What makes a great destination? Is it the food? The architecture and design? The entertainment options? Ask Russell Beard, who owns a handful of cafés in Australia and beyond, and he'll say it's a mix of all of those elements, plus something less tangible: a sense of connection to the people who live there and the community they've developed. "You've got to mix with them," he says. "It's a great way to feel included."
"Community" is a word that Beard and his business partner Mark Dundon use frequently in their projects, which include Sydney cafés Reuben Hills, Paramount Coffee Project and Bondi Hall, as well as Seven Seeds in Melbourne and PCP in Los Angeles. And it's the concept at the core of their latest venture, Paramount House Hotel, conveniently positioned in Surry Hills, on the southern fringe of Sydney's CBD. The hotel was conceived as a portal to the thriving inner-city neighbourhood, and was designed to give guests "a sense of place", says Beard, "something that doesn't feel generic and offers a real slice of the area".
The making of a destination started 11 years ago, when Sydney property investor Ping Jin Ng bought Paramount House, the former Australian HQ of Paramount Picture Studios, and slowly filled the 1940s building with a hand-picked collection of like-minded tenants. Beard and Dundon's Paramount Coffee Project opened on the light-filled ground floor in 2013, followed by the Golden Age Cinema and Bar in the restored Art Deco screening room downstairs. Studio space upstairs is inhabited by a handful of creative agencies, while The Office Space on the mezzanine is a sleek co-working hub overlooking the café.
The rooftop Paramount Recreation Club, due to open this month, is a breezy retreat for exercising and socialising where white terrazzo and greenery evoke Palm Springs vibes. On the schedule are barre classes, strength training, meditation workshops and nutrition sessions, and there's a fancy canteen to boot. "It's an alternative to the somewhat maniacal approach to fitness in the city," says director Barrie Barton, whose creative and research agency Right Angle Studio is located downstairs. "It says: get out of the gym and into the fresh air." The brief at the Club Kiosk is "healthy food, but not health food", Barton says. And the menu, devised with Longrain's Griff Pamment and Sam Christie, will be a smorgasbord of wholesome fare – think oats soaked in coconut water, citrus salad with agave, ricotta and mixed nuts, and brown rice bowls with rare roast beef.
Paramount House Hotel is the jewel in the crown, and a joint project by Beard, Dundon and Ng. "After having enough discussions about the dream hotel we'd love to stay in, we thought we should just go ahead and do it," says Beard. Designed by Melbourne's Breathe Architecture, the hotel's 27 rooms and two suites occupy four floors of the former film-storage warehouse adjoining Paramount Studios. The buildings have been cleverly linked by a herringbone-patterned copper screen stretching two storeys and wrapping around the façade.
"To be a guest is to be a friend" is the heart-on-sleeve sentiment offered on the hotel's website, and the friendly gestures start at check-in. Guests walk through Paramount Coffee Project, past baristas busy with pour-overs or coffee-cupping demonstrations, to a smooth concrete reception desk stamped with the words "permanent vacation". On arrival, staff offer a glass from one of three copper taps on the desk, perhaps pouring a locally brewed sour beer, a natural wine or a kombucha. Just as refreshing as the drink is the potential it offers – enjoy your Wildflower amber ale, for example, and the hotel team envisages you'll end up at the label's brewery in Marrickville the next day. "A lot of hotel lobbies scare me," says Beard. "They feel cold or weird, and alienate the community a bit. We want ours to be the opposite of that. There need to be a few key elements that remind guests of the place they're in."
A brief written history of the studios is embossed above the original roof line of the lobby and, in a neat marriage of old and new, two fire vaults originally used to store film now hide guests' luggage behind doors crafted from the same copper panels that clad the façade.
The rooms also mix heritage features – high ceilings, bare walls and exposed brickwork, original sash windows and heavy old rafters – with contemporary comforts such as luxe Jardan sofas and Pakistani kilim rugs. Showers have copper pipes and are tiled in terrazzo, and vintage-style bathroom vanities sit handsomely within the bedroom space. Some rooms have freestanding Japanese-style wooden baths, created by boutique carpenters Wood and Water.
Paramount's owners believe hotels should give guests space to think, and to that end most rooms have internal terraces, sunny indoor-outdoor alcoves partly screened by the façade's herringbone finish and softened by potted devil's ivy and fiddle leaf figs.
A host of Australian makers are featured, too. Beds are dressed with stonewashed linen by Cultiver and Seljak merino blankets from Australia's oldest mill. Linen bathrobes are by Worktones, toiletries by Aesop, and the art throughout the hotel is curated by the nearby China Heights gallery.
Though smart design and good looks in a hotel are important, says Beard, "the recipe is a mixture of service, quality and place". He cites Fleet, a 14-seat restaurant in Brunswick Heads, northern New South Wales, as a fine example of a place where many small things are done right. "They never alienate anyone and always know your next move," he says. "That's what we're going for – getting the DNA right."
Beard is a Surry Hills local himself, having opened his first café, Reuben Hills, in the suburb six years ago. "The hotel is our way of inviting guests to experience the 'hood we love, through our eyes," he says. "I enjoy its proximity to the city, the beach, and an endless supply of restaurants, cafés and bars." Staff might hand you a tote bag with directions to Carriageworks Farmers Market or a Jac & Jack beach towel for a dip at Gordon's Bay.
Had you not been so keenly aware of all the fun that lies on the doorstep, though, you'd be tempted not to leave your casting couch. The minibars are stocked with the likes of mortadella by LP's Quality Meats, a pet-nat by South Australian maverick label Yetti and the Kokonut, and tinnies by Yulli's Brews.
Within Paramount House, the spotlight turns next to Poly, a ground-floor restaurant and bar by the team behind Chippendale's Ester; it's set to open soon, and hotel room service is part of its brief. Big night? Staff will leave a thermos of the café's daily batch-brew on the doorstep. When you're ready, breakfast is served at the Coffee Project, where regulars pick up pre-ordered vegie boxes on Saturday mornings and stay for waffles with buttermilk fried chicken. Later, linger over a Hollywood Highball cocktail at Golden Age Cinema and Bar while waiting for a cult documentary screening or a director's cut in the pint-sized cinema. Even better, the choc tops are by Gelato Messina.
Paramount House Hotel is now open. Rooms from $290. 80 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9211 1222, paramounthousehotel.com