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17th Dec 2017

An inspirational tour with Inge Watrobski, the design mind behind Thame’s Black Horse.

On Thursday afternoon, the Barr Group newsletter team were given a privileged preview of the White Brasserie company’s newest addition: The Black Horse in Thame.  The staff were busy putting final touches in place. Inge Watrobski, White Brassieres Design and Brand Manager took time to walk and talk us through the changes to this age-old inn.

As Inge says – the team tend to go native and become a little bit too involved with each ‘member of the White Brasserie family’. Each has very much its own character and as a result it is hard not to be drawn in and to ‘pull up a chair’. Inge’s vision for the Black Horse was to create ‘a corner for everyone’.

Having spent some time racking our brains for the right collective noun for this strikingly individual family of rediscovered bars, pubs and restaurants, ‘charm’ seems the only candidate. Yes – that’s it: a ‘charm’ of gastro-houses. Each one remains true to the character of the original building and yet manages to express its own singular sense of comfort and homeliness. As the new addition to the family, The Black Horse is certainly no exception to the rule.

Walking in from the High Street through the old front door is like walking into the welcoming hallway of a period home. Dado rails and bannisters remain in-situ, painted ‘Boxington’ with ‘Bayham Abbey’ wallpaper, both by Little Greene. Turn left and you find yourself in a Regency-style drawing room in which armchairs in Albert Moon tartans beg to be sat upon. Two original fireplaces are adorned with greenery and inside the door sits a striking red dresser painted in Annie Sloan’s ‘Emperor’s Silk’. As we arrive photographer Matt is in full swing capturing this stunning colour against a background of Little Greene's ’Garden’ - somehow the space seems comfortable in its skin already.

Turn right from the hallway and enter the bar; the same homely feel and again Abraham Moon & Sons tartans and tweed upholstery, but an altogether different feel. Farrow and Ball ‘Dead Salmon’ softens the walls to an almost bare plaster tone and contrasts with the ‘Cork Green’ woodwork and ‘Railings’ bar panelling. The bar itself looks as if it has been there forever and will certainly be a hard place to leave! Step in a little deeper in and you will find yourself in the snug (the oldest part of the building) - mind your head as the six hundred year old beams don’t rest high. Here we see Annie Sloan’s ‘Emperor’s Silk’ again, this time as a wall paint with dark wax overlay, which, according to Inge, ‘knocks it back, giving depth and bringing out the imperfections’. Tuck in here for an overdue catch up or a sneaky moment’s peace with the paper.

Beyond the bar, through a wide opening, the light pours in. The whole back section of The Black Horse has been remodelled to form a stunning garden room and a formal dining room (more on that shortly). In the Garden room – light, airy and full of draping wisteria, with the old stone garden wall on one side and sandstone underfoot – one could sit outside all year round! The original coal shed has been converted to secluded seating enclave, the walls are adorned with Nkuku ( vintage mirrors and the ceiling peppered with a fabulous collection of Cox and Cox ( Ochre tweeds and cosy rugs and a vintage coffee bar in Annie Sloan’s 'English Yellow' proffer sunshine glow.  

A door to one side leads one into yet another world. The old coach house (more recently the landladies residence) has been converted into a fabulous eating space, again with a character all of its own. What at first glance seems like a formal grown up dining room is actually chock full of cheeky touches which keep one’s eyes entertained and one’s mind scanning for more. Take a closer look at the Christian Lacroix ‘Exotisme’ wallpaper and enjoy the monkeys (brass not real) playfully swinging over the stunningly upholstered bench seat on the far wall. The ceiling above it has been vaulted, exposing long concealed beams desperate to be seen. Big tip - look up to catch Inge’s great modern rustic lighting find.

As we toured the rediscovered Black Horse we found that there was a room – and maybe even a chair – for everyone and for every occasion. In fact, we inadvertently found ourselves taking off our coats and finding a perch at each stop of our tour - as if to test it out!  By the time we left we were feeling as if we may have found our new second home. Certainly, we had chosen which room we would be grabbing a morning coffee in; which room we would be pulling up a pew in for a quiet stint on the laptop (thanks to the thoughtful inclusion of an abundance of USB ports and plug sockets); and which rooms we would choose for lunch with our families, tea with the kids and celebratory dinners with friends. It goes without saying that we each chose completely differently rooms - which I now realise is very much the point!

The menu for The Black Horse has been created by Raymond Blanc and his right-hand man Clive Fretwell. Both reportedly inherited their love of cooking from their mothers and according to Inge, the dishes are ‘based on what their mothers put on the table: delicious, home style cooking’ - doubtless with a bit of a twist. We are very much looking forward to getting to know every inch of The Black Horse and dying to taste all it has to offer. Not long to wait: we have a table booked for December 23rd…  lucky us!

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