This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Legendary St Kilda Venue The Espy, Revitalised

Interiors

A team of owners, architects, and one amazing stylist walk into a bar… and miraculously restore it to its former glory!

We’re not talking about just any bar, but St Kilda’s historic Esplanade Hotel. An iconic establishment since opening in the 1870s, its doors closed three-and-a-half-years ago as a team of passionate people got to work on an astounding renovation project.

Sand Hill Road’s Matt Mullins, and stylist Eleisha Gray fill us in on this epic undertaking, and reveal just how The Espy has been so pivotal in making Melbourne the cultural capital that it is today!

21st December, 2018

The Esplanade Hotel gets a throughtful refresh! Photo – Shannon McGrath.

Inside the restored and renovated Espy. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Shannon McGrath.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Elle Murrell
Friday 21st December 2018

‘What I have loved most about this project, is that The Espy already had its own story… we wanted to bring this building back to its original feel.’ – Eleisha Gray.

The Esplanade Hotel is as expansive as it is loved. Built in 1878, much of this St Kilda landmark fell into disrepair over the decades, with many of its zones closed to the public for 60 years… Until now!

Over the past two years, interior stylist and designer Eleisha Gray has been scouting the globe to fit out The Espy. Her days have been punctuated with eBay alerts and hard-won auctions, sourcing an ensemble of French antique chandeliers and wall scones from local antique stores, re-purposing mantles from old homesteads, reupholstering vintage chairs, and hunting through European antique markets.

Working with Matt Mullins, Director of venue-reviving hospitality group Sand Hill Road and ‘the creative visionary behind the project’, as well as Techne architecture and interior design, Eleisha’s furnishing has centred around honouring the heritage aesthetic of this historic building.

In 1877, some 25 years after Victoria gained its independence as a colony and the gold rush flooded wealth into the city, a local politician bought the site, planning to build three terrace houses. ‘His architects, God love them, had something grander in mind, and convinced him to turn his houses into an enormous, magnificent hotel,’ retells Matt. ‘When it opened it was the luxury resort hotel of St. Kilda, even Melbourne. It was grand, it was palatial, it was beautiful… and it had this extraordinary view out over the bay.’

Eleisha, who has a background in TV commercial art direction and set design, recalls initially sitting down with Matt to go through historical photographs. ‘We talked about how we wanted to bring this building back to its original feel, and that was the Victorian era (though the extension on the front is Art Deco). This all came into play, and I really wanted to recreate that feeling of British grandeur.’ she tells. Elements of original wallpaper and hand-drawn art peep out from distressed walls. Meticulously enhanced by specialist painter Meg Milton, these features reinforce the old-world ambience of the space.

The new-and-improved Espy ground floor now comprises a terrace (with retractable glass roof!) and three bars under new ceilings: the public, the main, and the studio, which is also set up for podcast recording! These areas are set alongside The Espy Kitchen and the infamous Gershwin Room, a mecca for live performances that has been the cornerstone of Melbourne’s rock and punk scenes over the last half-century. Though this ballroom was not part of the original build, having been added in the early 20th century, Matt gushes that it hasn’t lost any of its charm in the refresh either.

Moving to the first floor via the old grand staircase, what was once hotel rooms 50 years ago (and storage space ever since) has been completely reimagined! Today, this level hosts Mya Tiger Restaurant serving Cantonese cuisine, and also Mya Tiger Cocktail Bar, band rooms and an unforgettable secret powder room.

Above, on the sealed-off-for-60-years second floor, you can find The Ghost of Alfred Felton: Pharmacy Bar; ritzy Gallery Bar; and a library. So, who is this Alfred Felton, and why is he being honoured? A British immigrant, successful businessman and art lover, Mr Felton lived the last 20 years of his life at the hotel. It was here that he wrote his will, which gifted his entire life savings (the equivalent of 100 million today) to local charities and The National Gallery of Victoria. This bequest contributed to the acquisition of what is now an estimated three-billion dollars worth of NGV’s permanent collection, including one of the most valuable artworks in Australia: Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra (1743-44). An extraordinary man truly ahead of his time, he single-handedly stimulated our city’s cultural economy, making it attractive to myriad creatives for years to come (discover more about this here).

In keeping with Alfred’s legacy, art abounds throughout the hotel, just as it did in his rooms up until 1904. There are countless vintage oil paintings on display through the hotel’s six-levels, in addition to two incredible exotic murals, harking back to British Empire outposts, by Desmond Sweeney.

‘What I have loved most about this project, is that The Espy already had its own story, and Alfred Felton had his own story there… I could just run with these! I have been able to help create a real space that people can walk around in, and it’s not going to be pulled down at the end of the day,’ Eleisha tells. This comes as great comfort to the vocal community that has rallied for the venue’s preservation. After decades under threat, it’s one of the good news stories of 2018 to see The Esplanade Hotel returned to its palatial status by Sand Hill Road, Eleisha and their collaborators. Call in for a celebratory flagon!

The Esplanade Hotel
11 The Esplanade
St Kilda, Victoria

You can find some great little videos on the renovation project and the venue’s history (including former resident Pat Hart’s beautiful tour) here. And there is also a wonderful podcast, Hotel Esplanade, hosted by artistic director Janenne Willis, featuring key characters from the hotel’s past and renovation.

This Week

Creative People

The Mother and Daughter Duo Uncovering Perth’s Hidden Terrazzo Treasures

A community exhibition uncovering Fremantle residences containing terrazzo floors by master artisan, Giuseppe Scolaro - as part of the city'...
51:47

Podcast

Country Road’s Managing Director On The Stickiness Of Sustainable Fashion, On TDF Talks

In this podcast conversation, Elle Roseby talks leading one of the country’s most iconic brands through a new age in the fashion industry....
Lucy Feagins
  7 hours ago

Gardens

A WOW-Factor 'Secret Garden' In Blairgowrie

Ian Barker Gardens creates a private outdoor sanctuary on the Mornington Peninsula.
Sasha Gattermayr
  17 hours ago

Interiors

Get The Look: Dark + Moody Bathrooms And Kitchens

All the product and styling advice you need to achieve the dark, moody bathrooms and kitchen interiors trend, brought to you Oliveri.

TDF Design Awards

The Sensational Interior Design Finalists In The TDF + Laminex Design Awards 2021!

The 12 incredible residential projects in the running to win the Interior Design award at the TDF + Laminex Design Awards 2021, presented by...

Interiors

A Colour-Drenched, 'Grandmillennial' Home In North Sydney

Bold colour, and both English and Moroccan influences come together in this North Sydney home by Lisa Burdus.

News

The TDF ‘ALL THE THINGS’ 500k Giveaway!

Help us celebrate half a million (!) Insta followers with epic prize packs for three lucky readers! 

News

Shop These Plush Woollen Rugs And Get A Special TDF Discount!

Carpet Court’s customisable rug range is made with 100% New Zealand wool and can be cut to suit the size, shape and colour of your interio...
Sponsored

News

Get Luxe Designer Furniture For Up To 15% Off!

Designer furniture retailer DOMO is discounting in-stock and custom items from HC28 + HC28 Cosmopolitan.
Sponsored

Studio Visit

Two Best Friends' Lockdown Hobby Turned Cult Candle Business

Creative entrepreneurs Ruby Kannava and Emma Cutri pooled their respective small business knowledge to found Blazed Wax - a colourful, cult-...

Interiors

A Glam ’60s-Inspired Makeover For A Drab Suburban Home

Kaiko Design transform a forgettable suburban space into a ritzy family residence, with big personality!
Sasha Gattermayr
  9 hours ago

On The Market

A Light + Bright Beachside Home Hits The Market

This property in Sunrise Beach, Noosa is a full time home that feels like a holiday home - and it’s ready for new inhabitants!

Indigenous Art

15 Excellent Indigenous Art Centres To Support And Celebrate!

We've spoken to some experts, and pulled together this guide on purchasing Aboriginal artwork ethically, and some ideas of where to find it!...

Architecture

Everything You Need To Know About Working With An Architect

Four of Australia's best architects answer your frequently asked questions, from what an architect does, to how much they cost!

Homes

A Designer’s 1970s Bells Beach Dream Home!

The incredible eclectic home of interior designer Léo Terrando and Jessica Watts, on Victoria's surf coast.

View Comments

Similar Stories

Interiors

A Virtual Visit Of Como By Design

Explore the crème-de-la-crème of Melbourne’s creative community in an iconic location.

Interiors

What's Old Is New Again

Our interiors columnist Lauren Li schools us on incorporating antique furnishings into the modern home, in the lead up to Como By Design.
Lauren Li

Art

Spring1883 Opens At The Hotel Windsor


Patricia Piccinini, Ben Quilty, Juan Davila and more, at Melbourne's contemporary art fair with a difference, opening today.
Elle Murrell

This Week

Gardens

A WOW-Factor 'Secret Garden' In Blairgowrie

Ian Barker Gardens creates a private outdoor sanctuary on the Mornington Peninsula.
Sasha Gattermayr
  17 hours ago

On The Market

A Light + Bright Beachside Home Hits The Market

This property in Sunrise Beach, Noosa is a full time home that feels like a holiday home - and it’s ready for new inhabitants!
51:47

Podcast

Country Road’s Managing Director On The Stickiness Of Sustainable Fashion, On TDF Talks

In this podcast conversation, Elle Roseby talks leading one of the country’s most iconic brands through a new age in the fashion industry....
Lucy Feagins
  7 hours ago

News

The TDF ‘ALL THE THINGS’ 500k Giveaway!

Help us celebrate half a million (!) Insta followers with epic prize packs for three lucky readers! 

Indigenous Art

15 Excellent Indigenous Art Centres To Support And Celebrate!

We've spoken to some experts, and pulled together this guide on purchasing Aboriginal artwork ethically, and some ideas of where to find it!...

Studio Visit

Two Best Friends' Lockdown Hobby Turned Cult Candle Business

Creative entrepreneurs Ruby Kannava and Emma Cutri pooled their respective small business knowledge to found Blazed Wax - a colourful, cult-...

TDF Design Awards

The Sensational Interior Design Finalists In The TDF + Laminex Design Awards 2021!

The 12 incredible residential projects in the running to win the Interior Design award at the TDF + Laminex Design Awards 2021, presented by...

News

Shop These Plush Woollen Rugs And Get A Special TDF Discount!

Carpet Court’s customisable rug range is made with 100% New Zealand wool and can be cut to suit the size, shape and colour of your interio...
Sponsored

Interiors

Get The Look: Dark + Moody Bathrooms And Kitchens

All the product and styling advice you need to achieve the dark, moody bathrooms and kitchen interiors trend, brought to you Oliveri.

Interiors

A Glam ’60s-Inspired Makeover For A Drab Suburban Home

Kaiko Design transform a forgettable suburban space into a ritzy family residence, with big personality!
Sasha Gattermayr
  9 hours ago

News

Get Luxe Designer Furniture For Up To 15% Off!

Designer furniture retailer DOMO is discounting in-stock and custom items from HC28 + HC28 Cosmopolitan.
Sponsored

Interiors

A Colour-Drenched, 'Grandmillennial' Home In North Sydney

Bold colour, and both English and Moroccan influences come together in this North Sydney home by Lisa Burdus.

Homes

A Designer’s 1970s Bells Beach Dream Home!

The incredible eclectic home of interior designer Léo Terrando and Jessica Watts, on Victoria's surf coast.

Architecture

Everything You Need To Know About Working With An Architect

Four of Australia's best architects answer your frequently asked questions, from what an architect does, to how much they cost!

Creative People

The Mother and Daughter Duo Uncovering Perth’s Hidden Terrazzo Treasures

A community exhibition uncovering Fremantle residences containing terrazzo floors by master artisan, Giuseppe Scolaro - as part of the city'...

Similar Stories

Interiors

A Virtual Visit Of Como By Design

Explore the crème-de-la-crème of Melbourne’s creative community in an iconic location.

Interiors

What's Old Is New Again

How to seamlessly incorporate antique elements into the modern home.
Lauren Li

Art

Spring1883 Opens At The Hotel Windsor


Patricia Piccinini, Ben Quilty, Juan Davila and more, at Melbourne's contemporary art fair with a difference, opening today.
Elle Murrell

The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.