Designer Emily Priest drew together inspiration from home and abroad to create a unique sense of place at The Hotel Britomart.
“For me, a place lives or dies on how it feels when you enter it — the atmosphere evoked and the ease in which one feels and moves through the space” says creative director Emily Priest of Cheshire Architects. “We want people to take a snippet of that away with them — a feeling, a smell, a snapshot, the story of what the hotel is. When they are in the spaces, we really want them to feel the sense of care and thoughtfulness that has gone into every single detail within the hotel.” Melinda Williams talked to Emily about the artisans and places of inspiration that came together at The Hotel Britomart to create a true inner-city sanctuary.
Melinda Williams: What was your role in the design of The Hotel Britomart?
Emily Priest: My role, along with Nat Cheshire and the Cheshire team was Creative Direction — to create an atmosphere and story for The Hotel Britomart, right down to the vases that sat in the rooms, alongside a handwritten note that greets you. We wanted to create a sense of belonging to the spaces, even though it sat in the heart of our busy city, and a strong sense of identity shared from The Landing up north.
Right from the first moment when you walk through the laneway and into the lobby lounge, the hotel has a real sense of intimacy but also scale. Is that what you were trying to achieve?
The laneway is one of those pockets of the city where it feels like you’ve just stumbled upon it, a hidden jewel. The laneway at the heart of Britomart is very much a part of the existing Britomart fabric and something we were eager to create here too. The overlapping scales — the small with the large — the diversity of people coming together, that smaller fine-grain laneway, nestled beside the larger city blocks. And breaking this down again, with the connection from the laneway into the lobby, with the dismantlement of the exterior and interior, as the laneway merges into the lobby when the doors are open on a summers day. We wanted the lounge area to feel like it was part of the laneway. It’s a really lovely connection point, I think.
What are some of the details of the lobby design that create that wonderful effect?
A huge driver was the idea that you might have a grunty old brick wall alongside a beautifully tailored lounge sofa or piece of cabinetry and a highly detailed sense of craftmanship. We wanted to break down the sense of scale with a series of spaces, small nooks where you can sit down as a couple, or a larger area for bigger groups to seek comfort. I loved the idea of using local artisans to create elements for the room — like the artisan who created the cracked blackened earth wall, the large Timaru bluestone boulder crafted by stonemasons or Christopher Duncan’s beautifully woven fabric seen in the lounge cushions. The lobby space is a collision of textures and contrasting elements, while retaining the integrity of the materials we used.
Any particular favourite pieces?
I do love the Fulcrum Lamp that Nat and I designed for Resident [a New Zealand furniture company]. The piece in the lobby has a cast bronze base with a light Japanese paper shade. We also created a version for the rooms with a roughened timber base that throws a lovely soft glow.
Stepping into the guest rooms, what was your inspiration for their atmosphere?
My husband and I used to live in a beautiful apartment building in the city near Britomart, during the Rugby World Cup, and at that time, the city was heaving. What we loved about our apartment was when you stepped inside, it was still and quiet. It was a sanctuary, a beautifully quiet reprieve, tucked away from it all. We wanted to create the same sense of sanctuary and reprieve in each room at the hotel, so people could step inside and forget about the bustling city below, wash away the day’s worries and refresh for the night ahead.
What were the key elements you wanted to get right?
We wanted to ensure each room had a substantial but comfortable bed, a generous place to sit, read or work on a laptop and a bathroom that was big enough for a party. We wanted the bathrooms to carry a sense of theatre with the dramatic light and material use. But what we kept returning to was that sense of generosity that one ought feel — right down to the number of pillows on the bed, or the amenities in the room.
Are all the guest rooms designed the same way at the hotel?
Although the guest rooms are all in the same style, there are varying colour palettes. What I love about this is that you could walk in at different time of year and have a completely different experience depending on your room choice, and yet one that still feels familiar. The experience also differs because of the location of your room — some people may prefer the lighter rooms on the sunny northern side of the hotel, while others like the darker, more intimate spaces off the laneway — all tailoring to each person’s sensitivities and how they might like to experience a space.
Where did that idea come from?
In Vals, Switzerland, there’s an incredible hotel by the architect Peter Zumthor, where my husband and I had the privilege of staying in the architectural suites. Our first night was in the Peter Zumthor room, black plastered walls and ceilings – very simple — the second by Kengo Kuma, timber cocooned and stacked from walls to ceiling. I found the differences between the rooms wonderful and exciting, and surprised at how much I loved the darker space. Your mind felt completely at peace. I will always remember this fondly and how my perception was completely changed that day.
How do the five rooftop Landing Suites differ from the other guest rooms?
We wanted to be sensitive to the design at The Landing and tie this into the Landing Suites at The Hotel Britomart. The outside fireplaces in two of the suites hold a special place from The Landing — a place to gather, enjoy a drink and companionship. The suites are collated with custom furniture, collection-level artworks and bespoke objects. Each suite feels like a special moment from the Landing rather than a hotel room. There are so many things that make The Landing special. The site itself is breathtaking. It’s enveloping. A very special place on earth. In these suites, you have a slice of this, but in the heart of the city.