Perth – population just over 2m – sits on a river plain below a verdant escarpment facing the southern Indian Ocean. It’s something of a grown-up boom town; a place mining corporations have historically based themselves so as to more conveniently wrest various commodities – iron ore, gold and petroleum – out of the sere, burnt-orange reaches of Western Australia, of which it is the capital. As in any city of significant size, Perth has a handful of attractions worth knowing about: two or three nationally noted restaurants serving locally sourced Asian- or Italian-influenced adventurous cuisine that’s now identified worldwide as Australian; seemingly endless running and cycling paths; Cottesloe Beach, a mile-long, creamy comma of fine sand embracing sea that’s almost Maldivian in its tone and clarity. But these few charms and a tidal flow of serious mining money notwithstanding, Perth’s appeal, especially when compared to dazzling Sydney or refined Melbourne, seems decidedly modest. In short, it is not, in the parlance of the travel industry, a “destination”.
When I venture this description to the Perth-born, Singapore-based architect Kerry Hill, however, he just smiles sagely. “Yes, and yet as far as people from Perth are concerned, there’s only one place on the face of the earth to be – and that’s Perth.” Hill has designed and built civic institutions, award-winning residences and world-class resorts in half-a-dozen countries (his name is virtually synonymous with “Aman” in certain circles). It’s telling, then, that he has dedicated a significant measure of his time and formidable talents over the past decade to Perth’s pre-eminent private-government development – one that sets a new benchmark for luxury, craftsmanship and lifestyle curation for this city, and which will likely give Hill’s hometown the healthy measure of bona fides it needs to convince the world that those locals might be on to something.
Known as Cathedral Square, the development extends across a full city block at the edge of the central business district and comprises a number of late-18th-century structures, referred to as the State Buildings, as well as St George’s Cathedral and its broad square, a 33-storey office tower, ingeniously integrated between the older buildings, and a library, also designed by Hill. With five owners – the Anglican Diocese, the city of Perth, real-estate monolith Mirvac, boutique property development firm FJM and the Public Trustee – it’s one of the more complex private-public investment endeavours the city has seen.
The buzz around the A$580m (about £270m) project is largely to do with what’s happening inside those State Buildings, all of which has been spearheaded by FJM co-founder Adrian Fini. A former director of Mirvac, Fini has a CV that skews decidedly lifestyle: among many other things, he co-founded the cult brewery Little Creatures and was integral to the concept and aesthetics, not just the bankroll, behind the Alex Hotel, a boutique property in Perth’s recently gentrified Northbridge district, with an originality of design and service that recalls André Balazs’ brilliant Standard hotels in New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
Fini brings this discernment and vision to his piece of the Square, with the luxury quotient ratcheted up several degrees. He has assembled the finest independent vendors and artisans – chocolatiers, baristas, leather workers, florists and wine merchants – to populate the ground-floor former offices, restored and reimagined by local architect Michael Patroni as an enfilade of high-ceilinged boutiques, bars and cafés in which the patina of history is deftly layered into sleek contemporary design. He has enlisted David Thompson, the Australian chef at Bangkok’s multilaurelled Nahm, to bring his Thai street-food emporium Long Chim to the basement space, while Jesse Blake, formerly of Melbourne’s Cumulus Inc (which tops quite a few best-in-Australia lists), has been appointed head chef of Petition Kitchen.
But the ultra-exclusive 48-room hotel on the State Buildings’ top floors is the real game-changer here. A decade ago, when Fini enlisted Hill – a long-time friend – to oversee the restoration, it was to former Aman Resorts chairman Adrian Zecha he first spoke about eventual management. “The decision to put a luxury hotel [of that calibre] in these buildings aligned with my belief that the market to Western Australia was going to grow. This has absolutely proven to be the case,” says Fini. Deep-pocketed mining execs aside, “we are now talking to a creative class [with this development], a discerning customer who wants more than just the hotel. In terms of the kind of guests we’ll get, but also the local leisure market, there’s a clearly defined segment demanding this kind of product.”
What Fini’s too modest to say himself is that the hotel he and Hill have created is not simply the most beautiful in Perth (which it is by an enormous margin), but also, arguably, in all Australia; if the creative class Fini cites were not already beginning to come, it would likely make a point of flying through town just to admire the place. The groundswell of attention around it was conspicuous enough to attract Como Hotels & Resorts’ Christina Ong last winter. After relatively brief negotiation, and with an undisclosed investment amount, Fini signed a management contract in June; when the hotel opened this month, it did so as Como The Treasury.
Anyone who is familiar with the unifying aesthetic of the Como portfolio, and who has seen the quality of Hill’s work here – the painstaking restoration of original stone and 120-year-old ornate plasterwork, the uniform richness of the materials (travertine, bronze mirror, book-matched marble, handmade leather furniture, limed-oak headboards) – won’t be surprised by this meeting of aesthetic minds. Hill has left the buildings’ fabric (interior walls, floor heights and structures) intact, combining adjacent former offices into pairs of bedrooms and bathrooms, so that few layouts are identical, and bathrooms are vast – in some instances, larger than the bedrooms themselves. The palette – all shades on the ultra-subtle white-cream-biscuit-beige end of the neutrals spectrum – enhances the soaring space in the high-ceilinged rooms and is offset by the hard Western Australian light pouring in through two- and sometimes three-metre-tall windows. There’s a semi-subterranean spa (open to the public as well as to guests), all bronze mirror and deep-brown jarrah-wood panelling in sumptuous contrast to the white, light-suffused spaces above. Atop the Italianate building known as The Annex is a 20m-long glass-enclosed infinity pool, overlooking Perth Town Hall. On the ground floor, off the cathedral-like open space of the former Postal Hall (now a sort of interior street, passing through the Treasury building from St George’s Terrace to Hay Street, connecting Como The Treasury to the various retail outlets), is the hotel’s casual bistro, Post. It’s been installed in a glass-roofed conservatory, whose steel trusses have been restored and fitted with stunning light fixtures suspended from leather harnessing. On the roof, above the Postal Hall and extending the length of the building, is an all-glass rectangle housing Wildflower, The Treasury’s formal restaurant. Both are manned by Jed Gerrard, a hometown boy who refined his skills with Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney and at Alexandre Bourdas’ SaQuaNa in Honfleur.
Beyond all the marquis chefs and expensive materials, however, is the fact that Fini and Hill – and now Como – are underwriting a major contribution to the city itself. Twelve years ago, these heritage buildings had lain abandoned and decrepit for two decades; as of this month, they are without peer as an attraction. “I’ve lived here my whole life,” says Fini. “Many of my business decisions have been with a view to make it a better place. With this project I thought, if I don’t do it, someone else will” – someone perhaps from Hong Kong or New York – “and they might get it wrong. I didn’t want to be left wondering how I would have done it differently.”