Bryan Taylor

A Place to Gather at PublicHouse

In 2018, Colby and Patric (owners of Tap & Growler and Beergarden) set their sights on a historic building across the river in Springfield, Oregon. Colby, who was born and raised in Springfield, says that he’s always wanted to help revitalize the downtown area. The PublicHouse project was successful exactly at that — it revived a historic, downtown gathering space in a new context and drew the community back in to share meals and toast beers with loved ones. PublicHouse is a family-friendly place to gather that includes food pods, a beer hall, an outdoor bar, outdoor eating spaces with communal tables, and a stylish whiskey bar. 

PublicHouse is located in Springfield’s historic Washburne District, in a landmark building that was originally built as a church — the ultimate community gathering space. It was purchased in 2011 by a local nonprofit, Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO), and converted into a food-business incubator called Sprout. Sprout was intended to serve as a community hub that would funnel people into the downtown area and bolster independently owned restaurants, in turn, helping Springfield’s local economy to thrive. Though beloved among Springfield locals, it never reached its full potential and remained sadly underutilized.

Drawn was invited by Colby and Patric to rethink the space and design solutions for the unique challenges that an unconventional space and business model require. The project’s goal was to create a space that would become not only a regular stop for Springfield residents, but also a draw for tourists to the region — all while supporting local small businesses and standing behind locally sourced food. PublicHouse would be this space.

A major aspect of PublicHouse’s transformation was defining dining spaces within the building to suit a variety of tastes: communal, outdoor, and intimate. We also needed to design for optimal traffic flow. This resulted in three new spaces: a captivating and intimate whiskey bar; an outdoor arbor bar with casual, beer garden-style seating and space for live music performances; and a beer hall with high, vaulted ceilings and large, geometric stained-glass windows (inside the former church’s nave). A central communal table runs down the length of the room and is flanked on each side by rows of in-situ oak booths that are adorned with (and divided from one another by) leaded glass windows. These furnishings serve not only to tie the entire design together, but also to provide patrons with seating that’s conducive to enjoying good food along with good company.

One of the challenges that we faced while transforming Sprout into PublicHouse was creating a space with a distinctive and contemporary personality within an architectural relic that was nearly 100 years old and clearly designed as a house of worship. Despite what feels like a comprehensive overhaul from the patrons’ perspective, we were careful to preserve the old church’s structural and historical integrity. We also incorporated many salvaged materials into our design: The oak booths in the beer hall came from an old Marie Callender's restaurant in neighboring Eugene, Oregon. All of the new furniture within PublicHouse was built from reclaimed lumber and designed with a focus on 45- and 90-degree angles to complement the angles present in the church building’s geometric stained glass. The historic building itself endured no demolition work. And all of the food vendors that operated within Sprout remained open for business throughout the process — and continue to serve patrons today at PublicHouse.

The concept behind PublicHouse wasn’t revolutionary — in fact, we built it on the food pod incubator model established by Sprout, the building’s former occupant. However, the previous model had its flaws — flaws that ultimately caused it to fail, depriving the Springfield, Oregon, community of a much needed gathering space. Drawn seized the opportunity to remedy these flaws. We designed a smart, functional space that caters to different types of diners and allows for optimal traffic flow within the building itself, and in turn, maximizes revenues.

PublicHouse is beautiful in the classical sense, as well. The 100-year-old building allowed us to create both seductive, intimate spaces, as well as immense and transcendental communal ones. We selected a deep sapphire blue to complement the warm, natural oak finishes and brought the rich jewel tones of the grand stained glass windows to the forefront of our design, allowing the color and light to add an ethereal, luminous layer to the experience of dining in the majestic beer hall.

And finally, thanks to our work on PublicHouse, which was undertaken with a very limited budget, an important community space continues to offer our region’s residents and visitors a family-friendly place to gather. PublicHouse is also home to several small and independently owned food businesses. One of the goals of this design project was to help revitalize downtown Springfield, and since opening in 2018, PublicHouse has served as the impetus for a full-scale revitalization of downtown Springfield. The food hall won both the Springfield Chamber’s 2018 Business of the Year Award and Travel Lane County’s 2019 Destination Award; it was also named one of the top 10 coolest places to drink craft beer in the United States by Men's Journal in 2019.