Interior designer Jessica Close on the new Observatory Hotel at the Chch Arts Centre

Designing the interior of the Observatory Hotel within the historical Christchurch Arts Centre is a pretty special project to oversee, Jessica — how did you get involved? I was invited by the Arts Centre to pitch for the interiors almost four years ago. I was, and continue to be, incredibly flattered by the opportunity. It’s been an enormous privilege to participate in the reimagining of such an iconic landmark.

What was the brief? Initially, it was very broad — it was to be a 33-room arts hotel, housed within the Physics & Biology and Observatory buildings of the Arts Centre. I decided early on to approach the project as I would a large home. I wanted every room to tell a story and have its own personality, with just the right number of layers to create a cosy, home-like atmosphere. This meant designing and coordinating 33 different bedroom schemes — a mammoth task!

ABOVE Jessica specialises in the interior design of high-end residential homes, and prior to this commission had only completed one commercial interiors project, the Christchurch Club, so she says her appointment demonstrated a huge amount of trust on the part of the Arts Centre — which has clearly paid off. “So much of this hotel design was in my head, but I know the buildings and spaces so well that it all sang from the same song sheet,” she says of her colour and material selection that expertly blends old and new. This artwork chosen for the Drawing Room is Pascoid Tiki #11 by Dick Frizzell.

How did you honour the buildings’ heritage? My entire approach has been informed by the buildings themselves. They were constructed during the Arts & Crafts movement, so the interiors
are very much my modern take on that. All three buildings have unique architectural features that define them, so although they’re all physically linked, it was important to me to emphasise and celebrate these variations. Paint was my vehicle to highlight them, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out. 

TOP The colour selection for the hotel was feverishly finalised during an intensive two-day rework. “I had a full colour scheme sorted, but then I put the project down for about two weeks while I worked on something else, and when I picked it back up, I knew the colours needed to change to really push the entire design into the 21st century,” says Jessica. “I wanted the rooms to feel traditionally conceived but very contemporary. Hopefully that’s what people see now.” This is the Malachite Room, with walls in Half Resene Smalt Blue, woodwork in Resene Half Orchid White and bedside tables in Resene Mozart. Designed by Jessica, the carpet throughout the hotel is custom Axminster by Belgotex, and another textural highlight here, the throw, is by Exquisite Wool Blankets. ABOVE The palette for this room includes Resene Smoky Green on the walls, Resene Half Orchid White for the woodwork and Resene Clementine Orange for the desk. 

So tell us about the bedrooms… My goal was for them to feel sophisticated and playful, with subtle layering and clever references to achieve a very finished, comfortable look. I was blessed with
the ceiling heights, so although some of the rooms are small, they feel generous, with just the right amount of furniture. 

And how about the common areas? The Drawing Room and Sitting Room are sophisticated spaces for guests to relax, read and enjoy art in. I sought to create a sense of the outside coming inside, so a willow bough print by William Morris is the dominant pattern, alongside luxe Schumacher velvet, vivid chintz and coloured horsehair. The extraordinary contemporary art in these spaces is part of a revolving exhibition of works for sale from the Central Art Gallery across the quad. The different artworks bring so much to these spaces, and I’m thrilled by the artists who are part of the opening exhibition: Leigh Martin, Dick Frizzell, Neil Dawson, Elizabeth Thomson, Emma Camden and Kirstin Carlin. 

ABOVE In this standard guest room, the walls are splashed with Resene Wild Thing, the woodwork is in Resene Raindance and the bedside table is in Resene Sea Fog. The elegant Rise & Fall light is from Vaughan and the headboard is upholstered with Lodden fabric by William Morris with continuous stud detail.

Who else did you collaborate with to make it all happen? I worked with an incredible roster of makers on this project, most located in Canterbury, which was important to me from the outset; reinvesting in Christchurch businesses made so much sense, especially given the history of the precinct. David Shaw produced all of the custom furniture, a process that took a huge amount of time and care. My extraordinary curtain-maker Lynette Mackie measured all the different spaces about 40 times over the years, and the equally extraordinary Paul Gill of Bedenz spent a year constructing the headboards that have transformed the bedrooms.
We collaborated with the Creators’ Room [an initiative that showcases the work of high school art students] for the guest bedroom and hallway artwork, selecting a number of fine art prints from their round-up of emerging Cantabrian artists. I sourced the antiques and mid-century pieces I used from Haunt, Mr Mod and Mr Bigglesworthy, and some beautiful ceramics from Frances Nation for the Drawing Room. 

If you were staying the night here, how would you spend 24 hours in and around the hotel? The intention is very much for guests to engage with the incredible offerings at the Arts Centre and in the surrounding city centre. Some of my favourite Christchurch spots include: Frances Nation Grocer for breakfast and coffee; Tom’s for lunch; Gatherings, Inati and Rangoon Ruby for dinner; Frances Nation, Infinite Definite, Ballantynes, and Scorpio Books and its sister store Telling Tales for shopping; the Central Art Gallery, Jonathan Smart Gallery and Nadene Milne Gallery for art; Dee Dee Thai Massage for the best massages; and Lumière Cinemas for movies.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Jane Ussher

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