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The royal welcome at Hilton Little Queen

This ‘little Queen’ of Hiltons blends the classic with the contemporary to evoke the halcyon days of travel. Here we bring you the Indesign magazine review, by Stephen Crafti.

The royal welcome at Hilton Little Queen

As borders start to open up, with people travelling again, creating an experience is forefront for many new hotels. Service, comfort and attention to detail have been integral to this experience well before COVID-19 hit. Now, it’s about telling a story, as much as creating an escape, even if the distance travelled is considerably less.

Located on the site of Melbourne’s first synagogue (circa 1850s) and replaced with law chambers Equity Trustees Company designed by Oakley & Parks (circa 1931), the Moorish-style building has been beautifully integrated into the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street.

The exterior heritage facade of the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street with a new extension above.

Renovated and restored by Bates Smart, working with heritage architects Lovell Chen, it’s the sense of history of the building and the site’s past that forms an important part of the guests’ experience.

Although a little off the beaten track, with access from Little Queen Street (off Bourke Street between Queen and William streets), the threshold is certainly impressive.

The lower section of the exterior facade of the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street, with text reading Equity Trustees Company above a large triple-arched entrance.

“We wanted to create a five-star hotel, but also work closely with the original fabric of the building, ‘graft’ rather than jolt one period to the next,” says Jeffrey Copolov, director of Bates Smart, who worked closely with architecture director Julian Anderson and associate director Grant Filipoff.

While the sense of arrival is impressive via a faceted glazed window wall, reflecting the work of artist Kitt Bennet ona neighbouring building (providing an abstracted version of Melbourne’s café culture), it’s the reception and the grand dining hall, named Luci, that stops you in your tracks.

Plush lounges and carpeting in the communal space of the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street.

Complete with chunky Corinthian columns and patchwork marked floors, it feels like an oasis in the middle of town. The history of the site forms an important part of this experience.

A steel and glass cabinet, located in the concierge lounge, is filled with mementos, such as marbles and small lead shards that would have been used by children once attending a child-minding centre adjacent to the synagogue.

And while all the columns and walls have been painted in a pristine white, there’s one column displaying the original paint scheme (golds and greens) that would have been a feature in the 1930s when part of the building was used as a banking chamber for the solicitors.

Yes, the guest rooms are extremely comfortable, with all the creature comforts. But the references used in the design, such as the wardrobes, were conceived like pieces of refined luggage, complete with leather handles. But again, it’s the rich history of the new hotel that provides the experience travellers are now looking for.

Walking past the 1930s rooms that were once individual suites for the lawyer’s offices you can see the hand-painted names in gold paint on translucent 1930s glass including Oakes & Parkes, named after the architects responsible for the original building, with its Modernist 1930s wing.

The opportunity to stay in one of the premium rooms, located in what was originally the board room, was also a time to reflect on the past.

The suite, the size of a small apartment, features wall-to-wall timber panelling and timber floors. But instead of the high-back Jacobean-style furniture and English-style lights (as depicted in an original black and white photo on the wall), there’s a king-sized bed and high-backed plush bedhead that discretely screens a separate sitting area. And while once there would have been a modest bathroom for executives to use, it’s now a spacious ensuite, with a deep bath for guests to relax in.

Those traversing from reception down to Luci on the lower level will enjoy gliding down the Modernist-style staircase, exuding a touch of the past but with a focus on the present. But using the original lifts (in the Oakes & Parks wing) act as a reminder of the rich and elaborate detailing that formed the 1930s style.

These lifts, for example, including three-dimensional timber columns and exquisite fretwork one would normally expect in a house – not a lift.

The barrel-vaulted ceiling in the secondary entrance (directly off Bourke Street) is also a reminder of the high level of craftsmanship from this period, extending to the Douglas Club, located in the two front rooms on either side of this entrance.

The Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street may take time to find, but it’s certainly worth the effort to discover some of Melbourne’s past and as importantly, its future.

“We were obviously responding to the original elements, but we also wanted to ensure the feeling was sleek and contemporary,” says Copolov.

Bates Smart

Lovell Chen

Sean Fennessy, Peter Clarke and Paul Gosney

The Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street originally appeared in Indesign Magazine #85. Order your copy today.

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