The hotel occupies a group of late Victorian stone and brick buildings–known locally as the ‘State Buildings’–which have played an important role in the city’s history for the past 140 years, serving variously as a post office, land titles office, and treasury. Also once home to Perth’s original seat of government, they betray in their grand architecture all the ambitions of settlers keen to make their mark. To retain the best of that heritage has cost AUS$110 million in a meticulous restoration project overseen by Kerry Hill Architects. Hill’s remit has encompassed not only the entire Cathedral Square redevelopment on Cathedral Avenue, but also the interior and exterior of this new COMO hotel.
For some time, Perth’s burgeoning local economy has increased demand for a more sophisticated hub to serve the needs of both residents and visitors. The evolution of hipster clubs and cool cafes on nearby Northbridge indicates the shift in tone, as well as the luxury lures of St George Street adjacent to the hotel. The new precinct represents the apogee of that trend: a centre for culture, art, community and style, with an easy flow of footfall, anchored not just by COMO The Treasury, but a new library, which contrasts dramatically with Perth Cathedral’s late 19th-century architecture, as well as an enoteca, a craft beer bar, a barber shop, a chocolatier and a number of restaurants. These elements have been designed to work together, not in isolation, while still allowing each building’s attributes to be felt by city-siders who hold the history of this neighbourhood in high regard. Thus in the precinct’s renovation and conversion, Hill has artfully combined not just tradition, but also modernity. “Heritage is the art of saving what is useful and beautiful but also updating it for modern use,” says Terry Fripp, an associate at Kerry Hill Architects.
The hotel’s 48 modern rooms are spread over four floors. The architecture includes columns and bold, cantilevered balconies designed in flamboyant neo-Renaissance style. Looking over the plaza, guests of the hotel get to use these balconies as they would have been used a century ago, with the city’s most impressive landmarks on display. The restoration project has returned 95 per cent of the buildings to their 19th-century origins, including the re-installation of dormer windows and Victorian roofs finished with copper trimmings. Slate used on the roof has been replaced like for like, using more than 60,000 tiles imported from a quarry in North Wales. But where there was no heritage to follow, the architects have been confidently modern, with the introduction of materials including steel frames and glass. The combination avoids any hint of historical pastiche.
In keeping with the sense of importance these early colonists attached to their new city, Hill has also retained all the interior’s grandeur. The 19th-century feel– dominated by the original postal hall – has an inspiring, mood-lifting feel. To this and other public areas, Hill has added a mix of subtle colours, bespoke furniture and hand-knotted rugs to create a genuine contemporary energy.
The bedrooms are very large, each different, with the shape dictated by the building’s existing bones. All rooms are quiet, serene retreats with acoustic technology to ensure not a whisper escapes. They are decorated in a soft, cocooning palette: beiges, whites, limed oak furniture, pale travertine, with bronze and leather trims. The grey-greens are reminiscent of the colours found in the West Australian landscape.
At Wildflower, Executive Chef Jed Gerrard showcases the best of West Australian ingredients. Seating 80 guests in the main dining room and a further 30 in the bar and outside terrace, Wildflower serves contemporary European dishes revolving around the indigenous ethos of six seasons. Menus are produce-driven, with Gerrard relying on local farmers and foragers. Throughout the year a number of guest chefs will take over the kitchen. The rooftop space–a long, thin, steel-framed glass box looking out over the city from the fourth floor terrace–has been cranelifted on to the hotel. From this lofty perch, one can see Stirling Gardens running down to the Swan River. The glass reflects the clouds, again treading the fine line between the historic and contemporary that defines the project at large.
The interior of Wildflower is simple with marble floors and back walls of Tasmanian blackwood. Rich velvet upholstered bench seats instil a sense of luxury throughout.
The ground level dining room houses Post. Informal in ambience, with wooden tables, this is a modern Australian bistro offering innovative cuisine with a French influence. Natural light floods the restaurant, which spills out through an adjoining room into the original postal hall with a splendid new floor paved in three tones of travertine. It features simple whitewashed brick walls, a timber ceiling, exposed steel roof trusses and lots of glass by way of the restored conservatory-like structure with its glass roof windows. The space is animated with a long, tilted strip of bronze mirror.
A number of private dining rooms, seating eight to 24 guests, are also available for private events, with catering provided by either Wildflower or Post.
The Treasury Lounge and Bar, located on the ground floor at the convergence of Cathedral Avenue and St Georges Terrace, is an elegant space with high ceilings and windows with painted timber shutters. The interior showcases beautiful joinery and cabinet making. Combined with comfortable sofas and leather armchairs, it has a sophisticated, club-like feel. Three interconnected rooms with private corners make it an intimate place to meet, with views out on to the gardens of the Supreme Court with the abstract Ascalon sculpture in front. The bar’s walls are adorned with the Cape Arid art collection from Western Australian artists Philippa Nikulinsky and Alex Nikulinsky.
COMO Shambhala Urban Escape provides a nurturing, personalised focus on wellbeing for hotel guests as well as Perth residents. The spa is finished with rich tones of dark wood and travertine, with softly-lit bronze ceilings. The original steel shutters and bars on the windows are dramatic, and with a sophisticated lighting scheme, give the sense of a retreat.