OUT OF THE BOX
SICK OF INTERCHANGEABLE HOTEL ROOMS, THE DUO BEHIND THE PARAMOUNT COFFEE PROJECT DECIDED TO CREATE A HOTEL THAT’S UNMISTAKEABLY INNER-SYDNEY.
It was an act of God that inspired Mark Dundon and Russell Beard to get into the hotel business. The café owners were travelling – hunting for good coffee beans – when they were trapped in Buenos Aires for six days thanks to a volcanic eruption in Chile. They ended up at a small boutique hotel and discovered what it was like to stay at a great establishment that was connected to the city and its inhabitants. “It just felt like we were welcomed and we knew what was going on,” Beard tells WISH. “It was a great experience to see how a small, little place could do a really good job. The staff were quite tapped in, telling us to check this bar out or check this restaurant out. It all seemed to come from a genuine place. We felt quite tapped into the community. I will always remember that trip.”
It was starkly different from the “cookie-cutter” hotels the pair had travelled in so many times before, and the experience at Home Hotel in Buenos Aires helped to clarify what the duo wanted to achieve with their first hotel venture: the newly-opened Paramount House Hotel in Sydney’s Surry Hills. “The one thing I hate [in hotels] is waking up somewhere and not knowing where I am – you wake up in that room and you could be in the mid-west of the United States or you could be anywhere,” says Dundon. “We definitely want to provide a service where you feel you get a sense of the city you are staying in.”
The Paramount House Hotel is the pair’s third project in conjunction with their business partner and property developer Ping Jin Ng. Dundon and Beard met in the coffee roasting world in the early 2000s. Dundon is known as the granddaddy of the cafe scene in Melbourne, being one of the first to become interested in the origin and roasting process of coffee beans. He opened up Ray’s café in Brunswick in 2001 and then St Ali’s in South Melbourne; both establishments have been recognised as key to the development of the city’s caffeine addiction.
“No one really told you anything about the product,” Dundon says of the coffee industry 20 years ago. “[The salesman] would say ‘just trust the product’. But we really wanted to explore it. We were trying to understand the product a bit more, how coffee machines were changing. It felt like there was an industry developing.”
Beard was equally obsessive with coffee, having dropped out of university to get to know the bean better. He roasted his own coffee and opened his first café in Mosman, on Sydney’s lower north shore, in 2006, before setting up the well-known Reuben Hills in Surry Hills in 2012.
The pair, along with Ng, went into business together when they opened the Paramount Coffee Project in 2013. Located in the foyer of the 1940s-era former home of Paramount Picture Studios on Commonwealth Street in Surry Hills, it was a café that focused on experimenting with different types of coffee beans, roasting techniques and brewing. “The problem
with roasting your own coffee is you only use your own coffee and cannot try what everyone else is doing and look at other people’s format,” Dundon explains of the rationale behind setting up the Paramount Coffee Project. “We have had different people come in and run the café for a few weeks, for example the Coffee Collective from Denmark.”
The café has been so successful that the trio opened a PCP in Los Angeles. Then Ng asked Dundon and Beard what they would like to do next. Talk soon turned to a hotel, given the pair’s negative and positive experiences while travelling around the world. “When the property next door became available, the stars aligned in our favour,” says Dundon of the decision to jump from cafes to hotels.
That property was a 1930s three-level brick warehouse that had been variously a furniture showroom, leather merchant and an auto repair shop. It was a suggestion by the team from Breathe Architecture in Melbourne to locate the hotel lobby next door in Paramount House itself that informed the next stage of the project. “We saw this massive opportunity to leverage off this wonderful thing that is Paramount House,” lead architect Bonnie Herring tells WISH of having people walk through Paramount Coffee Project to reach the hotel. “Surry Hills is all about creative, social and cultural capital and Paramount House is a microcosm of that. So we chose to use the rear of the atrium space as the lobby space to anchor the new development.”
Herring and Breathe Architecture had worked with Dundon and Beard in the past and were also known for their focus on sustainable architecture. But Herring was wary that they were not from Sydney and therefore keen to understand the history and community of the location. “Surry Hills is full of interesting architectural heritage,” she says. “We have really beautiful, broad, strong interwar brick warehouses. Then you have these individual iconic former film industry buildings like Paramount House and the former 20th Century Fox Film Corporation nearby. We also looked at the Surry Hills terraces that hug the streetscape and have a really
beautiful interaction with the street. And then the streets of Sydney themselves are so lush and well planted.”
This architectural context meant keeping as much of the raw shell of the warehouse building as possible but adding details that drew on the cinematic heritage of Surry Hills, paying homage to the art deco era these buildings existed in – the golden age of cinema -- by creating copper features both internally and externally. Herring calls it a “layer of ornament” and it can be seen in the copper crown that sits on the top of the building and that wraps around the exterior of the hotel’s 29 rooms. Hidden behind the copper crown are balconies with lush green plants, from which guests can check out the happenings of Surry Hills life in the streets below.
“Often hotel rooms have fixed glass windows and airconditioning so you don’t necessarily have connection to the outdoors,” Herring explains. “But we have a real impetus to maintain connection to the climate because it is so good.” The rooms are also furnished in locally designed and manufactured pieces to continue that Sydney feel. And no two rooms are the same. “They wanted to create something unusual,” Herring says of Dundon and Beard’s vision for the hotel. “They wanted every room to be different and they wanted to use their quite famous hospitality strengths to make this an experience that stands out for our guests.”
Those hospitality strengths include, obviously, the Paramount Coffee Project, and a soon-to-open restaurant called Poly, run by the crew behind critically acclaimed Ester in nearby Chippendale. Other existing neighbours in the Paramount House building include the Golden Age Cinema and Bar and Paramount Recreation Club on the rooftop. There is also Chin Chin, arguably Sydney’s hottest restaurant, just across the road. This all adds to the guests’ experience of staying in the midst of a well-frequented hub for locals and not in a tourist trap.
“It is great to have a café and a cinema that are already servicing the local community,” Dundon says. “There is nothing better when you are travelling by yourself to slip into a café or go to a bar to have a drink. It makes it a lot easier to feel like you are part of the city.”
The Paramount House Hotel exterior and a Loft guest room; guests are poured a craft beer on arrival in the lobby