The cutting-edge of kooky

Take two of Sydney’s most historical buildings, add some seriously cool design, a little humour and a lot of attitude and you’ve got QT Sydney, the hottest new hotel to open in the city for years

The QT Sydney is no ordinary five-star hotel — it’s a piece of theatre and without doubt the most exciting development on the city’s hotel scene for a very long time. Sure, the Park Hyatt by the Sydney Harbour Bridge had a A$70 million refurbishment last year and the Taj’s Blue Sydney is pretty cool, but QT Sydney ups the game with an inventive blend of heritage and hip.


Design Hotels, the booking engine that sifts through properties worldwide and puts together a curated collection of the coolest, has listed it as its only Sydney property.

QT is Australia’s newest hotel brand, and the Sydney hotel is the flagship property of the brand — there are two others, one on the Gold Coast and one in Port Douglas, with more planned. The man behind the QT brand, managing director of Amalgamated Holdings David Seargeant, is a Sydneysider and many of those in the creative team are Sydney-born and bred.

The location in the heart of the CBD is enviable — it’s just across the road from Pitt Street shopping mall and the Queen Victoria Building — but it’s the rich heritage of the two buildings that form the hotel that gives it its sassy charm. The State Theatre building is one of only two surviving theatres in Sydney and is a flamboyant mix of Gothic, Italian and Art Deco elements. Beside it, Gowings Department Store — also completed in the 1920s — was a store for men and has a more sedate, industrial feel with dark timber floors, high ceilings and wide corridors.

The design success was in marrying these two quite different styles, achieved by preserving the best of each building and introducing plenty of contemporary and often whimsical elements.

It’s the attention to detail that makes the hotel so much fun. You could stay a handful of times and still notice new things, such as the original glass retail cabinets in the ground level foyer which have been restored, and house design pieces, or how the music changes depending on how many people are in the lift. Really. The elevator gauges the number of passengers by the weight and adapts the music — big crowds get party tunes, two people get love songs and if you’re in there on your own, you may well find yourself listening to All By Myself.

The lift doors open onto the lobby, setting the tone for the whole property. Colourful bespoke furniture is scattered about the large, low-ceilinged lounge. There are old-fashioned seamstress mannequins and a delightful art piece by artist Michael Johansson that takes up the whole back wall, and is made up of quirky signage, wooden chests, old suitcases, retro TVs and record players and other found objects, a third of which were foraged from the site during the renovation.

Sydney interior designer Nic Graham, who also worked on the W Hong Kong, created the public spaces and furniture. Art curator Amanda Love chose the major art pieces, including the massive video installation by Grant Stevens that marks the entrance to Gowings Bar & Grill.

Taking up the whole third floor of the Gowings Building, this restaurant and bar is the throbbing heart of the hotel — especially on a weekend, when most tables do three sittings. It’s a large, bustling restaurant with high ceilings, 1930s-inspired furniture and huge windows over looking the Queen Victoria Building. The open plan kitchen, overseen by chef Robert Marchetti, and the occasional flames from the wood-fired rotisseries and ovens add to the drama.

The 1930s retro feel continues downstairs at spaQ, which retains the building’s original windows. There’s a hammam-inspired steam room, six treatment rooms and a relaxation room. In the men’s barber, where guests can opt for a traditional cutthroat shave, Koken barbers chairs were imported from St Louis.

Upstairs, the 200 guest rooms, including 19 suites, were done by Sydney architect Shelley Indyk of Indyk Architects. She has used a bright palette of reds, oranges, yellows and white set against the natural timber floors with plenty of offbeat collectibles and Mark Rothko-inspired rugs. The bathrooms are dark stone — even the supersoft bathrobes are black, rather than the standard white — with oversized bath tubs, separate showers and dim lighting that is perfect for a long, indulgent soak.

The focus on design and detail isn’t just about the interiors: if the hotel is the theatre, then the staff are the actors in this Broadway show. Consider that they weren’t recruited, they were ‘cast’, and note that their uniforms — edgy, urban outfits with buckets of attitude — were created by costume designer Jane Hine, the creative force behind Dame Edna’s final frock. The Concierge — renamed the ‘Director of Chaos’ at QT Sydney — wears a bright red wig and a Rocky Horror– style get up, the porters are bowler-hatted and the rest of the staff look like hipsters or rock stars.

They all seem to be enjoying themselves, while their easy manner and ready banter stops QT Sydney from being so cool it’s intimidating, making a stay here a lot of fun.

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About author

Kate Whitehead

Kate Whitehead is a Hongkonger and has made the city her home since she was eight. She got her first degree (BA English Lit) from Warwick University and her postgrad (MA English Lit) from Sussex University. She was on staff at the Hong Kong Standard and South China Morning Post and was the editor of Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine, Discovery.

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