What distinguishes a hotel from a guest house? In the case of the new Little Albion Guest House in Sydney's Surry Hills, it's about character rather than size. Its owner, Paul Fischmann, CEO of 8Hotels group, concedes that a property with 35 rooms is more boutique hotel than guest house. "The difference is the kind of experience," he says. "Staying here is like staying at the beautiful home of good friends rather than a hotel. We're seeking to reinvent the guest house for the 21st century."
Entry to the five-storey property, a former convent built in 1901, is through a potted garden off alley-width Little Albion Street. There's no conventional check-in; a local "host" bearing herbal tea greets guests in a glass-walled lounge, part of a new building wrapped around the heritage structure. Guests are encouraged to enjoy a glass from the honesty bar with city views from the north-facing roof terrace, or wander down in dressing gowns for breakfast in the dining-drinking space. "We want it to be a home away from home," says Fischmann.
Lights, fittings and furnishings are custom-designed – "we took as much care with them as someone building their dream home", he says – including carved timber bedheads, granite tables, marble washstands and brass-trimmed mirrors and joinery. There's parquetry underfoot, Moroccan tiles in bathrooms, and boldly patterned '20s-meets-'70s fabrics and wallpaper throughout. Artworks include a wall of framed love poetry and portraits of fictional characters in the guest house's history (using Fischmann and his family as models), and stained-glass windows in the former church next door are visible from some rooms and suites.
In what's claimed as an industry first, the entire guest house can be booked on Airbnb, from $15,000 a night. Individual rooms, too, are offered on Airbnb.
The 8Hotels portfolio includes Felix Hotel at Sydney Airport, opened in February, and The Ultimo in Haymarket, and planning is underway for a 40-room hotel in Elizabeth Street in Sydney's CBD.
Rooms from $240. 21 Little Albion St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 8029 7900, littlealbion.com.au