S TAY I NG power
Hotels now are echoing the mood and architectural vernacular of the neighbourhood, creating more personalised accommodation aimed at locals as well as visitors.
A bathroom with garden outlook at United Places Botanic Gardens Hotel in Melbourne. Moroso ‘Redondo’ sofa in a guestroom at United Places. A geometric copper screen atop Sydney’s Paramount House Hotel. The guestrooms and public areas at Paramount House Hotel reference the gritty site and colourful history of the area. The simple monastic entrance of United Places.
THERE’S A NEW BREED of Australian hotelier on the rise, a posse of savvy developers who are using the power of architecture and design to create totally bespoke experiences.
In Melbourne, Darren Rubenstein made his mission clear when he unveiled United Places Botanic Gardens hotel – the first in what he intends as a network of UP establishments – last May. A perfectly formed, four-storey concrete grid delineated by a fine outline of brass, the structure insinuates itself with quiet grandeur upon its gracious South Yarra streetscape. The entrance is orchestrated as a gentle segue from the footpath, its bluestone paving and board-formed concrete walls creating an evocative alleyway that terminates not at a concierge desk but with a soothing water and light sculpture.
“We wanted to avoid anything that would suggest an ordinary hotel,” says Rubenstein. “The idea is to create a home-hotel experience based around feelings of intimacy and privacy but with a superlative level of thought and execution going into every detail.”
Upstairs, the nine one-bedroom and three two-bedroom suites face either the lush Botanic Gardens at the front or a patchwork of Italianate terraces at the rear. Either way the setting is both urbane and serene. In the rooms, hand-scraped oak floors and hand-trowelled walls are offset by sumptuous velvet drapery and quilted sofas. A mirrored shower pod divides the living and sleeping zones, its porcelain slab floor enhancing the feeling of seamless perfection.
In less adept hands this extreme attention to detail could come off as overbearingly obsessive, but under the nuanced direction of interior designer Sue Carr it appears elegantly nonchalant. The whole place is imbued with a quiet confidence that is, all things considered, très Melbourne. “In fact we get quite a few locals coming to stay which really adds to the homey feel of the place,” says Rubenstein.
In Sydney, Mark Dundon (owner of Paramount Coffee Project), Russell Beard (owner of Reuben Hills eatery) and property developer Ping Jin Ng combined their expertise and love of inner-city grit to develop Paramount House Hotel, a 29-room establishment sited in the former Paramount Pictures studios and bearing the beautiful scars of that particular history. Designed by Breathe Architecture as an ode to the neighbourhood, it reads as a palimpsest, with traces of previous lives seeping though the layers of time. In the lobby, original brickwork and concrete are thrown into relief by pristine new plasterwork, while copper chevron-shaped screens hint at the glamour of a bygone era. Upstairs, the materiality of the original building slowly gives way to the new structure housed within a geometric copper screen crowning the red-brick exterior.
“The whole Paramount complex is a microcosm of Surry Hills,” says Bonnie Herring, director of Breathe. “We grab little pieces of the street texture and fine grain and bring them into the hotel space.” Lower rooms feature original sash windows, upper levels are set back with angled verandahs mimicking the eccentricity of the terraced housing at street level. Plants and gently filtered light heighten a sense of timelessness, as does the adroit mix of furnishings. “Each room offers a unique narrative maximising the irregular configuration of the building,” Herring says.
In Brisbane, recently-completed The Calile hotel sits like a chic brutalist behemoth amid the other concrete and pale brick buildings of the hip James Street precinct, some five kilometres from the CBD. Its developers Cal and Michael Malouf also masterminded much of the local area with local architects Ingrid Richards and Adrian Spence.
“It was about creating something that blends in rather than sticks out,” says Richards who dubs the style of the seven-floor 175-room structure “gentle brutalism”. With its blocky volumes offset by generous vaulting, arches and breeze block brickwork it evokes the splendour of 1970s Beirut, transported to the sub-tropics.
Rooms are generous; fittings are simple, materials honest – exposed render ceilings, cork-lined walls, joinery in hefty timber. Expansive balconies extend sightlines, their curved brass balustrades glinting in the sunshine. “Since this precinct was pretty much torn down 10 years ago to start again, the hotel is in some sense about creating precedent where none existed,” says Richards. “We wanted to create something that would last, that would be the memories of the future for the family who owns the place and/or the people who come to stay.”
Despite their very evident differences, what these three hotels have in common is that their owners – none of whom has developed hotels before – are determined to create destinations which reflect their personalities, experiences, aesthetics and beliefs.
Russell Beard admits he “had no reference points since we’d never done anything like this before. It was all educated guesses and gut feeling.” Cal Malouf reckons he and Michael “just took baby steps, testing the waters as we progressed”. For Darren Rubenstein, United Places is “a passion project. It’s a celebration of all I love – architecture, design, food, and thoughtful local and luxury product.”
Each has created a highly idiosyncratic establishment that reflects their view of the world and the desire to share it with like-minded people. These are not places designed to please everyone, but tellingly, they are already attracting a lot of locals who book in for staycations. Think of them as the homes away from the home you wish you had. unitedplaces.com.au; paramounthousehotel.com; thecalilehotel.com