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Ovolo Inch­colm

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.

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