The Ohtel Story - Wellingtons luxury executive accommodation

After a trip to visit an old friend in New York in September 2000, talk of a baby ‘design hotel’ became a new business idea I started harvesting in the back of my mind.

New York was at the peak of its powers a year prior to the catastrophe of 9/11. Downtown Manhattan was buzzing with the sights, sounds and smells that seemed so familiar to me from years of watching many NY based TV shows and movies…at last I was there to take it all in first hand.

Michael lived on 42nd Street, near Time Square, a world of things to see and do right on my doorstep. From the Ghuggenheim, to Yankee Stadium, the Twin Towers and MoMA, to Wall Street – and of course the nightlife…

We seemed to spend a lot of carefully choreographed time, moving around the city from bar to bar, rolling meals – a course at a time, my host ensuring I got to see as much as possible during my 7 day stay. A number of the bars visited were hidden away in the Big Apple’s amazing collection of boutique hotels. Designers such as Ian Schrager, Phillipe Starck, and others had created such an incredible cluster of properties like; The Mercer, Soho Grand, The Royalton…

So the seed was sewn – after 20 odd years of “drawing pictures” for a living, it was time for a change. After leaving Wainuiomata College in 1983, I took up a government draughting cadetship – studying Electrical Engineering. After two years, I changed tack moving into archictecture, completing just as the 1987 crash took hold of NZ’s economy. I worked as a contractor and mostly on my own for the following 20 odd years before deciding that designing and building a little hotel with style in my home city of Wellington, seemed like an interesting option.

It wasn’t until April of 2006 I saw a small villa on a steep 162 sqm site near the waterfront, did the project really start to become a reality. After negotiating to purchase the property, I set about designing the 10 room, 4 storey structure. It took just over a year to document, obtain consents and finance for the work. We sold the old house occupying the plot, which was moved to rural Masterton, and broke ground – the beginning of the 12 month construction phase. The process, although a familiar one, presented me with its own unique set of challenges; the tiny site, excavation and anchoring the cliff face to maximise the footprint, and the complex precast concrete work used in construction.

During the build, there were a lot of decisions to be made in terms of style, fittings and finishes – so many options – at times I had serious doubts about how coherent the finished article might be.

One thing I was very sure about though was the furniture and art work. The new furniture available to purchase for the interior really lacked soul and integrity – how could I create much needed points of difference through the property with this mass-produced junk I thought? Coincidently I came across a pair of original 60’s silk upholstered casual seats at a second hand shop in Nelson, and so started quite a bad 2 year habit of lurking around in antique and second-hand shops and surfing the internet in search of enough good mid-century content to fill the rooms and lobby. Along the way, I also started acquiring choice pieces of contemporary NZ art and ceramics to ensure the hotel had a distinctive kiwi flavour.

In March 2008, we threw the doors open – then the really hard work began…