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

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