Divine Design carried out a landmark restoration and refurbishment on Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, a historic and listed building.  The project, which began with a small commission, grew to a large project of a spend of over four million, taking place from June 2015 to September 2017; a showcase of innovative design, thoughtful conservation work and exemplary handling of the complex project management requirements.  The end result has delighted all users, including staff and has supported the improved operating efficiency of the business.

The Olympia Theatre is a Dublin landmark originally designed as a Victorian music hall in the mid-nineteenth century. Divine Design has been extensively involved in the refurbishment of this iconic building. As an historic Victorian building, the fabric of the structure posed major challenges for the refurbishment.  The work we have done in The Olympia includes complete refurbishment of all bars in the theatre, redesign of the seating in the stalls, conservation plasterwork throughout the interior and major repair and renovations to the interior and exterior fabric and the roofs of the building.  All this work has been completed without impacting on the use of the theatre.  The calendar of performances and events can be set years and certainly months in advance and the client and our team were determined not to disrupt the experience of patrons of the Olympia so we worked hard to manage the schedule and open temporary facilities where required in order to keep the theatre open for business throughout.  We have contributed to the bottom line of the theatre through the design as well as the project management.  For instance, the re-design of the bar counters to optimise the serving perimeter and workflows and minimise queuing times has improved speed of service, a crucial design consideration for a theatre when serving times are limited to short intervals before and during a performance.  The effect this redesign had on the revenue of the bar was immediately apparent and the design fee has already paid for itself in increased profits.  The redesign of the seating in the stalls has also improved productivity as staff can now remove all the seating for standing room only events in a fraction of the time that it used to take.  Another example of a practical maintenance concern incorporated into the major design features of the space is the oversize portraits in the Portrait Bar which are custom printed. Throughout the modernisation of the building, the fabric of the building has been carefully conserved and the historic elements of the theatre embraced and highlighted.

Each of the bars had specific requirements based on their location and related function before, during and after performances. For example, it was important that patrons could be served efficiently during intervals in order to optimise the theatre experience and maximise revenue.  The design needed to sit comfortably within the context of the building’s character while reflecting the history of its architectural and commercial evolution.  The key challenges in the brief were firstly to modernise and refurbish while retaining the unique historical ambience and to navigate the constraints imposed by working within a protected structure.

The design process incorporated the operational and commercial requirements of all users involved in the project. For example, the bar staff were interviewed extensively to ensure their concerns were addressed and that the redesign worked for them. The operation of the bar was studied by our designers and operational changes were incorporated into the re-design.  The counters were designed to minimise queuing for patrons and improve user experience. Pre-programmed lighting scenarios were installed to suit different atmospheric needs as the auditorium is used for such a wide variety of performances.

The design for Maureen’s Bar met the brief of creating a functional and aesthetic upgrade through a level of modernisation and full refurbishment. Maureen’s Bar has a unique atmosphere and the photos on each wall collected over decades tell the story of the bar and Maureen herself. In keeping with the brief, Divine Design retained this sense of charm and character. The bespoke lattice metalwork behind the bar, decorative cut wood screen panel in the ceiling, metal scroll sconces, decorative counter brackets and bar are just some of the custom elements designed by Divine Design to fit the historic proportions and enhance the fine period details of the space.

The design for The Portrait Bar involved creating an atmospheric and impactful space that served the needs of all users.  The lighting design was central to the enhancement of the bar’s ambience and the feature wall lights were custom made to a design inspired by the acanthus leaf motif found throughout the building.  During the installation of the design, the period decorative plasterwork was carefully conserved by our craftspeople and highlighted in gold to enhance its aesthetic form.  Practical concerns were incorporated into all elements of the working design.

The Circle Bar and God’s Bar were on the upper seating levels and each bar has its own distinct personality. The brief specified luxurious glamour in the finishes and the client is overjoyed with the result.  The God’s Bar is on the uppermost level and glamorous decadence was the feeling that the client wanted to impart in this space.  The Art Deco inspired scheme for this room was achieved through the use of custom-designed glass panels, joinery and evocative lighting.

The exemplary finish achieved has surpassed the client’s expectations.  As Divine Design were responsible for the design, project management and joinery manufacture by our in-house tradespeople, we could exercise complete control over the standard of finish achieved.

Some of the most noteworthy elements of the Olympia refurbishment:

  • The theatre stayed open throughout the works – enabling all revenue-generating activities to continue a priority when designing the schedule of work
  • Designing opportunities to support and contribute to the profitability of the business, such as the workflow speed of staff at the bars
  • Specialist conservation work on the historic features of the building
  • Balance of retaining the charm and character of the rooms while modernising throughout and creating atmospheric spaces for patrons
  • A cohesive whole with distinct spaces contained within
  • Abundance of bespoke features
  • Working alongside Dublin City Council and DCE to ensure all historical elements are preserved
  • Maintenance-friendly materials and installations, supporting a sustainable life-cycle of the refurbishment