Project Team

Interior Design: response-group


Carpet: Whitecliffe Imports
Fabric: Baresque, Redelman, Instyle, Laine Furnishings,
Furniture: Cafe Culture, Inside Traders
Lighting: ECC, Inlite, Satelight
Laminate:  Laminex
Tiles: Academy Tiles, Living Tiles, Skheme, Classic Ceramics
Wallpaper: Baresque
Paint: Dulux, Taubmans, Resene, Murobond
Metal work screen: Elements

Affectionately known as “The Riv” by Balmain locals, The Riverview Hotel in Sydney’s foreshore suburb had long gone into a state of neglect. Although still frequented by tradesmen and some extremely interesting characters, the hotel did not trade well and certainly failed to attract the younger family demographic which now populates the Balmain peninsula along side residents who have lived there all there lives.

When response-group was commissioned to redesign the hotel in early 2008 it was a mix of excitement and in trepidation. As one of the most iconic pubs in Balmain, both culturally and architecturally, it was to be an enormous challenge to bring this diamond in the rough through a huge transition. Response Group Director and local resident, Rebecca Perry felt the pressure of the eyes of the whole area watching what the outcome would be.

“We wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t create an over budget piece that would alienate the local demographic. It was paramount that we focused on maximising the convivial and intimate atmosphere inherent in this small and quirky building. We wanted local customers and families to feel totally at home”.

This ambience was created successfully with the removal of several walls and a redundant staircase to open up the ground floor which had previously been an awkward narrow space. The existing bar footprint was maintained with entirely new bar front and service area.

Senior Designer for the project Tully Sharp-Butler created a clean, warm and unfussy space that promises to make you feel at home. Also, long time local resident, Tully knew exactly what sort of pub Balmain needed.

“The aim was to create the next step in the ongoing evolution of the hotel, rather than a harsh new identity; a place where anyone could either drop in for a quick drink, or stay all afternoon for a long lunch with friends and feel comfortable. We wanted it to feel like an extension of the locals’ own homes, combining the history of the building with newer pieces and interesting details”

As part of these objectives, a new lounge area was created where redundant office and storage was once housed. Lined with subtle wallpaper, and banquette seating, the lounge area provides the perfect area for a lingering afternoon. Reproduction leather chairs centre on a new fireplace complete with restored timber mantle picked up at a local garage sale for a mere $50.00. Now topped with carrara marble it adds again to the comfort factor of the hotel. Yet to be christened (the pub reopened in October 2008), this area with the fireplace in operation is sure to be a popular spot in the coming cooler months. To section the lounge from the bar area a low height wall was formed to accommodate an antique iron screen also sourced from a local establishment. Existing timber panelling was reproduced and reinstated on new walls to ensure that old and new were consistent in appearance. Existing artwork from the old fitout were protected during the works and replaced in the new space. The warmth and easy atmosphere is punctuated with a few surprises in the use of the red thonet chairs, red mosaic tile bar front and very modern, but delicate “zoom” pendant light over the bar.

The 1880 Arts and Crafts façade was repainted in olive green and black with bright red doors .New logo appears subtlety on glazing with a new iconic “R” on the entry doors. There is no external illuminated signage. For the locals, The Riverview Hotel blends easily into the residential street that it occupies.

There had been several unsuccessful attempts for the first floor to operate as a restaurant over the Riverview’s existence. The upstairs area was also used as a boarding facility at some point. The existing layout was a major problem to accommodate the level of kitchen facility required to suit the food offer brief. Existing bar and toilet facilities were also beyond a simple upgrade. All new kitchen, cool room and bar were designed with the view to provide dining upstairs and bar food for ground floor patrons. New toilets facilities sacrificed some of the dining area floor but provide a glamorous addition to the pub.

The brief for the dining room (note: pub dining room not restaurant) was to create a simple and sophisticated space that continued the convivial ambience of the ground floor but with a touch more elegance. Timber tables were specified to be without table cloths and upholstered chairs sit on custom designed carpet that brings the four areas together. The bold use of green on the continuous wall between the areas further balances the pleasantly awkward architecture of the building. With no actual view to the River, the Hotel does boast glorious windows that fill the room with an amazing amount of natural light. Special additions in the form a bold stripped banquette and decadent wallpaper with the undulating mosaic tiles on the bar front making an elegant statement.

The existing courtyard was refurbished to provide a pleasant outdoor lounge area with a feature sculptural sandstone tiled wall and timber decking.

Development and Building process

Due to the state of disrepair prior to the renovation, the owners decided to cease trading rather than attempt to trade through it. This was met with horror from the existing (but few) patrons who even set up a website called “RIP Riverview” which invited dedicated “Riv” drinkers to post photo’s and anecdotes about the pub. This was actually a great tool for the new owners who posted the new graphics on the website reinforcing the reopening of the hotel in October 08.

The program was extremely tight as response group kept up with designing and documenting the project with the builders already on site. Lengthy weekly meetings and an extremely hands on attitude from both client and designer kept the process moving, much to the frustration of the foreman as details at times needed to be changed as surprises were uncovered during the works.

With many different floor and ceiling levels, it was a challenge to bring the spaces together. The floors were dramatically adjusted in places and staircase remodeled to comply with code.

How has it been received?

The anticipated reopening of the hotel was a point of gossip amongst the locals. It was great to see the hotel being frequented by people all ages, happy to enjoy such a pleasant environment. The older crowd appreciate that the bones of the old lady are still there but with a freshness and comfort that was not there before. The younger demographic are also frequenting the hotel regularly with even some of the blue collar boys enjoying a cold beer in the afternoon in the welcoming space. They seem to be all here, from prams to business suits. It’s an easy space to enjoy.


• The exterior was refurbished and repainted; the old awnings and beer advertising were removed and a new colour scheme of olive green and black trim was brightened by welcoming red doors. The aim was for the hotel to blend with the neighbouring houses in the residential street, rather than stand out as commercial premises.

• New polished timber floors throughout the ground floor

• Reclaimed timber was used for the ground floor bar top, contrasted with handmade red feature tiles to the bar front.

• Custom dry bar tables were made using the same reclaimed timber and matched with custom bar stools (the underside of the stool seats have the Riverview ‘R’ initial cut into them – a feature which few will see but shows the pride of the joiner & owners in the finished product).

• Other loose furniture includes custom banquettes in the downstairs lounge and upstairs restaurant, ottomans and coffee tables from a local furniture shop, second hand lounge chairs that were re-upholstered and a mix of new upholstered chairs in a variety of fabrics and red painted dining chairs for the ground floor bar.

• Subtle cream on cream patterned wallpaper in the ground floor lounge area softens the walls in contrast to the timber panelling through the main bar.

• The ground floor bathrooms were fully refurbished with contemporary fittings while the use of mosaic tiles referenced the old style. The new first floor bathrooms are more glamorous with black and silver wallpaper covering the walls and ceiling.

• A wrought iron piece that was originally part of a gate has been reborn as a screen between the ground floor lounge and main bar

• A large artwork featuring a steamship (treasured and remembered by many past patrons) was retained and relocated as a feature in the new bar.

• In the upstairs restaurant the emphasis on the food and produce is highlighted by the large window through to the kitchen, menu blackboards and displays of bread, antipasta and other items along the bartop.

• The first floor bartop is reconstituted stone above the Onyx cushion mosaic tile feature and timber veneer front

• Custom carpet to the restaurant in a leaf motif took inspiration from the view of leafy tree views from the first floor windows