Fabric on the walls, one-off gypsy carpentry, then a flourish of nautical nostalgia, and this 1960s beach hotel became an Anna Spiro treasure.
Brisbane’s boldest interior decorator, Anna Spiro, has a self confessed “natural eye” for colour, patterns, and making them get along. At Halcyon House on Cabarita Beach, she showed exactly how “a little bit off” could be spot-on when she artfully scribbled her eclectic and nostalgic design signature onto every surface. Opened in May this year, guests of Halcyon House are greeted by Spanish-style archways and breezeways, a scoop of homemade ice-cream and an Anna Spiro room that would sit just as comfortably in Capri as Cabarita.
Don’t believe us when we say she’s bold? Anna didn’t just paint the walls of her biggest project yet, she upholstered them with fabric, as though wrapping a precious gift from the inside. The Black & Spiro head designer and owner was fulfilling the brief given to her by hotel owners (sisters Elisha and Siobhan Bickle) to create something that was completely different to what was being offered in Australia. For every “Are you sure?” thrown at her, Anna would quip back an assured “Of course I am!” and so the 21-room boutique hotel was given new life by the seaside.
A walk through Halcyon House is like a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – you can never be sure what fanciful delight is hidden behind each door. Whether a marketing master-stroke to keep guests coming back, or a demonstration of just how much of a visionary Anna is, every room at Halcyon House is a new work of art. That’s 21 uniquely beautiful rooms. “I wanted it to be a divine, traditional beachside retreat similar to what you would find in Europe,” Anna says. “I wanted each room to be different so that guests can find their favourite room and then keep coming back and choosing to stay in that room each time they come.” And so it becomes clear that Anna’s designs are not only an aesthetic treat, but an emotional one too. She urges guests to want to connect with their favourite suite and pen it into their diary for every anniversary getaway to come.
This essence of creating tradition is echoed in the styling choices Anna made. Nothing feels shiny or new, and yet every room oozes homely luxury. “I wanted it to be decorated in a way that it looks and feels as though it has all been collected over a long period of time, as though it has always existed,” she said. The “collected” look and feel was achieved by doing just that – collecting. Anna and the Bickle sisters trawled the Brimfield antique fair in Massachusetts and scoured antique dealers, junk shops and estate sales in Australia and New York for charming bespoke pieces. There are glass jars and wicker baskets that have been fashioned into lamps, side tables that Anna has handpainted at her home and salon-style hung images of beach life, bird life and life in general. Inject some high-end luxury with John Derian sofas, Madeline Weinrib rugs and drawings by Wayne Pate, and old and new collide to create “perfectly imperfect”.
If you hadn’t been inside Halcyon House, you could be excused for thinking it all sounds a bit haphazard and overwhelming. But add some more Anna with her signature blue and white palette, and everything just “belongs”. “The colour blue is used predominantly throughout, so this is the link that ties everything together.” Anna says. “People who know me know that I have a very big soft spot for blue and white. I grew up in a home that was always decorated in a blue and white colour palette. I also felt that this was the perfect location to be able to use blue being beside the ocean.” With many of the rooms boasting terraces with ocean views, the frothy whites and clear blues of the interior have made the most of their idyllic location.
Another Anna trademark is her daring use of contrasting, but never conflicting, prints. So what’s the secret to mixing spots with stripes and floral and fish? “It’s hard to explain,” Anna admits. “You need to have a natural eye to do it. Linking the different colours is done by finding common ground and then being able to use a contrast of patterns and scale to balance it all out so it doesn’t look ‘matchy’ or contrived is key. I also think the biggest secret is to never match things perfectly. A little bit ‘off’ is always a good thing.” We weren’t exaggerating with our print picks either, Anna’s favourite room, one of the bedrooms in Suite 208, features a zig-zagged and squared William Yeoward fabric on the walls, a grandiose fish fabric covered bed head and a geometric glass chandelier. And the choices not only work – they excite. It’s clear that Anna’s design philosophy is all about mixing – textiles, prints, colours, furniture, eras – but not necessarily matching.
In the bathrooms, Anna dials down the colour and shows that while she is obviously a master of bold and bespoke, she can also serve up the perfect minimalistic and fresh room where white dominates. If it isn’t useful, it’s not there cluttering up the stunning space. All of the bathrooms are fitted with elegant English tapware, marble vanities and handmade floor tiles (welcome back blue) and the master, deluxe rooms and suites have the added luxury of a deep bath. Anna showed off her design panache by also making the outdoor areas elegantly European with million-dollar Australian views. Comfort is king when luxuriating in one of your terrace deck chairs under a beach umbrella.
The creative interior design doesn’t stop at the hotel rooms and suites. Halcyon House is accompanied by Halcyon Spa and restaurant Paper Daisy. Dining at Paper Daisy is all about confident coastal cooking in a relaxed setting. One of Australia’s most promising young chefs, Ben Devlin, runs the kitchen and Anna has taken care of the dining room. The chairs don’t exactly match, and the photo frames aren’t even close to matching at all, but everything invites you to sit down and spend some time long after the last plate is licked clean. A large sturdy wooden table takes centre stage and any diner who sits here will undoubtedly feel like the special guest. Skirting the room is bench-style seating but there are enough mismatched pillows scattered along the wall that this is obviously the side of the table you want to be sitting at.
Now that we know you will be heading to Halcyon House next time you make a trip south, make sure you keep an eye out for Anna’s favourite pieces. “The stand out is probably a beautiful little gypsy table in one of the suites. I found it at the Brimfield markets and carted it around with all the other things we picked up! When it arrived here I took a few of the tables we’d sourced home and hand painted them myself in an array of Porter’s Paints blues. They look fabulous in their new homes! I also can’t go past the table in the entrance to the restaurant without stopping to admire it.” Alternatively, pick your own favourites and find the room that will be “the one” for you.
More from Anna Spiro:
Store: 768 Brunswick St, New Farm
Book: Absolutely Beautiful Things, RRP $49.99
Other projects: Mr & Mrs G Riverbar, Buzz Bistro, Victoria Park Golf Club