Friday 21 December 2012

Garage chic drives UK forecourt fortune

Is it a sign of our times when we see yet another petrol station sold off to become a trendy fast food restaurant – our insatiable hunger for gastronomic heaven, whether it be bespoke burgers or designer pizzas?
It's not as if petrol stations aren't a viable business anymore. Forecourts offer rich profits, especially with a foodie component – and landowners are hungry for a slice.

A garage forecourt with all the right credentials in a good location in central London might be worth £2m to £4m without planning permission.

With planning, it could be worth £5m to £10m – what developer could resist the temptation? …Too tempting for Bedford Estate who have masterminded the recent regeneration of a former Bloomsbury petrol station at 6 Store Street in Bloomsbury London to bring period style 'village' character to a famously intellectual and arty quarter of London.

The former petrol station, or rather motor stable as it was commonly known in those days, dates back to 1926 and is amongst London's oldest. The station building, which retains many of its art-deco features, was featured in Nick Hornby’s film ‘An Education’ which captures early 60s culture waking up to the Golden Age of Motoring, a period in which the open road could easily symbolise sexual freedom. It is now home to Byron, an emerging austerity food brand and fast growing burger chain founded by entrepreneur Tom Byng.

Garage chic is rubbing off in the Kings Cross area too. Architects Carmody-Groake have transformed a north London petrol station into a semi-permanent restaurant and community-driven events space.

Named the King's Cross Filling Station (KXFS), the iconic canopy with its green neon 50s-styled signage now welcomes a young crowd to Shrimpy's, its small restaurant contained within the station's former kiosk.

Another entrepreneur to capitalize on art deco garage chic was Kingston-born designer entrepreneur Sir Terence Conran who in the early 90’s set his crafty eyes on Bluebird Garage at 330-350 King’s Road, transforming the garage complex into a Gastrodome with a 300-seat restaurant, plus café, foodstore, wine cellar and shop.

Originally home to Donald Campbell’s world land speed record-breaking Bluebird cars, Bluebird garage was once Europe’s largest motorcar facility. As well as selling petrol and servicing automobiles, it also provided overnight accommodation for lady motorists and their chauffeurs.

Nostalgic reference to the golden age of motoring in part-retro, part-futurist projects like KXFS is a trend we will perhaps be seeing more of.

Could this be an early sign of cultural neurosis stemming from a fear of adopting new transport technologies like EV – or simply us longing for a time when cars had soul and roads offered greater excuse for pleasure and adventure?

If motoring and indeed petrol itself is losing its zing, fashion brands like Diesel are turning the other eye. Counter-intuitive for some but maybe it’s time to logoff on Facebook for a long road trip.

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