JUST AS I'M ABOUT TO press the green button to open the door of one of Melbourne's smallest hotels, it swings open. "I saw you coming," says owner Darren Rubenstein with a broad smile, ushering me inside. With its bluestone floor and textured cement walls, the entrance hall of United Places feels like walking into one of the laneways the city is renowned for. Although this one comes flickering with candles, carrying the scent of orange blossom down the hall.
United Places and floor-level Matilda. Courtesy of United Places.
Opened in June 2018, United Places is the passion project of Rubenstein, a 38-year-old property developer who wanted to create a high-end home- hotel, celebrating his love of luxury, architecture, design, collaboration and food. Despite its striking concrete and bronze façade created by Carr Design Group, the hotel is softened by its inner-city location opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens, the expansive parklands forming an ideal front yard.
There are nine one-bedroom and three two-bedroom suites of 66 to 86 square-meters, spread across three floors. As Rubenstein takes me to my room (the absence of a check-in desk adds to the homey welcome) we pass underneath an asymmetrical conical space designed by local kinetic sculptor Laura Woodward. Glass globes filled with water are used to catch the light and reflect Melbourne's ever-changing weather patterns on the floor. "I wanted the space to be playful, beautiful and textured," Rubenstein says.
Carr architect Chris McCue, hotel owner Darren Rubenstein and Matilda chef Scott Pickett. Courtesy of United Places.
Settling into my suite is an undeniably tactile experience. It's impossible not to reach out and run my fingers along the hand-troweled walls and opulent velvet drapes that cocoon the bedroom. I try to peer into the bathroom—a large, reflective charcoal cube dividing the room (you can see out but not in)—before following the continuous hardwood floor to slide back the floor-to-ceiling glass door of the deep-set balcony. Outside I can hear rustling leaves and the ding-ding of passing trams.
My garden suite was conceptualized as an impactful and vibrant "extrovert" personality, pulling inward the green tones reflective of the garden vistas and public-facing botanic setting. The urban suites ("introverts") are more private and secluded, with the coral-pink tones of the drapes imitating the hues exposed in the redbrick walls of the neighborhood's historic buildings. "The introvert and extrovert concept came about during the building process when we realized the rooms were taking on their own personalities," Rubenstein says.
FROM LEFT: An Urban suite. Brass accents. Courtesy of United Places.
From sourcing exclusive single-malt whisky from Tasmanian distillery Sullivans Cove to a four-year search to find the right craftsman to design and create the delicate brass bedside lamps, nothing has escaped Rubenstein's expert curatorial eye. "I'm a bit neurotic but I wanted the details to be right," he says. "I want people to have an immediate sense of place and feel part of the fabric of the neighborhood."
It doesn't get much more Melbourne than a day that has turned from brilliant sunshine to drizzle, and as the sky darkens,the blue-green quilted velvet sofa by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola proves irresistible. The sumptuous curves make it the ideal spot to curl up with a cup of tea.
The Royal Botanic Gardens is opposite the hotel. Courtesy of United Places.
Local artist Shari Lowndes created the hotel's ceramics collection using locally sourced clays, and the coarse-grained, hand-thrown earthenware pieces elevate my simple cup of tea. I can even see tiny black flecks in the material—fragments of timber ash that Lowndes gathered from her family's property.
I make dining reservations at Matilda (matilda159.com; mains from A$33), the ground floor restaurant of United Places that recently scored two hats in the 2019 Good Food Awards. Though the on-call butler can set up a private, in-suite dinner—and in the morning, a specially curated Matlida breakfast hamper of pastries, pressed juices, house-cured salmon and more will also be delivered—it's worth heading to the restaurant to watch the fire works. Eschewing electricity and gas, head chef Scott Pickett has created a menu that instead relies on wood fire and hot coals to imbue smokiness and depth to the dishes. The flavors are Australian, but not in a way that may be familiar, as Pickett favors the piquant tastes of native ingredients like Geraldton Wax leaves, finger lime and wattle seed.
Spanner crab at Matilda. Courtesy of United Places.
It's somewhat temping to go out and explore the bustling neighborhood before dinner, but right now as the rain continues to fall and with a cup of tea in my hand, there's no place like home.
unitedplaces.com.au; doubles from A$650 including breakfast hampers by Scott Pickett.
|WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
United Places sits on lively Domain Road in Melbourne's South Yarra, a compact, charming and upscale suburb that hugs part of the Yarra River. There are a number of great restaurants, including Entrecôte (entrecote.com.au; mains from A$24), a Parisian-style bistro with red-and-white striped awnings, vintage light fittings and cascading greenery, and Gilson (gilsonrestaurant.com.au; mains from A$24), a contemporary spot serving Mediterranean-influenced dishes. Locals pick up fresh, crusty sourdough loaves, custard-filled bombolini and raspberry tarts from Baker D. Chirico (bakerdchirico.com.au; pastries from A$4). And those who like their yoga with a view head to Fauna Yoga (faunayoga.com.au; casual classes A$25) to salute the sun during the rooftop class.