It’s hard to walk past Her Melbourne without stopping in for a drink. Glowing from the sidewalk behind a fluted glass front with apricot awnings above, the exterior echoes the French boulevards the bistro is modelled on. The restaurant and cocktail bar, located on the ground floor of the recently revamped Pacific House in Melbourne’s CBD, is just one of the four distinct venues the former cigarette factory now plays host to.
This, like many hospitality spots in the city, has the trademark stamp of Dion Hall—the trademark being no two look or feel alike. The designer was commissioned by HQ Group to create three unique interiors; Her Bar, BKK and Music Room within the mega heritage building. Rounded out with a European-inspired garden terrace on the roof by Sydney local Tamsin Johnson, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile precinct in the city.
Conceived as a vertical laneway, the project, like most of this magnitude, is underpinned by its collaborations. An extensive renovation was undertaken by Jackson Clements Burrows, matched with the vision of Ryan Guppy and John Clemens of creative agency 21-9 who drove the complex placemaking strategy.
Inside Her Bar, there’s certainly a je ne sais quoi, which is to say it feels French, but not in the way you might expect. Dion attributes this to his approach. “There was less a focus on drawing directly from French period qualities, [but] rather an exploration into expressions that capture ‘bodily forms’,” he explains.
With a laneway entrance off Lonsdale Street shrouded in shade, an amber lighting scheme is balanced with a rich material palette. Rust-coloured terrazzo flooring and timber veneer wrap the interior, layered with zinc, woven cane, brass, blackened steel and leather. A series of cane louvres line the interior windows, in an effort to tame the heritage-era vertical glazing.
The colourful 10-metre abstract painting by local artist Eleanor Louise Butt has pride of place behind the zinc bar, mirroring the graffiti in the outside laneway. Not without good company, spot the ceramic lamps on the bar by artist Shari Lowndes and the brass wall lights by Amore Made, just a few of the local makers tapped by Dion for the project.
If Her Bar is warm, BKK is downright balmy. Inspired by the smells, humidity and sounds of Thailand, the space unfolds in a flurry of motion and intensity. Located on the third floor, the contemporary Thai street-food restaurant operates around an open-plan kitchen, lined with seating along the perimeter.
The walls reveal original brickwork in a homage to the ‘hole in a wall’ quality of the street style-influenced cuisine. Copper though, is the star here, cladding the walls and joinery and interplaying with louvres—a call back to downstairs—fabricated in a translucent honeycomb fibreglass. Flickering neon tubes emulate the dynamic pace of Bangkok. This cinematic approach, not unlike Nicolas Winding Refn’s turbulent thriller Only God Forgives, intensifies the muted backdrop through light and colour.
Take the lift to level one, and you’ll find Music Room hidden behind a hefty door. Like the Japanese listening bars that inspired it, the space is serious about good sound. So serious that the floor, walls, ceilings, bar, DJ console—everything—is swathed in American Walnut timber as Dion explored the idea of a ‘speaker box’, or a room as an instrument. “The idea of applying a singular material was deliberate in order to define a singular note and assert a defining space,” he elaborates.
No larger than a double garage, the room pulses to the music with a lighting installation designed with long-term collaborator Hervé Descottes from L’Observatoire International. “The desire was to create an immersive experience where sound, light and space form a symbiotic relationship,” Dion continues. Where Her Bar is defined by its luminosity, Music Room seeks to dampen the natural light with a series of perforated timber screens lining the interior facade, a welcome match with Herve’s installation. Leather, brass and amber-coloured glass are supporting characters again, softening the timber shell.
For three venues that couldn’t seem further apart stylistically, a subtle unifying design language runs through Her. While Melbourne may have a reputation for four seasons in one day, it may have taken on a whole new meaning in this building. Now it just depends on where you’re going.
[Images courtesy of Dion Hall. Photography by Earl Carter.]