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.