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Discover the Story Behind Little Albion Guesthouse

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Recently featured in Augusts AAA Short Black: Architects In Their Space tour, Little Albion Guesthouse is one of Surry Hills newest offerings for the modern luxury traveller. Writer and AAA volunteer - Deborah Singerman, reports on on her conversation about the project with space planner and interior designer Connie Alessi, who was instrumental to the projects development and realisation.

Boutique inner-city guest house plucks at the heart strings

The Little Albion calls itself a guest house, not a hotel. This is entirely appropriate for a 35-room, pet friendly boutique place, a gratifying example of adaptive/reuse that both belies and yet builds on its chequered history including as a convent and a hospice. 

The transformation takes what one of the project’s mainsprings, interior designer and space planner Connie Alessi, remembers as being an architecturally “very run-down” building into a new realm of exquisite, bespoke comfort. 

I missed the AAA tour on August 18, 2018. The Sydney transport meltdown on that day meant I only travelled from my home in Ashfield as far as Petersham. However, I heard that the visit was a rip-roaring success, with a big group enjoying long chats with Alessi, architect Terence Yong and hotel manager Wendy Morris. My subsequent visits and the rave reviews from design websites confirmed this enthusiasm was justified.

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Paul Fischmann of 8Hotels brought together a unique mix of creatives, including Terence Yong (Terence Yong Architecture) and Chris Haughton (SHED) on the architecture, with Connie Alessi (Archemy) and Cressida Kennedy (Space Control) for the interiors.  Fischmann also wanted Wendy Morris, with whom he has worked before, in what became a tight-knit group.  

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Morris chose the Molton Brown handwashes, with their subtle fragrances, for the bathrooms, up from the lobby, and directed the range of Australian goodies for the Honour Bar. A rarity in Australia, its honesty-based system has guests write down the breakfast, nibbles and drinks that they have and only pay at the end of their stay. This typifies the level of trust, detail and intimacy that distinguishes this peaceful Surry Hills hideaway.

It also required imagination, research, exactitude and, yes that word, passion,

“The old building was gutted, leaving only the perimeter walls, and various heritage elements such as the fireplaces and the arches in the corridors,” says Alessi. “When you walk through on ground level that was a chapel, with two stories and beautiful stained-glass windows. These were removed. On level 3, the windows are new but do not look new because we dressed them in architraves.”
Everyone wanted brick as the main structural material, for its romance, helping to create the mood that filters through from the pathway up to the hotel, lined with variegated pot plants with a delicate Japanese maple in the corner, up to the fifth-floor roof garden. Getting the additional floors led to “a lot of ups and downs with council”, Alessi remembers, but the roof and the glass-sided lift to it afford an unlikely view of rooftops reminiscent of a historic European city. 

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In between, there are brass room numbers with their own Art Deco-related font, sumptuous leather armchairs in the sunken lounge, which was inspired by the Olivetti showroom in Italy, and a stylish pink banquette in the Honour Bar – pink and emerald feature throughout in upholstery, curtains and walls (even the dishwasher in the Bar is green). There are also marble bathrooms, polished concrete floors, and fabrics and other products from bespoke, specialist suppliers many with long histories in Sydney.

A wall of romantic poetry books, printed to look old with doodles for an appealing personal touch, is ingenious. It is part of an art program from Nick Samartis, that also covers stairwells and individual rooms with multifarious pictures including of historic Surry Hills identifies. Illustrations from Alexandra Nea on the website and the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Guide, pinpoint “culture, coffee/breakfast/light eats, dinner, drinks (and) shop”, in anticipation of urbane Australian, European and American guests.
“We all absolutely love it,” Alessi says.

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ABOUT DEBORAH SINGERMAN

AAA Volunteer Deborah Singerman is a writer and editor, with extensive experience interviewing people, researching stories, finding angles and then disseminating the information for different readerships.

She offer professional writing and editing services for articles with content that can be adapted for websites, blogs, magazines and university journals.

Check out her website at: https://www.deborahsingerman.com.au/

  • Article: Deborah Singerman
  • Image1: An exterior view of the new extension to original hospice building
  • Image 2: Connie Alessi principal of the design firm Archemy
  • Image 3: Terence Yong principal of Terence Yong Architecture (formerly project architect at Shed Design Studio) and Connie Alessi discuss the guest houses design with AAA Short Black attendees
  • Image 4: A view from the interior of the ground floor entry
  • Image 5: A view of an upper level lift lobby
  • Photographer: Vanessa Couzens