The building where Ovolo Inchcolm now stands used to be the symbol of Queensland’s foray into specialist medicine. Formerly the doctor’s surgery of Dr. John Thomson, it now offers a whimsical blend of antiquity and modernity in Brisbane. By Jessica Chan
Standing before the staid façade of Ovolo Inchcolm, you’d hardly expect the beguiling interiors of floral murals, bold artworks and Art Deco-inspired terrazzo that’ll make the eccentric Alice (of Lewis Carroll’s famed novel) feel right at home. Ironically, its peculiar history as a medical practice for surgeon and founder of Australia’s St John Ambulance, Dr. John Thomson, in the twenties, not to mention its location in Wickham Terrace, Brisbane’s perennial precinct for private medical specialists since the interwar period, was what inspired this study in contrasts.
Hassell Studio’s design lead Shelley Gabriel, Ovolo Hotels’ art curator Lisa Fehily and stylist Anna Roberts formed the dream
team that undertook the massive refurbishment of the 50-room boutique hotel in a short span of nine months (six for concept design, and three for construction). “Given the interesting backstory, it was imperative that we brought the property to life in a way that played on its existing charm and heritage,” explained Gabriel.
The trio was also mindful not to alter the Hong Kong-based group’s signature of effortless living in the many lavish furnishings and modern accoutrements, include Alexa (Amazon’s voiceactivated virtual assistant), throughout the hotel. “We’ve gone above and beyond to ensure that every detail caters to the guests’ experience,” enthuses Girish Jhunjhnuwala, chief executive officer of Ovolo Hotels. And, if their other award-winning properties down south – Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour and Ovolo Laneways – have proven anything, it’d be that they’ve gotten the killer design combination of new versus old down pat.
Through the looking glass
What sets the otherworldly tone of the hotel is none other than how the seemingly incongruous elements come together to great results.
The numerous murals, upholsteries as well as staff uniforms are created in close collaboration with Academy Award-nominated set decorator Kerrie Brown. Most prominent is the moody amalgamation of rich florals in her You Crack Me Up design on the ground floor. It perfectly complements what is, perhaps, the most outré element of the property, Roberts’ oddball mix of knick-knacks she had christened “The Cabinet of Curiosities”. Located in the foyer, it’s primed to give guests an inkling of the playful approach Ovolo Inchcolm has taken to celebrate the site’s heritage. Bowie-printed dinner plates, felt Lamingtons, aluminium flower sculptures and, even old medical prescriptions from local physicians populate it. Gabriel has also left many of the building’s
existing components behind. The silky panels aside, nothing celebrates its history more than the original Otis Elevator that sits in the heart of the hotel. Shipped in from New York back in 1928, it’s been restored with a new motor for another generation of use.
Yet, the rooms stand distinct with a lighter ambience, dressed in white walls and sporting a cleaner, contemporary look. High-tech additions, including electric blinds, in-room ipad and Alexa that’s ever ready to play guests’ favourite tunes on demand (and more), join Fehily’s curated range of exuberant, avantgarde artworks. Think modern artists, such as Jose Romussi,
Mr. Brainwash and Neon Pear, plus photography-based oeuvres from Enrique Rottenberg. “The artworks, both experimental and aspirational, exude a freedom of expression and artistic passion. There are pieces that tell it exactly how it is and those from which guests will take away their own meaning,” says Fehily.
One subtle detail links the rooms to the public spaces; the aforementioned interplay between new and old. Roberts’ expert use of bespoke furnishing in bold colours may downplay the Georgian elements but does not take away from it. Instead, it’s the lush colour scheme that intrinsically draws guests back to the darker mood downstairs, which celebrates the building’s style, albeit with an Ovolo touch. Likewise, the unique floor plan of each room quietly hints at their former function in the surgeon’s practice. Room 103 was the waiting and examination room, while its split-level loft was actually an extension during its first renovation (date unknown). The latter, surprisingly, played into the team’s cards, and offers floor-to-ceiling views of Brisbane’s skyline.
Its restaurant, Salon de Co, is no different. Defined similarly by dark walls, parquetry floors and towering shelves teeming with books and oddities, it emulates a Parisian salon that’ll make even Gertrude Stein proud. The accompanying bar is brimming with artisan spirits and wines for cocktails that are inspired by the social and artistic cultures from the twenties, thirties and forties. The dishes, however, are modern Australian, courtesy of chef Andy Ashby (who trained under Peter Gilmore and Nelly Robinson). You’ve got Maremma free-range duck with fennel jam, Coffin Bay oysters topped with pomelo and yuzu, plus wattleseed (edible seeds from Australian acacia) in a chocolate lamington for dessert.
Calling Ovolo Inchcolm intriguing is an understatement. It beckons travellers to seek respite and, at the same time, guide them on a different sort of adventure in the city. No longer is it an otherwise forgotten relic of Brisbane’s history, but an enthralling destination putting Wickham Terrace on any frequent flyer’s agenda.
The Cabinet of Curiosities features an oddball mix of knickknacks, which includes Bowie-printed dinner plates, old medical prescriptions and film cameras.The interiors plays on the concept of new versus old by juxtaposing contemporary furnishings against the building’s original silky panels.
While the restaurant, Salon de Co, follows a similar design, it emulates the convival vibes of a Parisian salon. Famed set decorator Kerrie Brown was commissioned to design the many floral murals, upholsteries and staff uniforms to complete the Ovolo Inchcolm’s otherworldly concept.
The rooms employ a lighter ambience while still interplaying new and old elements to intrigue guests.
Towering shelves of oddities, such as books, sculptures and a singular bowling pin, can be found in Salon de Co.