Sweet Inspiration

It takes chutzpah to suggest to an owner that his hotel should be themed after desserts. It probably takes even more for an owner to agree. But the owner, Dion Chandler heartily agreed, so came the redesign of the iconic Adelphi in Melbourne. Note the licorice allsort stool.

The idea came from a man called Fady Hachem, whose work on the Adelphi and other projects has won him an award from Good Design Australia; he is shortlisted for The Australian Interior Design Awards and it looks like he will take a gong at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards in London in November. (Bit tricky, that one: his wife is due to give birth in the last days of October so he feels torn about leaving so soon, “but the organizers sort of insist I be there.”

The iconic Adelphi was built in 1938 as a warehouse in what was then Melbourne’s garment district. It has been a hotel now for 21 years, a totally minimalist redesign by the famous Denton Corker Marshall group. But now a dessert hotel?
“That was actually spawned from a conversation with my wife and we were sitting down just musing about how we could transform the Adelphi. My wife mentioned that we loved going out for dessert – sometimes no meal, just dessert. So it sort of clicked: why not a dessert hotel?”

“Not something that was Willy Wonka whacky or tacky,” adds Hachem quickly. “Something that was really refined and elegant. It is actually quite subtle and not in-your-face with pink lollipops and things. The design had to be well-considered and planned and it had to have longevity, so I think if we had gone for the loud and colourful option, it would have had a very short life span. Hence, the clean lines, elegant furnishing, interior architecture – and yes, with a HINT of the whimsical.”

In the lobby, it takes a moment to realize the benches are shaped like biscuit wafers, lollies and marshmallows. You will need another minute to take in the magnificent life-size wirework horse statue that is hitched to the check-in desk, shaped a little like a fairy-tale coach.

Their restaurant serves regular meals but desserts are special. It is appropriately called Om Nom (remember the Cookie Monster?), where talented French-trained patissière, Christy Tania (whose parents, incidentally, are Indonesian) has been allowed total creative freedom and her desserts are already famous.

A perfectionist, Hachem strove to make a new look while not abandoning the original warehouse elements of the building. “But the hotel, to me, looked cold,” he says. “Hence the new timber finishes, the leather and the textiles. We wanted texture instead of techno.” Oh, and for people who know the hotel, he has redesigned the roof but kept the iconic pool that overhangs the building.

Fady Hachem is very tall, lean; dressed carefully in clothes that are obviously by good designers but chosen to give a casual, almost anti-suit effect. He is the son of French and Lebanese parents, born in Australia.
His design career began sort of by accident. He was only 19 when he and a cousin opened a bar. “We could not afford professional help so I designed it myself,” he recalls. “I worked very hard, sometimes sleeping over at the place but it paid off and it became a huge success.”

“This led to my working on a real commercial project called the Bond Lounge Bar. It was a big project; the brass mesh curtains alone cost around $180,000. A bit daunting for a tyro but we ended up winning a national design award. That was some years ago and we have just been involved in totally revamping it.”

“I should mention that everything we include in our interiors is hand-picked and hand-crafted,” says Hachem. “So, everything is made to order and we try to be really local and we search Melbourne especially for talented people and interesting products.”

Since then, Hachem has travelled back and forth between Melbourne and projects overseas, consulting on high-end residential and commercial developments, mostly in the Middle East. In Dubai, he designed the lavish Japanese restaurant, Kitsune, its sleek furnishings a radical take on traditional Japanese art and craft forms and include various suites of highly unconventional chairs and tables that were made exclusively for the venue.

Back in Melbourne, he now heads a team of 30 designers and architects who are working on several property, entertainment and hotel developments. His style is difficult to pin down, some is traditional, some super-modern, some theatrical. I wonder if interesting bloodline ever influences his style?

“I think there is a certain flamboyance,” he chuckles. “Sometimes we are not too subtle with our designs, particularly in the entertainment and hospitality fields. You have to be a little bit bold in your approach and it does too depend on the personality of the client. Sometimes they are more reserved; other times they are really out there. So my Middle Eastern background does come through sometimes. We have just finished of project called Baroq House in Melbourne: lots of Rococo. Some reviews have called our style ‘luxury escapism.’”

I ask him about his own city apartment in Melbourne. I cannot but think it might resemble a harem. He laughs easily. “Well, it is very contemporary. I don’t like to live in mess and clutter so our apartment is clean and even a little bit stark in terms of furniture but I love that. I would like to have better objects and, if that means less of them, I would rather go for quality over clutter.”

What about Asia? The design there is amazing at the moment; I ask if he would you like to expand his business above the Equator. “I would really love to move into Asia. Firstly, I love the climate,” he smiles as he shifts his gaze out the large window onto an overcast, rainy and very cold day in Melbourne. “We actually are doing some work in the Philippines at the moment, some residential homes. But I would love to move up there, particularly if some hotel and restaurant projects came up. The culture is different so therefore it would require a different approach to design but I would embrace and really enjoy those challenges.”