Perth, it should be noted, is home to more than one Como hotel. The first, named after a suburb south of the city centre and called The Como, is a neighbourhood hotel in the Australian sense of the word. People go there to drink and dine, but not to stay. It's also the place an unwitting traveller - a photographer in town to shoot a magazine feature, for instance - and a confused cab driver might find themselves after an innocent mix-up.
They were looking for Como The Treasury, the city's newest hotel in its oldest quarter, and there's nothing quite like it - in Perth, or anywhere else. It's the first Australian property from the Singapore-based Como Hotels and Resorts group and the star tenant of the fledging State Buildings precinct in the CBD.
At its heart are three grand old red-brick and stone buildings. Built in 1875, they've housed various public offices over the years, most notably the Lands, Titles and Treasury departments, as well as the general post office. They were vacated in 1996, when the government shifted offices to suburban hubs. They'd still be empty were it not for the tenacity of property developer Adrian Fini.
Best known as one of the founders of the Little Creatures brewing company, Fini has spent the past 20 years lobbying to redevelop the buildings. Negotiations began in earnest in the late 1990s.
A decade, two changes of government and a global financial crisis later, the project got the nod in 2008. Four years of planning followed, and then a three-year, $110 million reconstruction of the site started. It's the sort of timeline that sends people mad, or broke, but Fini stayed patient and focused. "These buildings have been locked up for 20 years," he says, "so I wanted to make sure the solution was something Perth could be proud of."
The hotel is Como's 13th property. Founded by Singaporean businesswoman Christina Ong in 1991, the group's portfolio includes resorts in the Maldives, Phuket, Bhutan, Bali and the Caribbean, and urban retreats in London, Miami and Bangkok, the last home to David Thompson's acclaimed restaurant Nahm. A resort at Echo Beach in Canggu, Bali, is due to open at the end of next year.
News of Como's choice of location raised eyebrows, as it did three years ago when Aman Resorts announced it was opening its first Australian property at the same site. (The Aman deal fell through and Como signed on as the hotel's operator in March.) According to Como's chief operating officer, Hans Jöerg Meier, the Western Australian capital was a good fit for the group. "Perth not only has positive market indicators, but is also a gateway into Australia from Asia, where Como is headquartered," he says. "Como's owners were inspired by the unique project concept and chance to support the redevelopment of these historic buildings."
It's a big site for a 48-room hotel -16,000 square metres - allowing for expansive communal spaces and guestrooms with an average size of 75 square metres, not including balconies. Well known for his work with Aman Resorts, the project's Perth-born architect, Kerry Hill, has pulled off a design hat-trick: linking three heritage buildings and retaining their original features while creating a hotel that bears the Como hallmarks of understated luxury and refined simplicity.
Even with the shared DNA, Como The Treasury has its own sense of place and history, not least because the existing floor plans dictated the number of rooms and how space could be used. No two rooms are exactly alike, but all feature high ceilings, natural light flooding through big windows, and open floor plans. Shades of white, sand and blonde wood follow the Como style guide, and there's characteristic attention to detail: restaurant-quality glassware and custom Eucalypt ceramics in the drawers, craft beers in the complimentary minibars and imaginative canapés delivered at turndown (tiny radishes crowned with green goddess sauce and salmon roe, for example). The oak furniture is Italian; bathrooms have free-standing baths, twin travertine basins and three-head showers.
Communal areas bear a similar simple-luxe aesthetic, lent character by the art - the delicate watercolours by local botanical illustrators Philippa and Alex Nikulinsky, for instance, in the lounge and their ink studies in the first-floor library.
"Staying here should feel like you're stepping into a beautiful home in the heart of the city," says Perth-born general manager Anneke Brown, whose international experience includes six years as director of training at Aman Resorts. "We wanted the hotel's public spaces to feel like a lounge room in a great friend's home. It should have a great book collection, beautiful drawings on the wall, and all furniture has been hand-picked and includes both designer and handmade pieces. But most of all, it should be a mix of art and stories."
For all its understatement, the hotel has plenty of "wow" features. The 20-metre pool in a third-floor annex is surrounded by louvred-glass walls, creating an impressive indoor-outdoor effect. The original concrete staircase in the Titles building cuts a handsome swathe through the hotel's east wing, with a bronzed stainless-steel cage running up through the centre. Bespoke bauble light fixtures by Perth-born, London-based designer Flynn Talbot bathe the stairwells in warm light.
At the heart of both the hotel and the Como story is the Como Shambhala Urban Escape, a scented oasis of calm. The day spa's name comes from Como's acclaimed Shambhala Estate in Ubud, highly regarded for its holistic approach to health and wellbeing. The four treatment rooms occupy former document vaults in the Titles building, and the concise menu of massage and therapies uses Como's own range of products, as well as some by Western Australia skin care company Sodashi.
As polished as the interiors are, Brown hopes it's the human touch that will distinguish the hotel. "We've set this up as an international-standard property, so the first thing I'd like people to say is, 'Wow, this is service we haven't experienced before in Perth'," she says.
The hotel's two restaurants are overseen by executive chef Jed Gerrard, late of Sydney's Black by Ezard. At ground level is Post, an all-day diner whose think-global-source-local approach informs dishes such as meaty dry-aged Wagin duck and Shark Bay prawn salad cradled in cos. The menu includes selections from the Como Shambhala menu, a health-focused spa cuisine developed across the group by former Rockpool chef Amanda Gale. At Wildflower, the hotel's rooftop fine-diner, Geraldton lobster and silky katsuobushi custard come with views of Stirling Gardens.
Among the hotel's early neighbours is Petition, a kitchen, enoteca and beer bar with former Cumulus Inc sous-chef Jesse Blake in charge. Share-friendly highlights include braised turnips, peas and ham, and raw kingfish, beetroot and horseradish. There's caffeine at Telegram Coffee, cocktails and deluxe jaffles at late-night lounge bar Halford and, from this month, uncompromising Thai street food at Long Chim, David Thompson's first restaurant back on Australian soil in more than a decade. The postal hall, a cavernous space off the St Georges Terrace entrance, features shopfronts for homegrown talent, including chocolatier Sue Lewis and fashion designer Aurelio Costarella.
The changes in this part of town have only just begun. The State Buildings precinct is part of a much larger, $580 million redevelopment of Cathedral Square, an ambitious plan by a raft of organisations, including the state government and the Anglican Diocese of Perth to revive the historic quarter bounded by Pier and Hay streets. While much of it is still at construction stage, key projects, including a new city library and Mirvac Towers, are due to open early next year. There's already a healthy week's-end buzz in the precinct's halls, however, as white-collar Perth unwinds with burgers and bottles of pale rosé and lager at Petition.
One of the key pitches in Fini's winning tender was to return the State Buildings to the people of Perth, and early signs are that he's succeeded. But Fini is as focused on the long view now as he was 20 years ago, when his eye was first caught by the old post office.
"As a class of property, hotels are the longest surviving product and fine hotels have well in excess of one or two hundred years of life," says Fini. "Why should this be any different? If we're faithful to what the building is, we can give it hundreds of years of new life, too."
Rooms from $595. Como The Treasury, 1 Cathedral Ave, Perth, WA, (08) 6168 7888.