Behind the bar design: hear from PS40’s creative director, Livia Lima

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PS40, the bar from bartender-owners Michael Chiem and Thor Bergquist, and their creative partner Livia Lima, captured a lot of attention when it opened in April of last year. Part soda factory — they’re making sodas under the label of PS Soda — and part cocktail bar, the concept garnered international attention.

Whilst much of the attention focused on the soda production and the considered hospitality, a large part of it was driven by the design of the bar. And PS40 is unique in that their designer, Lima (whose design studio is named Ultra Violet and who is also married to Bergquist) is also onboard as the creative director. “Brands and products, they usually have a creative director, but it’s not something that bars have normally,” she says.

Read what Lima had to say about design trends in bars and more below.

PS40's creative director, Livia Lima
PS40’s creative director, Livia Lima
On the ideas behind the design of PS40
Being Thor’s wife, we’ve been working on this for two years now. One thing that was really important to us was that it look like no other bar. It’s quite a unique concept. The idea was that, you know, it’s a soda factory, and we wanted it to feel quite playful. And one of the things that I like when I try Thor’s drinks, is that layer of discovery, you can taste each ingredient at a time, and it really takes [you] on a journey. While [Chiem] is so meticulous, and has this attention to every single detail, and we kind of wanted a place that referenced all that. So every piece of furniture in here is handmade, nothing is store bought — we wanted that attention to detail and the element of discovery. Like looking at a table that [guests] haven’t seen with a pattern like this before, the splashes of colour — you could be sitting down, having a conversation, and then you look at a corner and you notice a little thing that you haven’t seen before. We wanted to create a level of humanity in the process.

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 The PS40 menu
The PS40 menu
On having a full-time, ongoing creative director for a bar
It’s not very usual when you open a bar — you hire an architecture company, you hire interior design, then you have your graphic designers, and sometimes that group works well, beautifully. The difference with us, me being here as the creative partner, I was there from the get-go.

Designing the architecture of the bar, each piece of furniture, the ceramics, [carrying] on to the graphics, the branding, to the menu, to the art direction of the drinks — it’s like a creative partnership, we’re working together at least twice a week developing new content and material and coming up with ideas for events together.

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On the way that she sees bars
With these guys, what was really incredible is that they trusted my work as well. When I look at a place, it’s pretty much like, what would make me want to stay here? That whole idea of feng shui, it really does work. Some places, you go to a bar and everything is perfect – the drinks are great, the design is great, but it kind of doesn’t really work. You have a drink there, and you feel like going to the next place, you know? It’s so important, [the] small things like the lights, you know, the right level of lighting, to keep your eyes engaged. If you just buy things from the store, and your personality is not in the bar, it kind of doesn’t feel authentic and it feels a bit more commercial, like any other nice place; and [then] you just go to the next one I guess.

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On what seem to be the two big design trends in bars
Yeah, you can go through the whole Prohibition tradition, speakeasy, dark; but then everyone [now is] going to the other side, which is like the super clean-cut phase, [the] Swedish kind of look, and it seems to be just jumping from one to the other — but there’s this whole world inbetween.

On their inspirations
Definitely the playfulness of the 80’s Memphis Group, that was taking it to the next level — this is a pared back version of it. A lot of the design was inspired by the functionality of the bar. really. We had this amazing space, and it was almost like an open factory — we wanted something that you could see the machine and the production, we didn’t want to close down the space, it’s such a nice open space.

It was the same with the furniture, we had to be quite resourceful. This bar probably cost a third of what other bars would cost, and we found a way to do things quite economically; just being clever and working with people
that saw the vision, and wanted to participate in the project. I would design the tables and chairs and they were handmade, for a quite an affordable price. Even the lamps, half of them were handmade, and half were like plant pots — we’d buy things and reuse them in different ways.

On advice for those wanting to open a bar
I think what’s really important in every project, especially when you’re opening your own bar which is your baby, it’s finding out what is it that you want to do and what it is you want to show to the world, and somehow have that referenced in the way the bar looks; it’s finding out what’s unique about you, what you can add, and how you can translate that visually — there’s plenty of bars looking like plenty of [other] bars.

It’s this idea of working with someone who understands your creativity and can translate that to a visual, I guess, so you can create something unique to you. I think the end goal is to create something unique at the end of the day.

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