Creating welcoming and hospitable new visitor spaces at Hillsborough Castle & Gardens in Northern Ireland
Our long-term client Historic Royal Palaces asked us to design the interiors for a new visitor centre, retail spaces, restaurants and cafés at historic Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, Northern Ireland’s royal residence.
Located 20 minutes from Belfast and set in 100 acres of magnificent gardens, Hillsborough Castle is the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The historic mansion has played an important role in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland since the 1980s.
The independent charity took over management of the Georgian mansion and estate in 2014, and the project was part of a five-year £24 million transformation that included a sensitive refurbishment of the Castle and a reimagining of its gardens. The relaunch has opened the mansion and its estate to a wider audience, to become a major tourist destination.
We created the interiors for the Castle’s two key visitor areas: The Lower Courtyard Visitor Centre and the Stable Yard, to appeal to both tourists and locals. The major project involved a mix of creative, practical and strategic thinking to define the new visitor journey. This included interior architecture, feasibility studies, retail and restaurant design, bespoke fixture and furniture design and prototyping.
Sophisticated materials, refined details and a high degree of craftsmanship
We designed the spaces with flexibility in mind, so Historic Royal Palaces can use them in a variety of ways to respond to changing visitor needs and special event requirements. Thanks to considered spatial and customer journey planning, the various zones work effectively at different times of day and year, whether it’s quiet or very busy.
The new, purpose-built Lower Courtyard includes a 3,600 sq ft café and a 2,000 sq ft retail and welcome area. We designed a warm and welcoming environment that includes contemporary industrial touches alongside traditional heritage design cues.
There is a classic understated elegance throughout. A key feature is the beautifully designed floor, which transitions from wood-pattern tiles laid in a herringbone pattern to a diagonal square design of ‘timber’ and grey stone tiles.
While the works were being carried out, a number of exciting discoveries were made in the area including the remains of the original eighteenth-century Hot House walls. We incorporated an original brick greenhouse wall into the Lower Courtyard’s servery and café to create a ‘walled garden’ feel. We carried out research into how customers use similar spaces to define best practice for the servery area, zoning the space to ensure that it’s easy to navigate and use even during very busy periods.
Built in the 1780s, the Stable Yard located at the upper end of the estate was restored and adapted to create a 2,000 sq ft tearoom, a 600 sq ft shop, and further visitor facilities including a learning centre. The interiors complement those of the Lower Courtyard, but with a slightly more formal, refined look and feel. To establish a visual connection with the main castle, we used a more luxurious finish, which includes elegant light-grey painted timber and satin brass fixtures.
The Georgian Stable Yard underwent extensive alterations over the centuries, including being transformed into barracks for the Governor of Northern Ireland's personal guard. A key challenge was transforming the narrow, L-shaped building into a cohesive space to combine retail and dining experiences in a flexible way.
The shop transitions into a lounge dining area, connecting to a sophisticated café serving afternoon tea. Treating the retail and hospitality spaces in this continuous, seamless manner ensures that boundaries can flex as needed.
The unique, significant location deserved a bespoke design response, so we designed and commissioned custom fittings and joinery for both visitor centres. For example, in the Stable Yard shop, we reimagined traditional wall cabinets in a modern way, creating bespoke displays with glass doors, painted a dark navy ‘Hillsborough Blue’ inside.
Other exciting projects for Historic Royal Palaces include retail, wayfinding and graphic design for Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London.