In Australia, a Wine Hotel That Tells a Story

A filmmaker infuses the principles of alchemy into the conceptual Jackalope.

Artist Emily Floyd's sculpture outside the entrance to the hotel. (Photo: Sharyn Cairns)

One early evening as the fledgling hotelier Louis Li walked the Willow Creek Vineyard, an award-winning winery located in Australia’s Mornington Peninsula, a vision for his first property suddenly struck. The region, a beautiful area of rolling hills outside Melbourne, is renowned for its excellent Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, and organic produce. “I imagined an urban hotel embedded in this beautiful rural landscape,” he says. Hailing from a family of property developers, the 28-year-old Li wanted to invent a brand that merged his passion for filmmaking and art. “I wanted to treat it as I would a movie and tell a story through the architecture and design, creating a transformative experience for the guests.”

Li conceived a “script” with theme based on alchemy, the mythical medieval practice of converting base metals into gold, passing it on to Carr Design Group, an established firm based in Melbourne that designed the restaurant for Willow Creek and recently completed a building for the University of Sydney. “Typically we’d run from site context and orientation and sustainable architecture, which we still do here, but the strong narrative presented a challenge,” says Chris McCue, Carr’s director of architecture. “It ended up being an amazing opportunity to tell a story in a different way and to collaborate with artists and lighting and landscape consultants.”

The hotel’s name, Jackalope (2017 Surface Travel Awards finalist), is a reference to the fictional jackrabbit with antlers, an animal seen at the entrance in the form of a towering sculpture by local artist Emily Floyd. The 46 rooms, fitted with Japanese soaking tubs and furniture by local design firm Zuster, are located in a barnlike structure clad in dark zinc, one of five futuristic buildings that form a striking visual against the bucolic vineyards.

The Jackalope pool deck at sunset (Photo: Sharyn Cairns).

Not to say that the interiors are spare. In collaboration with Fabio Ongarato Design and a select few international artists, otherworldy points of light, which McCue describes as “celestial,” add to the cinematic ambiance. For instance, Rolf Sachs’s “5 Flasks,” a fixture built of chemistry lab glassware, and chandelier designer Jan Flook’s installation of 10,000 golden-hued bulbs in the seasonal tasting menu restaurant, Doot Doot Doot. 

“The chandelier in the restaurant represents the fermentation stage of alchemy,” Li says, noting that all seven stages of alchemy are represented in the hotel. “I want the stories to slowly reveal themselves and I hope each guest finds different meaning in the design, like with good art.”

Visitors may happen upon a sculptural Rick Owens bench adorned by antlers or multimedia artist Andrew Hazewinkel’s faceless busts, but the most dramatic design object on the property is perhaps the crystal diode pavilion at the end of the sleek pool built of black porcelain and tile. Inside a large boulder-shaped structure, 150 panels have been sprayed with silver polycarbonate to give the interior walls the appearance of metallic crystal. It’s used for private dining and spa treatments using botanical ingredients from the remote reaches of the country. At night, when it’s lit with candles, it’s magic.


The restaurant Doot Doot Doot.


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