Industry Insights: John Blakeman & Chloe Pendlebury, John Dixon & Associates

Established in 1979, John Dixon and Associates is a leading design practice in hospitality and leisure. We speak to team members, John and Chloe, about the company’s approach, the key to designing a pub and why the future isn’t just about sustainability

Tell us about John Dixon. How did you get involved with the company?

Chloe: Our current directors used to work for John Dixon. They took over the business about 15 years ago from him. So the business has 40-years-plus of heritage. John joined two years ago now. I’ve been with them for nearly eight years. In terms of sectors, we primarily work in hospitality and leisure. I don’t think there’s a brewery that we’ve not touched over the years. We’ve worked with everybody.

Talk to me about your design approach. When you receive a brief what’s your process as a practice for responding to it and then delivering?

Chloe: I think initially we have to listen to what the client wants. But in what we’re planning, it’s always about the end user. It’s how that customer is going to use the space. In a pub or restaurant, for example, every table has to have a purpose. You need to want to sit everywhere in that pub. You don’t want to feel like you’ve been sat in a corner away from what’s going on. A lot of it does come down to cost with the pubs. We have to be mindful of what we’re specifying.

John: Vera Wang always took one piece out of every runway show just as it was heading to the stage. That’s the way I do it. If you start at a low level and then you try to add in later, it’s always more work. I always go over the top with interior design and then pull it back.

How have you seen the hospitality sector change in the last few years? 

John: Pubs and bars have become more about experiences. Think about sports bars or places like Flight Club – or even places that have shuffleboard now. Bars have got ping-pong, pool tables – so much. Way back when, you’d only have a darts board. Now it’s a whole singing-and-dancing experience. 

Chloe: Demographics are changing a lot. You have to give people the reason to go out. If it’s not an event or entertainment, we have to give them something in terms of design. Otherwise, why would you bother? We’re even seeing that making spaces that are quite ‘Instagrammable’ makes a difference to clients now. 

John: We’ve been asked for that a few times recently. “Where is the Instagram spot? Where are people going to come in and take the photo or post on their social media?”

Chloe: We just have to be constantly looking for the next thing in hospitality. Otherwise, you’re not up to date – you’re not bringing the customers in.

Just a note on sustainability. How is the industry becoming more sustainable?

John: The best building to work on to save CO2 emissions is a building that’s already built – so you’re not pulling something down, wasting or landfilling materials and starting again. We’ve got to think about how else can we reduce CO2 emissions. How else can we impact everything that we put into a building – and where does it go when it comes out again?

I always say that ‘sustainability’ is the wrong word. Sustainability implies that we can keep doing what we’re doing and we can’t. That’s not how this works. What we need to do is find a new way of doing things where we don’t waste so much. That’s where circularity comes in –the future is circularity, not sustainability.

Learn more about John Dixon & Associates’ work at 

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