In a hotel room high above the pulsing retail hive of Melbourne’s fashionable Chapel Street, a woman draws the blinds and slips off her robe. Kneeling on the bed, facing away from the camera, she arches her back, tilts her head to the side and directs her smouldering over-the-shoulder gaze toward the lens. There’s a click, light illuminates the nape of her neck and shadows climb the wall.
She’s not a model or an actress, or anyone of public note. But in that instant, she has become the latest muse of The Olsen – a boutique art hotel that takes its craft very seriously.
Back in 2017, as winter crept across Melbourne, The Olsen – part of the Art Series Hotel Group – enticed guests to strip down in the name of art for a unique “No Robe” life-drawing promotion. Guests were given a remote-operated iPad camera and a two-hour window to capture a pose, from which one of the hotel’s artist collaborators sketched a take-home life drawing. Actress Rachel Griffiths was among the models who lent their face (and physique) to the campaign, but it was ordinary guests that the hotel sought to inspire.
The Olsen, located in the trendy inner-city suburb of South Yarra, is an homage to the lyrical works of celebrated Australian landscape painter John Olsen, and part of a new breed of Melbourne lodgings doing away with staid and sterile in favor of exciting and eccentric. Always seeking new ways to engage people through art, The Olsen is all about transforming artistic expression from a passive, canvas-on-the-wall exchange to a thoroughly immersive experience.
“There are many projects where the architect will design the property, they’ll build it and just get art as a broach, a piece of jewelry to whack on a wall,” says art historian Andrew Gaynor. “But there’s nothing that integrates it into the whole. This is integration.” Sure, the walls here are adorned with art. Six Olsen originals hang in the hotel – including a six-meter wide mural in the lobby entitled The Yellow Sun and The Yarra – and 500 prints adorn the walls over 14 levels.
There are many projects where the architect will design the property, they’ll build it and just get art as a broach, a piece of jewelry to whack on a wall
In the stylishly appointed rooms, the artist’s whimsical frog, pelican and sun tendril motifs are splashed across glass screens separating the bathroom from the living space, and a muted color palette allows Olsen’s art to pop. But the hotel goes many steps further.
Gaynor works with The Olsen’s art curator and hosts tours of the property, delving into the creative consciousness of the prized painter, 91, who derives inspiration from the harsh Australian outback, travels abroad and Zen philosophy. Each room has a small library of art books and artist tools for those with a creative urge, while in the lobby guests are invited to lend their finger work to a communal tapestry, another of Olsen’s artistic passions.
ACROSS TOWN, in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), an explosion of different artistic styles and genres slaps guests in the proverbial face at the out-there and in-vogue QT Melbourne. Opened in September 2016, this cheeky, oh-so-sexy Russell Street establishment serves up a feast of artsy flamboyance and designer quirkiness. QT Melbourne takes its style cues from the district’s 1920s rag traders and the high-end fashion boutiques that have colonized the “Paris End” of nearby Collins Street. In short, it’s industrial-chic on steroids.
A melange of materials – stone, timber, steel, brass – unfurls alongside flashes of color, neon and movement. A peacock guards a grand staircase, hemmed by a towering wall of 1,700 books. Cheeky French Toile wallpaper draws the eye in the hotel’s Pascale Bar & Grill fine-dining restaurant, and the public bathrooms are a riot of 18th-century nudes. The beds are gel-topped and, in the elevators, a disembodied voice compliments you on your behind.
“QT Melbourne is all about the experience,” says Nic Graham, the hotel’s public space designer. “We aim to deliver wow moments that linger long after the guest has left. With a bit of drama and sass, we always try to create elements of intrigue and surprise, evoking memory with hints of vintage and creating new memories with new ideas and concepts.”