In Travel

Inside Sydney’s Latest Boutique Hotel: Little Albion

It’s 8pm on a Thursday evening and Glaswegian poet Ali Whitelock is reciting poetry on the rooftop of the Little Albion Guest House. The pocket-sized space is warm and intimate, allowing those in attendance to see Sydney ­­– from its brick chimneys to its winking lights – a bit differently.

It’s the perfect venue to celebrate craftsmanship as the hotel is as meticulously designed and thoughtfully planned as a piece of poetry.

The Little Albion Guest House is a warren of cleverly configured spaces, which includes a poetry wall of vintage volumes curated by art consultant Nick Samartis.

Front and centre in this display cabinet is a weathered book featuring a poem called Suppose, which was written by Rosalie Fischmann, the mother of Little Albion’s original developer, Paul Fischmann. Although Fischmann recently sold the boutique hotel to Crystalbook Collection, the poetic touches and integrity of his vision remain.

Urban escape

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The Little Albion Guest House is sandwiched between a former church and a school hall. Image: Terence Yong Architecture

Despite its location in the heart of Surry Hills in Sydney, the Little Albion feels serene and remote. The former convent is partly set within a heritage building and sandwiched between a former church and school hall. It’s this juxtaposition that architect Terence Yong says best informed his design.

“I wanted to make the Little Albion homely and experiential, and the interiors and architecture of the three buildings to be intertwined,” says Yong.

“It’s not about, ‘Look at me, look at me’; it’s about ‘Look at us’. I want people to experience the entire site rather than the hotel being the sole focus. I visited a lot of boutique hotels that felt like film sets. I wanted Little Albion to be different; I wanted it to be real,” says Yong.

Downtown retreat

Yong, who migrated from Malaysia 20 years ago, says he used to take a shortcut down Little Albion Street on his way to work and remembers staring up at the convent, which was largely concealed from the street. Although Yong used to detour down the lane during the day, he says he would never have dreamt of taking that route by night.

“Little Albion Street at night used to be dark and dingy and felt dangerous. When I was tasked with designing the hotel, the first thing I thought about was how I could invite people to experience this laneway. The welcoming reception with its glass sliding wall and sunken lounge has helped enliven the laneway and given it back to the community,” Yong says.

“The street has cool workers’ cottages and adaptive reuse buildings and the church, convent and school hall are emotionally tied together. My design includes a nod to different eras – from Art Deco to elements from the 70s – that the 1903 building has gone through,” he says.

Celebrating Surry Hills’ DNA

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A strong element of craftsmanship also punctuates the hotel. Image: Terence Yong Architecture

The 35-room hotel sits on a narrow site next to the church, which is now an architectural firm, and the former school hall, which is now a mixed-use apartment building.

Yong says the design started with the convent, which was the existing Heritage building, and continued with a contemporary addition that celebrates that division of old and new.

The new northern extension has a dramatic 4m high reception and glass lift tower while the new upward extension has guest rooms that appear as recessive steel boxes behind the roof of the original building.

The interiors are by Cressida Kennedy and Connie Alessi, of Archemy. The 35 character-themed guest rooms by Archemy feature mottled pink tiles, plum-hued upholstery, Art Deco mirrors and curtains that Yong says can best be described as ‘exuberant’.

Guests can enjoy glimpses of the chimneys and the right angles of rooves from the bathroom where the hard edges are softened by fittings and fixtures with rounded edges and sinuous curves.

A strong element of craftsmanship also punctuates the suites without stealing from the drama of the neighbouring church – which is saturated with colourful light glinting through the stained glass.

The rooms have perfectly placed reading lamps, USB chargers, artworks and Smart flat-screen TVs with cable channels as well as an in-room safe. Privacy, mood lighting and Molton Brown amenities are also thoughtful touches.

Honour system

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Guests can help themselves to drink at the Honour Bar. Image: Terence Yong Architecture

Yong says the designers have complemented his vision by making the hotel feel as homely as possible. He says he wanted to encourage the guests at the hotel to interact.

By night, as moonlit silvers the rooftops, the guests can help themselves to drinks at the Honour Bar, where staff trust they will jot down what they’ve imbibed.

A continental breakfast – which includes flaky croissants and hand-made granola – is also on offer in the bar during breakfast where communal tables invite guests to sit and mingle near to a curve of ceiling that curls away from the walls.

For those after a more substantial feed, in-room dining is on offer with dishes ordered with Uber Eats styled by hotel staff and delivered to your door. The fact the Uber driver might get lost on the way to Little Albion is another reason to love this hotel, which still feels wonderfully out of bounds.

The writer stayed as a guest of Little Albion Hotel.

(Lead images: Little Albion Guest House / Terence Yong Architecture) 

Published 04 April, 2019