A mythical North American creature is not what one would associate with the quiet rural town of Merricks North on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula. However, the jackalope, a giant horned jackrabbit, is the leitmotif of an ambitious new luxury hotel rich in dreamy, sensory details.
The creation of 29-year-old developer Louis Li, a native of China, Jackalope is an elegant, fanciful 46-room boutique hotel set within a 27-acre working vineyard. Li moved to Melbourne in 2006 to study filmmaking, and Jackalope brings together his interests in storytelling, art, food, and design. While it is seemingly odd to carry out a high-concept hotel in a rural area, Li was steadfast. “Design-wise, the bold, surreal, and contemporary form of Jackalope is not something you would expect to see in a rural setting,” Li says. “That ties in with our desire to present a luxury offering in a form you might not expect or have experienced before.”
A number of designers based in Melbourne, about an hour’s drive from Merricks North, contributed to Jackalope. Carr Design Group oversaw the architecture and interiors. Fabio Ongarato Design was responsible for brand identity and the concept design of select installations. Zuster crafted many of the signature furnishings. “Li was unwavering in his vision of what he wanted to create—a transformative experience of wonder and whimsy driven by art,” says Chris McCue, Carr’s director of architecture.
A choreographed experience
The jackalope narrative begins upon arrival. A long driveway leads to a small rise, where a striking 25-foot-tall black jackalope sculpted by local artist Emily Floyd stands. Two ebony pyramids define the lobby entrance with oversize white letters spelling out the hotel’s name.
The bold two-story structure is clad in dark metal with charred timber detailing and a striking saw-cut roof—a reference to the historical form of the adjacent agricultural buildings. “We wanted to create something sophisticated and elegant, a simple black box that would act as a backdrop or stage to some very dramatic moments,” says McCue. Guests enter the hotel through a single-story pavilion.
A dramatically lit black glass box in the center displays local wine. “We agreed that there should be one design element [that is the focus] in every space,” says McCue.
The adjoining lounge and bar, Flaggerdoot, is housed in an Edwardian cottage dating to 1876 that serves as the architectural centerpiece of the hotel complex. Although the interior is now highly contemporary, the designers were sensitive to the memory of its past. “Retention of the historic cottage was essential to the layout,” says McCue. “It is an anchor for the design.”
The theme of the science of winemaking riffs throughout the hotel. “The interior of the hotel bar reflects experimentation and flamboyance,” says McCue. Test-tube-like glass vessels line the Flaggerdoot walls, and a marble clad bar resembles an alchemist’s workbench. Signature pieces, such as gold Edra Leather Works armchairs by Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana and an electric-blue billiard table, add to the sense of theater.
A more intimate and pared-back fine-dining restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, is crowned by an elaborate ceiling. With approximately 10,000 light bulbs, the installation by Jan Flook mimics bubbling during fermentation. A second restaurant named Rare Hare, designed by Projects of Imagination, is focused on the vineyard and the site’s winemaking heritage with an immersive wine and culinary experience.
In the hotel, a continuous steel stair leads to the upper guestroom level. Corridors are discretely lit with astrological constellations, evoking a dark and moody atmosphere akin to a subterranean passage. Here, the designers chose tonal elements of gold, silver, copper, and bronze. Rooms vary from 410 to 915 square feet, and all contain floor-to-ceiling windows and private terraces to connect guests to the surrounding nature. Deep black-resin bathtubs add to the luxurious feeling, with integrated joinery and feature lighting.
Outside, a 100-foot infinity pool has views of the vineyard, and timber decking and black lounge beds allow guests to linger. A sculptural poolside pavilion for private functions—the Geode—is at one end, with defined sharp edges and silver detailing to serve as a strong juxtaposition to the rolling landscape. “The idea for the Geode was driven by Instagram,” says McCue. “Li was interested in how people consume experiences rather than products, and how we now see everything through the lens of a camera.” The number of hashtags for the hotel and the thousands of images posted are testaments to this belief.
With an increasingly competitive market, maintaining a sense of magic is paramount. Li’s future plans are ambitious: Another hotel is being developed in Melbourne, to be followed by one in Shanghai.
who Architect and interior designer: Carr Design Group. Project team: Chris McCue; Dan Cox. Lighting: Dabio Ongarato; Jan Flook. Landscape: Taylor Cullity Lethlean. Artworks: Emily Floyd; Andrew Hazewinkel. Collaborators: Hunter Lab; Zuster. what Fluorescent/industrial lighting: Fabio Ongarato. Decorative lighting: Jan Flook. Upholstery: Zuster. Tables: Zuster. Collaborative Amenity Products.