Sydney’s Newest Hotel Offers ‘Individualised’ Guest Experience


Due to open next month, “The Collectionist” is a boutique hotel located in a converted warehouse in Camperdown, Sydney.

Developed by hotel space accommodation provider Freespace Property, the hotel is described as a real-life “choose-your-own-adventure” experience – offering 40 unique rooms designed in collaboration by four different design firms.

The Collectionist provides a new take on the hotel experience, allowing the guest to customise their own experience and effectively offering a middle ground between hotel-style service and the more homely feel of Airbnb.

The lobby of The Collectionist
Unita Hotel piece 2

The concept has been brought to life by Andrew Cliffe, founder of the design firm “The World is Round” (in collaboration with WillisSheargold, Amber Road Design and Pattern Studio), construction group Unita and developer Freespace.

The Urban Developer spoke with Cliffe, managing director of Unita Rob Rowe and chief executive of Freespace Daniel Symonds to get the inside word on The Collectionist launch and how they are challenging the conventions of hotel design and construction in Australia.

Related reading: What Can Property Developers Learn from the Travel Industry?

Founder of “The World is Round”, Andrew Cliffe

TUD: What prompted you to involve other designers in the project and not take it on alone?

AC: The client envisaged an eclectic outcome from the start. The brief was for every room to be different. A massive task for one designer. To win the project I needed to think differently.

Originally, I was imagining 10 designers doing 4 rooms each, but reality set in and this switched to 4 designers doing 10 rooms each.

Internal render of one of the proposed rooms within The Collectionist
Unita Hotel Piece 1

TUD: What are the benefits of this kind of collaboration?

AC: Sharing the journey is always great whatever you do, right? I have learnt over my 14 years as a small business that you need to think carefully about each project you take on, and its journey.

Collaborations can allow you to expand rapidly without long-term commitment. There is a great amount of positive creative energy that can push a project into numerous directions, which is really exciting.

Internal render of one of the proposed rooms within The Collectionist
Unita Hotel Piece 3

TUD: How could this collaborative style of designing reshape how hotels are delivered?

AC: Audiences, guests, consumers, users etc. are increasingly wanting more variation in experience. I think you'll see collaborating happening more in all areas of design, not just hotels.

With so many talented small design practices emerging it makes sense for us to collaborate, to knock off the big guys. It simply takes a brave client, project manager and builder to activate.

Clients can pinpoint designers for their strengths and use them precisely on a project to achieve a very specific outcome. Imagine a 100-room hotel designed by 100 designers. Repeat customers could organically return for the next “hit of experience”.

The design team behind the 40 room Collectionist Hotel. The design team also includes Amber Road, WillisSheargold and Pattern Studio
Unita Hotel Piece 4

TUD: How did you select the other designers and what qualities were important to you?

AC: They selected me as much as I selected them. A varied aesthetic was important as per the brief. Amber Road have their office next door and we know each other well. As award-winning designers whose work I really admire, they were a no-brainer.

Matt Sheargold and I have known each other for many years and I've closely followed Matt’s hotel design experience with him recently completing Ovolo at Woolloomooloo. He had recently left a large firm and was free to explore new opportunities as WillisSheargold. He immediately recommended Pattern studio.

Matt suggested it would be great to get behind a new young company and support them. They sent through their portfolio to us and we were all floored by their talent. I instantly felt we were all very down-to-earth, passionate people who simply love what we do.

Chief executive and co-founder Free Space Property, Daniel Symons

TUD: How is this hotel conceptually different from most?

DS: The key conceptual differences are individuality and choice.

Individuality: Each room is individually inspired, leading to an eclectic range of contrasting rooms which better reflects the broad range of travellers tastes and personalities.

Choice: We are reversing the industry norm, of randomly allocating a room to a guest on check-in.

Guests will be able to discover and wander the hotel and choose the room they prefer from those that are available.

During the afternoon where complimentary drinks are served, this will have the elements of a gallery exhibition, with guests exploring, glass of wine in hand, through the different rooms, some rooms are collaborations with emerging artists with the room being designed around the artwork.

The release of the choice back to the traveller is a powerful value, that is squandered in the hotel industry.

TUD: What trends do you believe are shaping the future of hotels?

DS: Individualised travel experiences. The ability to provide unique experiences to travellers who crave to share with those they care about. This trend will drive the shift to developing hotels in more varied locations, unusual buildings and the adaptive reuse of unused space.

That's why you're starting to see the conversion of various styles of spaces into unique accommodation offerings.

Freespace Property's last project saw them convert the Newtown RSL into The Urban Newtown hotel.
The Uurban Newtown

TUD: What are a couple of design strategies you've implemented to create great user experience?

DS: We removed a lot of the prescriptive requirements for inclusions in a standard room, such as TVs and desks, which gave the designers the double benefit of both being able to focus their moderate budget on the highest impact areas, as well as maintain better integrity to their design – for example, a serene room inspired by a mountain in Japan would clash with a large TV in the centre if they were required to include it.

We’ve streamlined the focus areas by keeping the kitchen and bathrooms standardised across the rooms, to ensure the users functionality experience does not get impacted by design elements.

The team often self-selected to reduce the number of suppliers, and chose to work with suppliers that have enough range or flexibility to allow them to be used across rooms with unrelated designs.

An internal shot of The Urban Newtown
The Urban Newtown Interior

TUD: What is your take on the collaborative approach of having a design team consisting of many different firms?

DS: It’s not without its challenges. The idea to bring additional designers on board, was initially driven by the workload of creating 40 different room designs within a short timeframe. The normal industry method is to have one room design, and apply it/modify it to the 40 varying room shapes and sizes.

But in hindsight, the collaborative approach was the only real opportunity to get a truly eclectic collection of designs. We were fortunate to have a talented team of firms, that already had a network of existing working relationships which facilitated a natural collaborative approach between them.

The builder UNITA was specifically selected by the design team as the best suited to the challenge of “herding the cats”, and making sure the project is kept on time and in budget despite the number of designers involved.

Managing director at Unita Group, Rob Rowe

TUD: How can hotel developers reduce their costs in construction and put that back into the user experience?

RR: Hotel providers should be looking at emerging technologies and innovations in building materials to greatly reduce construction costs.

Cloud-based construction and project management technologies, such as Orbis Pro by Nexvia, can help speed up the construction process. This means shortened build times which enable hotel providers to open their doors sooner.

Cost saving technology can also help improve the user experience. For example, many new hotels are implementing seamless check-in and check-out through the use of smart phone apps. As a result, traditional hotel reception areas – and the expensive associated joinery meet-and-greet spaces - can be vastly reduced.

A proposed room within The Collectionist
Unita Hotel Piece 4

TUD: What are some of the innovative qualities of this project that sets it apart from other hotels?

RR: Designed by four of Australia’s leading emerging designers The Collectionist is a real-life “choose your own adventure” experience. The 40 rooms are completely bespoke and reflect a host of individual tastes so travellers can choose the style that best suits them.

The fusion of hotel-style service with a homely feel also offers a completely new accommodation experience. It’s effectively an amalgamation of the best of what Airbnb and hotels offer but in one central location.

A floorplan of one of the room types within The Collectionist
Unita Hotel Piece 5

TUD: Can you give a little insight into the collaborative element of this project from your perspective as the builder?

RR: The team selected by Andrew Cliffe are fantastic and all highly creative. What sets them apart however is how much they are all into understanding the detail. They want to know how their ideas can be best executed.

It’s been a refreshing experience as it’s not often you get to work with one designer – let alone four – who are willing to work as closely as we have together, in true partnership. It’s a reflection of just how much commitment and passion there is for this project.

Together we hold weekly meetings to review design vs. cost vs. budget. Working with multiple stakeholders could have been challenging but by using the Orbis technology all parties have complete visibility of the real-time costs and progress of the project.

We are running this job together and everyone is across the budget so all elements are scoped with clear budgetary guidelines. It’s actually been much easier than other projects as we are all clear on the goal and how much we have to invest into it.

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