The Art Deco Revival Revamping the Hotel Scene

A host of hospitality projects across the country channels the glamour and grace of the Jazz Age.

Article by Roslyn Jolly

The interior of the Tattersalls Hotel, Armidale, designed by Rachel Luchetti and Stuart Krelle. Photography by Tom Ferguson.

Curves, diagonals and geometric shapes define Art Deco architecture. Powered by its 1920s gestation, the style evokes cocktails, jazz bands, dancing in slinky satin dresses. Now this dynamic vibe is enjoying a retro revival in Australian hotel design.

For the renovation of Armidale’s boutique Tattersalls Hotel — which won Best Hotel Design at the 2020 Eat Drink Design Awards — architect Stuart Krelle of Luchetti Krelle relished reimagining the building’s golden age, the 1930s. “I wanted the renovation to express a sense of occasion and the feeling that travel is special,” he says.

From the boothlike reception counter, a statement wooden staircase leads guests to a fantasy of bygone elegance, the rooms and hallways deferring playfully to the style’s distinctive idiom. Custom joinery creates the signature streamlined look, Art Deco’s tribute to the speed and mobility of modernity. The exuberantly styled bar and restaurant area on the ground floor radiates glamour and a sense of elation — Krelle’s vision of a “social atmosphere fostered by design”.

A quiet corner of the Hilton Little Queen Street, Melbourne. Photography by Sean Fennessy.
The hotel bar at Tattersalls Hotel, Armidale. Photography by Tom Ferguson.

Melbourne’s 1931 Equity Chambers building was virtually derelict when architects Bates Smart undertook its transformation into a contemporary luxury hotel. The necessary expansion of the building incorporated such original Jazz Age-style elements as burnished metalwork and zigzag motifs in both interior and exterior detailing.  The Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street opened in March 2021.

For interior design director Jeff Copolov, image boards were central to establishing the new property’s tone and mood. Hospitality and travel photographs from the 1930s and stills from Hollywood films were used to fashion “a narrative about the romance of travel”. The aim of inviting guests into that story guided the design, from the lobby’s theatrical view over the double-height dining room to wardrobes inspired by vintage luggage.

The 1930's exterior of the Kimpton Sydney, scheduled to open in October this year. Photography courtesy of Kimpton Sydney.

Grace Lei Guo, director and lead designer at Sydney’s Stack Studio, is turning another historic property into Australia’s first Kimpton hotel, scheduled to open in October 2021. Her canvas is the 1939 Sydney Water Board building, one of the country’s grandest Art Deco structures. Reimagining its cavernous public areas as heritage-infused spaces intimate enough for activities such as the nightly Social Hour, an essential Kimpton guest experience, Guo is inspired by the dramatic Art Deco architecture of her home city of Shanghai. She hopes her design will help people “leave care behind” as they enter another world.

The emotional buoyancy of Art Deco offers imaginative immunity in these Covid-ridden times. Tracing its current appeal to its historical origins between the Great War and the Great Depression, Copolov calls it “a way of celebrating the good side of life, regardless of all that may be unfolding in the world”. As we face our own pandemic-related challenges, a dose of this joyful, uplifting style may be just what we need.