Melbourne’s newest hotel offering United Places Botanic Gardens is a unique blend of all things creative. Zara Horner discovers what happens when a range of disciplines collaborates.

After a seven-year reign, Melbourne lost its top spot as the Economist Intelligence Unit’s ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ in 2018. But, it didn’t drop far – just to second place with a difference in ranking of 0.7 per cent (to Vienna) – and there are many who argue that it is only a matter of time before the Melbourne monarch rises once more.

As Australia’s second largest city Melbourne, once the richest city in the world on the back of the 19th century gold rush, has a lot to commend it. While the weather may drive residents and visitors alike to distraction (or drink) this modern-day cultural hub is easy to navigate and full of heritage and atmosphere.

As one might expect the Melbourne hospitality sector is increasingly competitive; to stand out in such an environment requires a unique perspective and it’s the word ‘unique’ which crops up time and again in reference to United Places Botanic Gardens.

‘UP’ – as multi-disciplinary practice Carr Design Group – refers to it, “is a reimagining of the boutique hotel offering with a considered accommodation experience promoting a uniqueness and an intimacy as a purposeful antidote to the frenetic pace of busy lives.”

Dubbed “a curation” of the hotel experience and defined by “elemental and evocative materials that celebrate this unique garden edge pocket” of the city, United Places is positioned opposite the city’s Botanic Gardens amid the thriving retail and entertainment district of South Yarra.

The brainchild – and first hotel – of property developer Darren Rubenstein, United Places Botanic Gardens is a collaboration between creatives across a range of disciplines.

“Dedicated to making each guest’s stay unique, we have created a place where innovative architecture, interiors and design are complemented by the most luxurious of amenities,” says Rubenstein.

This has resulted in each of the nine one-bedroom and three two-bedroom suites seeming to have its own personality. “The hotel is about connection and rest,” Rubenstein says. “A place of understated exclusivity, combining exceptional contemporary design with comfort and authentic craftsmanship.”

Bespoke sanctuary

Rubenstein’s plan was to create a hotel that feels like “a home for like-minded travellers seeking experiences that celebrate locality.” The design ethos therefore begins at street level with the striking architecture of the modernist cube building itself. “Minimalist, textured planes give way to light-filled interiors and a sculpted sense of space,” enthuses company literature.

The “shared ideals of authenticity, community and locally sourced quality,” that Rubenstein often refers to is evident at street level in Matilda, chef Scott Pickett’s latest restaurant offering.

Named after Pickett’s daughter and designed by Projects of Imagination, the contemporary Australian menu “celebrates elemental flavours, warmth and community,” says Rubenstein. “The atmosphere of flame cooking inspired a design focused on timber, including robust tables commissioned from local maker Hugh Makin and a series of display cabinets for the produce used in the kitchen.” Hand-thrown ceramic dinnerware by Andrei Davidoff completes the design statement.


A sense of place

The hotel’s entrance and lobby feature board-formed concrete walls which resemble wood grain, a nod to the park outside. The area also subtly plays on the idea of the laneway – a ubiquitous Melbourne symbol – with a bluestone path that extends from the actual footpath.

Upstairs dark wood screens replace anodised metal, and timber floorboards and sisal runners replace stone pavers. The aim is “warm, cosy and moody,” Rubenstein explains. “The hard, architectural-base building is layered with softness because materiality has been the focus. There’s no artwork [so] design elements had to be striking and strong.”

Throughout the design focuses on the tactile qualities of the space, furnishings and finishes: richly textured velvet curtains, waxed concrete flooring, floor-to-ceiling windows which frame the lush gardens and dramatic city skyline.

It all comes in “made-to-measure proportions and luxurious textural embellishments,” says Rubenstein, such as the layering of the balustrade detail integral to the hotel façade. “This acts as a sort-of grid on the exterior and is also used throughout the hotel in the form of handrails and light fixtures.”

In the suites everything is about calmness and relaxation. With bathroom products by Le Labo and organic Turkish cotton throws by Loom Towels, “every touch-point is curated for quality and distinction,” Rubenstein says, adding: “our suites combine the best of contemporary design with a personalised sense of sanctuary and escape.”

There is no desk-side check-in, guests are taken directly to their suite overthrowing reception and queues. Rubenstein explains: “It’s about personal experience and personal space.”

The first of Rubenstein’s United Places, “a carefully curated local [hotel] experience, focused on sustainability, collaboration and exceptional location”, there are plans for similar projects to “pop up around Australia and the world.”