An international style defines the new Darling Hotel by DBI Design and Cox Richardson for Sydney’s revamped Star City Casino.
Can a leopard change its spots? This question hung over the announcement that Sydney’s Star City Casino would undergo an $870 million redevelopment. Together with a major rebranding, which saw the casino’s name change to The Star, the redevelopment, which was completed in 2011, attempted to remedy much of the architectural and interior infamy that had long given the complex a bad name in Sydney’s design community.
The casino’s monumental staircase has been replaced by a sweeping glass facade that addresses the bay, and the missing piece in the urban jigsaw – an empty lot that adjoined Union Street – has been skilfully resolved with the addition of the five-star Darling Hotel by Cox Richardson, with interiors by DBI Design.
On first sight, these architectural and masterplanning efforts answer the question previously posed with a tentative “yes.”
Fortune is heralded to those entering the Darling Hotel by a giant red aluminium swallow, the work of artists James and Eleanor Avery with Urban Art Projects. Bearing a pair of diamonds in its mouth, the bird’s suspended swoop invites you inside. It is when you enter the lobby that you become fully convinced that DBI has done great work in creating the leopard’s new look. The space is light filled and voluminous, and an interior street links the entries at either end and neatly separates the restaurant and bar area from the reception.
Visitors are immediately struck by the playful mix of colours, materials, finishes and furnishings, which provide a refreshing change from the generic international anywhereness that is often found in hotel lobbies, especially in Sydney. At the five-star level first impressions count, and every attempt has been made to indicate that the Darling is not an office, not a casino and not an ordinary hotel. It is, as the DBI design team stated, “an urban resort,” albeit with a twist of “whimsy and indulgence” – an approach that runs through all aspects of the interior. This can be seen in the lobby, where autochthonous floral motifs burst out in a riot of colour from custom-designed carpets by Akira Isogawa, offsetting the sleekness of the stone-clad walls and floors. Isogawa is one of the Sydney-based artists and designers whose works feature as key elements of the interior, a strategy that works to reinforce the idea that while the hotel operates at an international level, it also offers a uniquely Sydney experience.
The design of the spa facilities also reflects the urban Sydney experience. Soft and subdued, it takes its cues from the tradition of the oriental hammam, using locally cast bronze sculptures to provide visual orientation in what is a luxurious labyrinth of bedonia stone, billowing curtains and candlelight.
The treatment of the accommodation levels mediates between the moodiness of the hermetically sealed spa and the urban openness of the lobby. Entry to the rooms is marked by panels of brightly coloured fabric which, together with the use of dark hues and judiciously dim lighting, help successfully avoid the banality of design responses typical of such spaces. The rooms themselves have been conceived around a unified palette of walnut-clad joinery, black glass shower enclosures, marble, limestone and mosaic bathroom finishes. The sophisticated ensemble is once again given a twist by the splashes of colour provided at the detail level, quirky examples being the orange coathangers and purple bath linen, which the designers say are the fruitful result of close client participation.
It is at this level of detail that the design of the rooms impresses. Everywhere you look, items have been custom designed and locally crafted, whether it’s a fruit bowl, a writing desk or even the ubiquitous bar fridge, which has been reconceived as a cocktail bar should the need arise to host a party in your room. The spontaneity and playfulness of such suggestions was a major influence on the design strategy, this can be seen in the round bathtubs, which cheekily remind you that the hotel is connected to a casino.
These are the touches that imbue the design with a distinguished feel. It’s young, luxurious and sophisticated, more sassy than serious. The design of The Darling does not shy away from the fact that it is part of the Star complex. Rather, it embraces it, and the feel here is “so … let’s party.”