Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Canberra - Capital Cool


It’s attracting the discerning eye of art-lovers and design aficionados across Australia, but the beauty of Canberra’s Hotel Hotel runs deeper than most. Get Up & Go guest writer Lauren Arena tested the waters - and spent the night there.

                                         The Grand Staircase

It doesn’t look like much from the outside – the geometric exterior makes it look like a giant concrete pineapple – but as soon as you step foot inside Hotel Hotel, you know you’re in for a treat. Smoky lighting draws me in, it’s mid-morning in Canberra but the hotel lobby is seductively dark, with raw and polished concrete, a roaring fire hearth, and walls made of salvaged wood.

A secret garden and cosy library nook add character, while functional art pieces and communal ‘feasting tables’ fill most of the lobby bar and lounge area. The overall feel is of a mixed-use community space – the hotel’s tagline is “a place for people people” – and it’s very inviting.The more I discover about this new hotel, the more I admire its carefully considered design. Every element is locally-sourced, handmade, and cleverly curated with sustainability in mind.
                                             The Nishi building.
The hotel is part of the NewActon precinct and housed in one of the country’s most sustainable buildings, Nishi. Its overarching architectural ambition pays homage to Canberra’s original architects, emulating “the primitive modernism and environmentalism of the Burley-Griffins” – that’s according to the hotel blog. With a focus on raw materials, the hotel’s 68 rooms have clay rendered walls and wonderfully textural, natural fibre wallpaper. The interiors, the vision of film-maker Don Cameron and the hotel’s founder, Nectar Efkarpidis, include rescued and re-upholstered furniture – but no two rooms are alike, each has its own collection of original artwork and a mishmash of playful objects that have been collected over ten years – my favourite is an alpaca-covered chair.


                                         The Meandering Room

I’m staying in what’s called the ‘meandering room’, which is probably as far from a cookie-cutter hotel room as you can get, with its curved contours and leisurely flow. There’s an entire wall of eclectic art pieces and instead of a window looking out, the room faces the Nishi building’s central atrium, which is brimming with giant Tasmanian ferns – it’s the hotel’s inner sanctum, and for a night, it’s all mine. I revel in the room’s little luxuries – beautifully botanical Aesop bathroom products, linen robes, and plunger coffee. And then there’s the polished concrete tub, taking pride of place in the centre of the bathroom (which is almost as big as the living area). It takes about 20 minutes to fill, but trust me, it’s worth the wait.
                                         Now, that's a bathtub . . .
Monster is the name of the hotel’s kitchen and bar, open all day and (almost) all night, with renowned chef Sean McConnell at the helm. Every dish is locally sourced and made-to-order – sorry, no bulging breakfast buffet here, but the house-made crumpets with Hotel Hotel honey (yes, even the honey is made here) is a winner. Lunch and dinner options are mostly share plates with a Middle Eastern twist.
But if that doesn’t take your fancy, NewActon is buzzing with eateries and wine bars, and all within walking distance. There’s also the quaint Nishi gallery nearby and the artsy Palace Electric Cinema, which is on the lower levels of the Nishi building.

                                             Another bedroom, another style.

                                             The Library

Hotel Hotel, it’s not about ticking the boxes, but completely reinventing them.

Designed by architect Fender Katsalidis (who worked on MONA in Hobart) and developed by the Canberra-based Molonglo Group, Hotel Hotel opened in early 2014 was recently named Australia’s best boutique hotel in Gourmet Traveller’s 2014 Hotel Guide.

Additional services include:
·         iPad compendium and free WiFi in every room
·         Ten Goodspeed bikes are available to take out for a spin around Lake Burley-Griffin. The National Gallery is only a five minute ride away. Bikes are free and come with a lock and helmet.
·         The library is stocked with books on art, architecture and design. The collection will be constantly added to as time goes by.
·         Canberra’s local burgeoning art and design scene is also finding a home at a marketplace of pop-up stores, design stalls and workshops in the hotel’s foyer – think retro furniture and hand-made jewellery.


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