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

News

A New Handmade Homewares Brand Launches With A Knock-Out First Collection!

Ancient artefacts and modernist interiors have inspired this experience local textile designer’s first homewares collection.
Sasha Gattermayr

News

Seljak Brand Releases A New Wool Blanket Made From Recycled Jumpers

The pioneering Australian label releases a new recycled blanket spun from old woollen jumpers and garments.

Stays

A Modernist-Inspired Getaway On The Mornington Peninsula

This architecturally-designed getaway nestled in the sand dunes behind St Andrews beach is your next holiday destination!
Sasha Gattermayr

Architecture

A Legendary Local Design Writer’s Renovated 1930s Home

Two art deco apartments in South Yarra owned by reverred Melbourne writer Stephen Crafti have been transformed into one unified home, by Rob...

On The Market

A Charming Victorian Cottage, Turned Contemporary Family Home (With Two Rooftop Terraces!)

A sleek renovation in one of Melbourne’s most coveted inner city locales revives this heritage home - and it's on the market!
Sasha Gattermayr

Gardens

A Cascading, Compact Garden That Envelopes This Sydney Home

Greenery spills in from every angle in this suburban garden designed by Bell Landscapes!
Sasha Gattermayr

News

Street Artist Rone's First Book Is Released!

Read all about it – a new book chronicles the prolific Melbourne artist’s two decades on the Australian art scene.

Family

Designer, Businesswoman and Mother Fatuma Ndenzako Weaves Dual Cultures Into Something Beautiful

We chat to one half of the sister-duo behind Collective Closets about motherhood, her thriving fashion label, and growing up African in Alto...
Ashe Davenport

Work Space

A Monumental New Headquarters For Fashion Trailblazers Incu

Take a tour of Incu's dreamy new headquarters in Sydney, incorporating retail store and head office, designed by Akin Atelier.
Sasha Gattermayr

Homes

A Photographer’s Rustic Country Home (With Its Own Private Bar!)

The charming Macedon Ranges home of photographer Marnie Hawson, and her husband Ryan.

News

An Architecture-Inspired Furniture Exhibition Opens This Week In Canberra

Two designers launch a collection of conceptual furniture inspired by the stylistic patterns of Japanese streetscapes!

Studio Visit

Ornate, Oozing Ceramics By Ebony Russell

A Sydney artist exploring the space between decorative art and feminine power.
Sasha Gattermayr

TDF Design Awards

Announcing Our 2020 The Design Files + Laminex Design Awards FINALISTS!

It's a big one today, people! From Architects, to Landscape Designers, Furniture Designers, Craft practitioners and more... say hello to the...
Lucy Feagins
  14 hours ago

Architecture

Go Inside Australia’s Most Incredible Architectural Homes - For A Great Cause!

To replace their annual fundraiser, The Robin Boyd Foundation launches Virtual Open House, offering the chance to video-tour through award-w...
Sasha Gattermayr
  6 hours ago

Creative People

Terrazzo Queen Tantri Mustika's New Shop + Studio!

The big-dreaming Melbourne ceramicist has just opened the doors to her new retail store in Collingwood Yards, Melbourne!

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 Cascading, Compact Garden That Envelopes This Sydney Home

Greenery spills in from every angle in this suburban garden designed by Bell Landscapes!
Sasha Gattermayr

Studio Visit

Ornate, Oozing Ceramics By Ebony Russell

A Sydney artist exploring the space between decorative art and feminine power.
Sasha Gattermayr

On The Market

A Charming Victorian Cottage, Turned Contemporary Family Home (With Two Rooftop Terraces!)

A sleek renovation in one of Melbourne’s most coveted inner city locales revives this heritage home - and it's on the market!
Sasha Gattermayr

Family

Designer, Businesswoman and Mother Fatuma Ndenzako Weaves Dual Cultures Into Something Beautiful

We chat to one half of the sister-duo behind Collective Closets about motherhood, her thriving fashion label, and growing up African in Alto...
Ashe Davenport

TDF Design Awards

Announcing Our 2020 The Design Files + Laminex Design Awards FINALISTS!

It's a big one today, people! From Architects, to Landscape Designers, Furniture Designers, Craft practitioners and more... say hello to the...
Lucy Feagins
  14 hours ago

Architecture

Go Inside Australia’s Most Incredible Architectural Homes - For A Great Cause!

To replace their annual fundraiser, The Robin Boyd Foundation launches Virtual Open House, offering the chance to video-tour through award-w...
Sasha Gattermayr
  6 hours ago

Work Space

A Monumental New Headquarters For Fashion Trailblazers Incu

Take a tour of Incu's dreamy new headquarters in Sydney, incorporating retail store and head office, designed by Akin Atelier.
Sasha Gattermayr

Homes

A Photographer’s Rustic Country Home (With Its Own Private Bar!)

The charming Macedon Ranges home of photographer Marnie Hawson, and her husband Ryan.

Architecture

A Legendary Local Design Writer’s Renovated 1930s Home

Two art deco apartments in South Yarra owned by reverred Melbourne writer Stephen Crafti have been transformed into one unified home, by Rob...

News

An Architecture-Inspired Furniture Exhibition Opens This Week In Canberra

Two designers launch a collection of conceptual furniture inspired by the stylistic patterns of Japanese streetscapes!

Stays

A Modernist-Inspired Getaway On The Mornington Peninsula

This architecturally-designed getaway nestled in the sand dunes behind St Andrews beach is your next holiday destination!
Sasha Gattermayr

News

A New Handmade Homewares Brand Launches With A Knock-Out First Collection!

Ancient artefacts and modernist interiors have inspired this experience local textile designer’s first homewares collection.
Sasha Gattermayr

Creative People

Terrazzo Queen Tantri Mustika's New Shop + Studio!

The big-dreaming Melbourne ceramicist has just opened the doors to her new retail store in Collingwood Yards, Melbourne!

News

Seljak Brand Releases A New Wool Blanket Made From Recycled Jumpers

The pioneering Australian label releases a new recycled blanket spun from old woollen jumpers and garments.

News

Street Artist Rone's First Book Is Released!

Read all about it – a new book chronicles the prolific Melbourne artist’s two decades on the Australian art scene.

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