Here’s the frame of one of the booths on our shop floor:
It’s hard to see where the pieces meet, because they fit together so precisely. They are held together with threaded hand knobs. The booth can be joined and disassembled in minutes.
Adding the planks required careful craftsmanship. We had the wood (sapele) milled and finished by TILO Industries. Then we started gluing and nailing each board onto the frame, adding 1/16” spacers between every one, so that each plank can expand and contract without disturbing its neighbor.
The planks are flush at the one end of the booth, and stick out 8” on the other side, so that they can be mounted flush to the curved window frames. After all of the planks were mounted, the booths were disassembled and trucked to the site, and then secured in place:
The carpenters then faced the wall of booths with reclaimed pine, and mounted the upholstery:
What’s missing? Happy beer lovers! Fortunately, all you have to do is open the Dogfish Head doors and they show up:
Congratulations to DIGSAU, Lighthouse Construction, and especially Dogfish Head Brewing on a fabulous project. Are you working on something that requires superior craftsmanship and engineering? Are you wondering how to build your great idea? Give us a call.