The Alchemist, UK

September 12, 2022

The Alchemist is a well-established cocktail and restaurant chain with 20 venues across the UK. DesignLSM was responsible for creating the new interiors for The Alchemist’s Spinningfields location in Manchester. 

Speaking with Karen Taylor, Design Director at DesignLSM, darc finds out more about their design intentions and stunning decorative lighting pieces selected for The Alchemist’s moody and atmospheric destination in the north of the UK. 

Thanks to the design firm’s extensive experience in hospitality design, The Alchemist team approached DesignLSM to transform and refresh their site located in the heart of Manchester’s Spinningfields. 

“The brief included achieving greater operational efficiencies and updating the aesthetic to create an engaging and dynamic guest experience that transitioned through the day and better blended the bar and dining spaces,” says Taylor. “From concept to completion, the project was a very quick turnaround; we were only on site for one month!

“Usually we work with lighting designers, but for this project we successfully managed this in-house, working in collaboration with the manufacturer. We worked around the existing architectural lights within the venue, carefully curating a strong variety of additional feature lights to create the ambience and visual interest that we envisioned for the space. We worked closely with an electrical consultant, Nebro, to ensure we were using the right lamps to create a warm and glowing atmosphere.”

DesignLSM’s brief took the Manchester location in a new direction for the brand. “It was important to understand the DNA of The Alchemist and what their future aspirations were from a strategic perspective before establishing the design narrative,” explains Taylor. 

“The site needed to work from day to night, but with extensive floor-to-ceiling glazing around half of the venue, it was a challenge when it came to ensuring an organic ambience was created throughout the day.

“The typical challenge with refurbs is that you’re having to work with some existing elements whilst delivering a new look and feel for the space. In this venue, it had extremely high ceilings so it was essential to create big-scale drama otherwise the design would get lost. We selected decorative and immersive features and lighting that could hold the space, whilst embracing the layering of beautiful lighting (suspended lights, wall lights and integrated lighting) to create an intimate ambience in the evening. 

“It was important for us to play with the drama of the narrative, reflecting the brand’s theatrical offering. It was key for us that the space felt immersive and reflected the playful DNA of the brand,” she continues. 

“Addressing the operational objectives of the brief, a lucid identity was well-thought-out for the two main spaces – the bar and main dining area, as well as designing an additional intimate PDR (private dining room), improving the fluidity of movement between the whole venue whilst also creating engaging zones.”

Understanding The Alchemist’s commercial, operational and experiential objectives ensured the team stayed on brief consistently throughout the project. These elements helped to “define a clear and thorough foundation for our team to work from”. 

“The Alchemist pride themselves on creating theatrical experiences, showcasing their creativity and innovation through mixology. 

With the brand’s strong reputation for its unique offering across the country, it provided DesignLSM with an excellent opportunity to push the boundaries on curating a compelling and unique concept that would reflect the evolution of the brand’s DNA and transitioning narrative, drawing inspiration from the origins of the universe and cosmic alchemy.

“Strategically considering the overall guest experience, curating hero features that would define the space, the back bar – playing upon astronomical dynamism – has now become a striking focal point, accentuating the relationship between light and dark with beautifully framed circular lights that emit a soft glow during the day that enhances and becomes richer in hue and bolder in strength as the evening progresses – marking the solar/lunar progression.”

As mentioned, the space the team were working with featured very high ceilings, and lighting played a key role in managing these comfortably. 

“Lighting was one of the main elements of this project and nearly all features were bespoke except two wall lights,” explains Taylor. “All of the lighting formed part of the compelling concept – every piece was carefully chosen to enhance the cosmic alchemy narrative and represent orbital pathways of planets and supernovas. 

“Specifically though, is the large bar feature, which dominates the space and reflects the transition from day to night. The large glowing orbs that transition from warm white to amber to red represent the sun and its dominating/illuminating presence – as the day progresses, these orbs softly start to glow until darkness falls when they burn bright creating a striking and dominant golden glow.

“We used several manufacturers to produce our different light features, which were all carefully selected or designed to enhance the cosmic concept. With 80% of the lighting bespoke, we worked with Illumination to manufacture all the custom features including the main restaurant lights, comprising of approximately 125 led suspended Perspex rods, which were created to represent the swirling gasses in space, the suspended lights in and the PDR emulating planets.

“The glass wall lights (sourced from Chelsom) were strategically positioned on the columns representing the sun and the moon, whilst the mesh lights from Moooi created dramatic sculptural statements at the entrance of the venue.”

Lighting was an important element in the curation and designation of different zones throughout the space. The pieces aided in creating intimate spaces whilst in the main restaurant and bar, it was important to the team to deliver dramatic focal points to fill and illuminate the open areas. The sculptural aspects also enhance the changing ambience of the day as it transitions to night. 

“For the private dining room, we created The Alchemist’s version of space, with seven planet-inspired lights, helping to create a welcoming area for groups,” continues Taylor. “In the bar, we opted for planet pendants, visible from the exterior façade. 

“The female toilets, a dichotomy from the dark moody tones of the front of house, take a confident contrasting approach with wall lights that radiate energy along with the lively orange colour palette creating a burst of vibrancy whilst complimenting the terrazzo walls – a representation of fragments floating in space as a result of an exploding supernova.”

Using the already existing architectural lighting, the team were fortunate that the system was already very flexible, allowing them to reposition and re-angle fixtures to complement the additional feature lighting. 

“Due to the open and exposed surfaces to the ceilings, we utilised cable trays, which were sprayed out across the ceiling in the same dark tone, accentuating the glow of the suspended lights whilst enhancing the cosmic narrative that each lighting feature played into. The main challenge was working with the existing surfaces, so feature lighting had to work around this.

“The lighting completely elevates the whole space, creating theatrical focal points throughout,” says Taylor on how the lighting accompanied the interior design scheme as a whole. “As soon as you step inside, you get a real sense of the narrative behind the design and the brand. Being an all-day drinking and dining destination, the lighting allows the space to subtly transition from a lunchtime spot to a vibrant drinking destination in the evening.”

The overall impression and reception from The Alchemist team has been resoundingly positive. “From the get-go, the concept was well interpreted and we’re extremely proud of the space we have created, and the new direction we have delivered for The Alchemist,” explains Taylor. “Since re-opening, we’re thrilled with the positive feedback we have received from both the client and the public. Despite there being a vast selection of drinking and dining destinations in the city, The Alchemist sets itself apart from other bars and restaurants in the local vicinity and remains one of Manchester’s most renowned social hot spots.

“We’re extremely proud of what we have created, with the finished space being a strong replication of our visuals. As with all projects, we are continuing to identify innovative ways to incorporate digital integrations, layering the physical space with technical elements to further enhance the guest experience.”