A major project over four years in the making to transform Chester’s Art Deco 1936 Odeon cinema into an international cultural centre has been completed, bringing theatre and cinema back to Chester after a decade long absence.
A Grade II listed shell that had been left dormant for years, the structure has been transformed through extensive restoration work as well as the addition of a new glass extension. A library, restaurant/café and boutique cinema are now housed in the original building, with an 800-seat auditorium and 150-seat flexible studio located in the extension.
The aim of Storyhouse is to connect people through storytelling as well as create great art. The centre is open over 12 hours a day, seven days a week. At peak times 1,200 customers will be in the building.
Storyhouse is now the largest public building in Chester with 7,500 square metres of public space across four floors. The former cinema space has become the main public focus of the building with the restaurant and café. The library winds its way across two floors and the boutique cinema is housed in a glass-clad ‘lightbox’ suspended on the first-floor mezzanine.
At night, Storyhouse transforms into a restaurant and bar as the foyer comes to life with a film projection shown on a new screen. Theatre audiences pass through and under the cinema screen to access the main auditorium, which boasts 800 seats in a traditional proscenium format with a pit, circle and gallery. The Garret Theatre is above the main auditorium and this versatile space can double-up as a rehearsal or events space.
The new extension is a brick-clad structure, encircled by open stairs and walkways which are visible from the street through translucent glass cladding.
Internally, the entire Storyhouse space was designed by Hannah Wehbeh. Speaking to Premier Hospitality she gave an overview of the new space:
“It was definitely a challenge bringing the three distinct elements together in one space. I hadn’t worked on a library before, for example, so I had to learn how it needed to function, before making it look beautiful. The library isn’t in one space but it is spread throughout the building.
“All the furniture, finishes, wallpaper and detailing have been kept in the character of the original building but also reflect the fact that it’s a theatre, a library and a cultural centre. I chose furniture and finishes that reflected the character of the building with fluted Upholstery, leathers and velvets, and a printed linen designed originally in the 1930s. The children’s library is decorated with a wallpaper that has a Rudyard Kipling jungle feel to it, dark wood floors and a Storytelling room that is a forest!
The frosted vinyl on the café windows are printed with a lead work pattern taken from one of the oldest buildings on Chester, and the manifestation on the glass doors take their design from the lead work. At the other end of the building there is an extension enclosed in glass and this is where the theatre is housed.
“As you move into the new build area there’s a yellow neon sign saying tickets. We’ve then taken that yellow through into the theatre space on to the door signage. We wanted a coherent design running through the whole building but at the same time wanted the new build to be slightly different in an understated way.
“With the cinema a lot of the elements we’ve introduced are very sumptuous and colourful. A building of this scale needs a lot of organic finishes, I included lots of palms and exotic plants, poly carbonate stools that look like cut glass and two taxidermy peacocks. An original Odeon sofa that used to be in the building has been restored. It was in quite a state when I first saw it but after doing a bit of research we knew it was originally upholstered in leather and it is now in its original home.”
The building design has been developed with energy efficiency in mind, both in the architectural design and the application of the building services installations. It is also as inclusive as possible with a great deal of thought put into accommodating the needs of all users, including people with mobility impairments, people with visual impairments, deaf people, older people and small children.
Built at a cost of £37m, funding for the project came from a number of sources, including Cheshire West and Chester Council, Arts Council England and MBNA. Major national trusts and foundations also contributed.
Storyhouse officially opened to the public on the 11th May 2017. During its first weekend in operation 10,000 people walked through the doors. More than 2,000 books were loaned from the library and 300 new library cards issued on the Saturday alone.
Storyhouse’s opening seasons of shows includes Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar. For more information on the theatre and upcoming cinema listings, please visit https://www.storyhouse.com.
Inside Out Contracts
Inside Out Contracts are commercial furniture specialists and have been supplying furniture to the hospitality industry since 1999. Based in London, Inside Out Contracts have a UK workshop as well as a diverse supplier network across Europe to provide a comprehensive and extensive range of product offerings to suit all design needs and budgets.
Some of Inside Out Contract’s recent clients include Accor Hotels, McDonalds UK, Curzon Cinemas, M Restaurants London, Harvey Nichols, Browns Brasseries, The Shard and the recent 2016 Rio Olympics. Working with designer Hannah Wehbeh, Inside Out recently supplied a contemporary collection of furniture from lounges and dining chairs to stools and tables, all upholstered in luxurious fabrics from a range of British textile houses.
Justin Harrison, Inside Out Contracts, said:
“Hannah Wehbeh’s unique design perfectly matches this unique venue. Combining arthouse details with homely character, the interiors appeal to the whole community which is also reflected by the furnishings. Working with Italian designers and UK craftsman, we supplied both design-led and traditional furniture for the multidimensional interior.”
“We love being a part of community projects and especially those that offer an interesting story and design. As design-enthusiasts ourselves, there is no better way to feel rewarded than seeing our furniture make a difference and add to an enjoyable experience.”