21st May 2019
Back in 2015, the Barr Group carried out extensive renovation, commercial kitchen refit and redecoration works to The Perch, Binsey, but this it turned out was only the beginning! Jon Ellse, restauranteur and Perch proprietor already had a vision (and planning) for an extended dining area, which would offer customers the option of eating in a light airy space, with triple aspect views across the willow draped riverside gardens, come rain or shine. The ‘garden room’ dining area would provide The Perch with a further 46 covers, making this much-loved riverside retreat an ever more accessible proposition for its faithful Oxfordshire clientele and occasional visitors alike.
The Perch is perfectly situated just a few minutes walk from the Isis and Port Meadow, the historic common which stretches from Jericho to Wolvercote. Throughout the spring and summer months, The Perch garden is a riverside oasis. Even on quiet weekday mornings, it is gently populated by dog walkers and visitors who have stumbled upon it via leafy river paths, enjoying a morning coffee. On a bank holiday weekend, it is a different story; full of the wonderful buzz of those who have promised themselves a relaxing long lunch and those taking advantage of the innovative ‘shed bar’ where drinks are available for thirsty customers not wanting formal dining. Whoever the guests, whatever the time of day and whether inside or out, the friendly efficient Perch team are welcoming and happy to provide anything from a cup of coffee to a full three-course meal. The scene is set with stunning wildflower arrangements, which adorn each table with handpicked flair.
Plans for the dining room were originally drawn up in 2014, when Mike Orr and Chris Helsby, of Anderson Orr Architects, worked together with Jon and Oxford city planning to find a solution which honoured the heritage of the original building, whilst at the same time fulfilling the commercial demands of this long-established and much-loved public institution. The result finds the distinctive 17th Century plaster-rubble building, with its traditional thatched roof, attaching to a wood framed ‘garden room’ with exposed beams and a timber clad external. The interior of the vaulted ceiling is clad in reclaimed timber and exhibits a glazed upper-end panel which follows the roofline down to the made-to-measure French doors beneath. Traditional Barr Joinery casement windows and French door sets line the garden room, designed to sit in line with those manufactured and fitted to the rest of The Perch (also by BarrJoinery).
The link between the new ‘garden room’, the original 17th Century thatched property and the later Victorian brick and stone, slate-roofed section, was vital in distinguishing the old from the new. Likewise, the breadth of the dining room is a key factor in the design; rather than running right across the rear recess of the building (the basis of the first planning proposition) the extension protrudes to sit, in essence, as a completely separate entity, tied both structurally and aesthetically by the glass link.
A glass linkage has become a commonly used architectural solution for linking the old and new, where an extension to a heritage building is required. In the case of The Perch, the key to making the adjoining structure work both as part of the old building and the new garden room was very much down to the clever interior and exterior design work of Charlotte Holmes and Paul Turner of Rogue Designs and the ideas of Jon himself. Charlotte and Paul have worked with Jon several projects in the past (also working alongside the Barr Group, as principal contractor). Using a dark grey Pantone (picking up on the colour of the existing external joinery) on the old external wall serves as a visual reminder of the line of the original building. Cleverly avoiding current contemporary trends, the interior is effortlessly and timelessly chic. Vintage lights and mirrors, innovative brass glass and wine bottle storage solutions, retro pictures, old church pew bench seats and farmhouse chairs and tables, all come together to create an entirely individual ‘Perch’ feel.
The final tweaks to the plans were made by contract administrator Laura Donald, of LD Architects, three years on from the original permissions. Laura also tackled environmental investigations, including examining flood plain issues, checking for bat habitation and ensuring protected tree preservation, as well as a fairly major architectural dig! Once the coast was officially clear the Barr Group team were able to get onsite and work their magic. Led by David Noonan’s principal contractor team – there was a 12-week window in which to carry out the build. True to their promise the team were done and dusted by Saturday 6th April, just in time for the Easter holiday break and the unofficial start to Oxford summer ’19!
The Perch will no doubt continue to change organically in the years to come, for certain, under the careful eye of Jon Ellse, never forgetting its heritage and place in the historical creative lives of Oxfords past. A place of relaxation for authors such as Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis in years gone by. The Perch will no doubt be the chosen hideaway for future writers and creatives alike – it certainly offers an inspirational setting whatever the nature of one’s retreat!