The vernacular typography of Blackpool hotels

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The British seaside resort of Blackpool is famous for several things: its famous illuminations, its hen back, his rock, plus a particularly compelling episode of Four in a bed.

Until now, he wasn’t exactly known for his graphic design. But that could change thanks to a gorgeous new book by Sarah horn title Bathrooms available which presents the many hotel brands of the city of Lancashire, presenting them as fine examples of vernacular seaside signage.

Posted by Occasional Papers, the nonprofit arts-based publisher founded by a graphic designer Sara De Bondt and curator Antony Hudek, all images were taken by Horn, and she also designed the book.

Horn, who currently works as a designer at Build, was born and raised in Blackpool, describing herself as ‘a real Sandgrown’un’. Part of her goal with the book was to showcase her hometown in a way that gives it “a positive, design-oriented touch,” she says.

“It’s a photographic and festive tour of its social history. The city gets a lot of negative press, and I think if someone from further afield were to design this book, it might start to make it sound like a joke. In fact, we are honoring this crazy city!

This particular selection of photographs was originally taken as research for a project Horn was working on at the university, which invited students to research a specific typographic theme. She chose the guesthouses because there are “hundreds of them in Blackpool,” she says, and because of her long-standing fascination with the typefaces and colors of vernacular seaside signage.

“Since then, I’ve shot a lot of signs everywhere, but nothing beats signs at home. They are very special in this part of the country, ”says Horn. “People’s renewed interest in local tourism since Covid-19 and post-Brexit nostalgia made the project suddenly very relevant.

Sarah Horn, In Suites Available
Sarah Horn, In Suites Available

The main things Horn looked for in the panels she photographed were remarkable typography, intricate letters, fun names, and bold color palettes. His personal favorite images are those where the typography extends beyond the name of the hotel itself, such as the “No Vacancies” signs and those with the title “En-Suites Available”. “Having said that, I love “Palm Springs” and “Sweet Afton” mainly because of the style and the fonts used. They look like a lot of fun! Horn adds.

As for the design of the book, the layout has been deliberately sober in order to better highlight the photographs and signage. Its small size and landscape format aim to replicate traditional vacation souvenir booklets, and an index page has been included at the start to help readers easily locate each hotel and give it a more “serious” feel. The bright yellow blanket is inspired by Blackpool’s candy wrappers and its Golden Mile, the section of the boardwalk between the North and South Piers.

As well as showcasing Blackpool’s lesser-known typographic prowess to the world, Horn hopes readers will feel a hint of nostalgia or affection as they peruse the pages of En-Suites Available. “The hotels evoke a nostalgic humor reminiscent of a bygone era that I love so much about Blackpool,” she says. “I hope this is a useful archive of the coastal architecture and vernacular typography we all know and love for our fellow designers.”

En-Suites Available by Sarah Horn is published by Occasional Papers; Occasionalpapers.org


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