Grown-up Baby Blue by victoria nowell. photographs by jonathan keenan
Nestling in the vaults of one of Liverpool's oldest and finest warehouses is an dining club which oozes understated glamour.
Baby Blue is the latest interiors project by Liverpool-based company, Union North. The members-only dining club is the second project by the practice in the Albert Dock warehouse. Its older sister, Blue, a dockside bar and grill occupying the ground and first floors of the Grade I-listed building, opened just under three years ago, but contrary to the name, Baby Blue is a more grown up and sophisticated version of its older sister.
The openness of the main space allows the voluptuous form of the crypt to be fully appreciated. Lighting and furniture are used to define three distinct spaces. Low seating lines one side of the area adjacent to the bar, a dining area fills the central space, and a small dancefloor is discreetly tucked away at one end. Black leather and stained iroko wood are used for furnishings throughout the scheme, and padded leather walls envelope the dancefloor and reception areas.
The Albert Dock was opened in 1846 under the supervision of architect and engineer Jesse Hartley. Along with the building that houses Baby Blue, it forms what is the largest collection of Grade I-listed buildings in the UK.
'We wanted to create a response that emphasised the modernism rather than the antiquity of the original building,' explains Miles Falkingham, founder partner of Union North. 'Hartley's building was incredibly futuristic for its time. It is built on a grid with just a 5mm variance, so it allowed us to develop a series of glass reinforced concrete panels (grc) that curve both in plan and elevation. The panels slope in section to both follow the curves of existing beams and creep around cast iron column bases.'
The panels were transported from Northern Ireland where they were manufactured by Graham's Precast, the only company Union North could find that was able to make the bespoke grc panels. The installation was a major operation involving 12 men who arrived 'like the sas' in a huge transporter, all wearing identical boilersuits. The panels are bolted onto the existing steel beams slightly above floor level. There are no door frames - the door holes, vents and lighting points were cast into the panels during manufacture. Small halogen bulbs light the crevices behind the columns and slit recesses that sit in the centre of each panel.
The washrooms are communal with designated male and female cubicles. 'Combining the lobby areas into one, allowed us to create a larger washroom area that could accommodate sofas and create a spacious informal lounging area,' explains Falkingham. Union North designed the wallmounted chrome handwash units and rainbow wallpaper, which is in fact an outdoor-grade poster paper as used on billboards.
The team was responsible for all aspects of design on the project, including most of the furniture, the menus and even perspex membership 'discs'. The chandeliers, also designed in house are made from optical prisms. Standard lamps are incorporated into the leather banquet seating, while uplighters add warmth and emphasis to the redbrick vaulted ceiling.