1. Better together
United Places strikes a balance between luxurious and practical.
“We do large hotel brands reasonably well in Melbourne but independents don’t really exist,” says hotelier Darren Rubenstein, pausing at the entrance to his 12-suite boutique property opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens. He hopes it will set a new standard for the city. “The idea here is that we take the suites of those big hotels and turn them into an intimate, local experience.”
This approach is palpable as soon as you step inside United Places, designed by Melbourne-based firm Carr Design Group. There is no reception desk; rather, guests are met by a concierge and guided down a long corridor that’s faintly scented with Le Labo candles and lined with a gently grooved concrete wall resembling natural wood. At the end of the hall, the bluestone walkway is illuminated by a water-filled skylight installation by Melbourne artist Laura Woodward. Such a carefully constructed experience is what Rubenstein and the designers at Carr envisioned for the entire meticulously designed property, which opened to the public in June.
Inspiration was provided by the charming, leafy neighbourhood of South Yarra, chiefly its elegant, historic homes and the magnificent greenery of the botanic gardens. This is reflected in the minimalist design, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and muted colour palette of the rooms; the idea was to create a modern living space that puts the focus on the views outside.
The rooms are functional but not overly so. With billowing velvet curtains, the bedrooms provide a sense of cosiness and, when opened, a touch of the theatrical. Owing to the neighbourhood ethos, Australian artisans were employed where possible for the finishes. A Melbourne metalworker designed the handsome brass numbering in the halls, while a Sydney designer supplied the brass lighting.
“Everyone gets their lighting out of China now,” says Rubenstein. “We really wanted to be conscious of local manufacturing.” A Tasmanian artist created leather bowls lined with wallaby fur for each room and a Melbourne ceramicist created bespoke pottery for the in-suite kitchens, using three regional clays. The minibars are stocked with Melbourne craft beers, as well as specially sized 200ml bottles of Tasmania’s Sullivans Cove whisky, produced exclusively for the hotel.
The search for the right restaurant was equally considered. One of Melbourne’s top chefs, Scott Pickett, took over the ground-floor space with his fire-focused Matilda restaurant, which has a hot-smoking box, wood-fired oven, several grills and a rotisserie. (Rotisserie pineapple with Kangarilla olive oil and camomile is one of the desserts on the menu.)
After embarking on a creative journey with such synergy, Rubenstein says the name for the hotel just felt appropriate. “It was about unity and bringing all of our local collaborators together.”
Weekend Guide: South Yarra
From shops selling fine Japanese homeware to a plentiful spread of spots to eat and drink, Melbourne’s South Yarra is abuzz with fresh talent and tasty offerings.
Breakfast: Baker D Chirico
The third outlet of this Melbourne institution sells flaky sourdough loaves and has custom bread-and-botanical-themed wallpaper.
Fuelled entirely by wood and coal, Scott Pickett’s latest venture is also his most daring. The menu is modern Australian: think kangaroo tartare and wood-roasted kohlrabi.
On sunny afternoons the patio at this Parisian-inspired steakhouse-cum-café fills up for happy hour, with Lillet rosé spritzers and freshly shucked oysters on offer.
Royal Botanic Gardens
The sprawling gardens, founded more than 170 years ago, are the ideal spot for a morning jog, lazy afternoon picnic and, in the summer, an outdoor movie.
Pick up Japanese homeware such as Shigeki Fujishiro’s porcelain pitchers, Nendo clocks and printed furoshiki (cloth gift wrapping) from Kyoto.
2. Walk the line
Austin’s old landmark hotel has been reinvigorated without erasing its sense of place and with firm respect for its mid-century design heritage.
Forget most of what you’ve heard about Texas. Scrap the clichés of gunslingers and dry, dusty terrain because the Lone Star state’s capital, Austin, is nothing like that. And nor is the arrival of The Line – the latest hotel from the Sydell Group – in the heart of downtown. And yet to claim that The Line Austin entirely steers clear of references to what was once the Wild West would be a little misleading.
“How do you pay tribute to where you are without going over the top?” says Isadora McKeon, the group’s VP of creative and culture, stepping into the lobby of the 1960s modernist building, which formerly housed a Radisson hotel. Designer Sean Knibb, who also created The Line’s first space in LA, found the answer: “You try to tell a story and make it simple and funny.”
With the help of playful details, the hotel’s interior nods to what Texas is famed for – but in the subtlest of ways. In fact, blink and you’ll miss the tiny plastic horse perched on the ledge above the door, or the bullhorns over the minibar.
The guest rooms portray a side of Texas that is less well known: they reflect the greenery of surrounding Hill Country with its natural springs and smattering of vineyards. One of the great boons of the hotel is its location on the edge of Town Lake (a reservoir on the Colorado River). This is referenced in the headboards made from sandblasted plywood to recreate the look of a riverbed, while the metallic, multi-bulb hanging lights from HBA resemble the fireflies that circle the property at night. Indeed, whereas The Line celebrates its environment, Sydell Group CEO Andrew Zobler says that the Radisson had done everything it could to obscure it, including installing a giant fish tank that blocked the view of the lake. “The whole point of this place is that you want to come in and look at the natural landscape.”
The Line revels in its mishmash of influences. The entrance porte-cochère has been stripped back, with its concrete structure exposed to enhance the brutalist flourishes of the building, mirrored in the lobby’s exposed columns and hulking cement fireplace. Inside, woodwork from Michael Wilson is paired with brightly coloured flip-back chairs that nod to mid-century Italy, and planters shaped like bullet casings that hark back to the Texas we know from Westerns. The slightly risqué reference has led the hotel to install plaques explaining the old-meets-new symbolism.
When fully completed later this year, The Line Austin will have 428 rooms, meaning that it’s too big to be “boutique”. However, Zobler argues that it is tapping into a gap in the market as a large hotel with ample meeting space but one that also manages to be personal and multifaceted.
With a restaurant that serves inventive, beautifully presented dishes prepared by chef Kristen Kish, an infinity pool and the promise of a burger bar and rooftop lounge to follow later in the year, it would be hard to argue that he’s wrong.
Weekend Guide: Austin
It’s all about the great outdoors in Austin so head for an alfresco beer spot or for a paddle around Town Lake.
Eat & Drink
Dinner: Arlo Grey
Texas may be famed for its distinctly unsubtle barbecue but Kish’s food is brimming with flavour and beautifully presented. The beef tartare is a must, as is the steamed striped sea bass. The wine list includes a Texan rosé if you want to try a Hill Country offering.
+1 512 478 2991
Drinks: Yellow Jacket Social Club
A no-frills bar that does beer and more beer – but you’re here for the patio, one of the things Austin knows how to do like no other city. This tree-filled East Austin beauty is one of the best.
Yes Austin is cosmopolitan and diverse but you’re in Texas so take advantage by going to this hold-out honky-tonk from 1964. Admire cowboys moving their booted feet around the dance floor; join in or simply watch from the sidelines.
It’s all about the outdoors here so hop in a kayak and take to the lake, or take a plunge in the spring-fed swimming pool that is Barton Springs. Further afield there are other swimming opportunities at Jacob’s Well and Hamilton Pool Preserve.
3. City icon
After closing its doors for a thorough makeover, the grand old Lutetia is back, adding to the ranks of five-star hotels in the French capital.
When the Hôtel Lutetia opened in 1910 it was known as the paquebot (ocean liner) of Saint-Germain-des-Prés for its soaring height and undulating wave-like façade. It quickly became a stomping ground for the area’s creative set.
It’s said James Joyce wrote part of Ulysses at the hotel and that Albert Cohen penned his masterpiece Belle du Seigneur here. It’s where the jazz age flourished and, later, where Juliette Greco met Serge Gainsbourg. It’s the kind of hotel where guests (from the sculptor César Baldaccini to the entrepreneur Pierre Bergé) would reside for years, in suites decorated to their taste.
As a consequence, the Lutetia is a grand palace hotel that many Parisians regard as part of their civic heritage (the word Lutetia is the old Roman name for Paris). Many aperitifs have been sipped in its piano bar and dance soirees held in its ballroom. So there was some trepidation when it was sold in 2010 to the Israel-based Alrov group (for a cool €150m) and a new renovation beckoned.
After an auction that sold off its interiors, from champagne glasses to art deco banquets, the hotel closed in 2014 for a €200m revamp under the charge of French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. “Our challenge was to rejuvenate a place while respecting its roots, its identity, its originality, its personality,” says Wilmotte.
Four years on, the paquebot of the Left Bank is back. Its red velvet curtains are gone. In their place is a much more muted palette. The interior has the feeling of a grand 1930s transatlantic liner, with a lacquered eucalyptus-clad library, an orangery for breakfast, a 17-metre pool and a marble-clad spa.
Wilmotte reduced the number of bedrooms from 233 to 184, with the front-facing rooms looking out over Paris and the department store Le Bon Marché, whose owners built the hotel in 1910. In these rooms, guests can feel like locals (albeit very privileged ones; fashion designer Kenzo Takada lives across the boulevard), watching their neighbours water geraniums and smoke Gauloises on their balconies.
While the style is a departure from the cosy grandeur of the old hotel, Wilmotte has also brought back many elements by the original architects Louis-Charles Boileau and Henri Tauzin that had been lost, such as frescoes by the artist Adrien Karbowsky. In the central Salon Saint-Germain (once the famous piano bar) a huge glass ceiling that had been blocked out has been restored. Light now streams through its transparent canopy, where Wilmotte has commissioned a huge work by French artist Fabrice Hyber. When the sun shines, the electric pink and orange figures of Hyber’s modernist creation cast their colourful hue over the diners who sit in lacquered armchairs below. “It feels like a dialogue is beginning between restored traces of the past, recreated new elements and these brand-new 1910-inspired pieces of furniture,” says Wilmotte.
The hotel has gone from a fading four-star establishment to a bright, shining five. Yet, there are moments where its luxury serves to dim the flame of the old Lutetia. But original artwork – both inherited and newly commissioned – and long-serving staff keep the new hotel anchored to its old roots. “The spa, the restaurant, the bar: these are beloved places for Parisians and they are back,” says manager Isabelle Bouvier. “This is an emblematic hotel – we want to keep its soul intact.”
During lunch service in the Salon Saint-Germain, a long-serving member of staff, who wears a white bow tie and a black dinner jacket, welcomes visitors whose heads swivel as they take in the changes. “I’ve worked here for 28 years,” he says as he whisks the dishes away and whispers the words “At your service.” Then he adds: “Everything has transformed, of course, but it is very good to be back, to see so many old friends.”