The striking design of Circa’s bar (below) and restaurant is sympathetic with the original building.

The striking design of Circa’s bar (below) and restaurant is sympathetic with the original building.

Interior designer Paul Hecker took the bones of an early 20th-century hotel and turned it into a sophisticated dining experience.

“The brief was to create something sophisticated but still casual. Because it’s close to the beach in St Kilda, we had to ensure people could come in and feel comfortable wearing thongs but still have a sophisticated dining experience.

The original building was early 20th century. It fell into decay in the ’70s then Frank and John Van Haandel bought it in the mid-’90s, gradually refurbished it and put in the restaurant.

They wanted to keep the bones of the original building so we didn’t want to do too much. It was about leaving the building intact so we decided on four strong devices that would carry the whole design. These were: the black sheer curtain that surrounds the whole wall; the craypot light fixtures that run through the space and create that textural, casual ‘beachy’ feel; the big silk curtains at one end of the room, as well as all the white, leather banquette seating.

Lighting plays a huge part in the restaurant too. We wanted to create a fresh and easy atmosphere during the day and an entirely different theatrical experience at night.

It’s exactly the same interior but because the building is orientated north and west, it’s flooded with natural light all day but as soon as the sun goes down it’s transformed into this dramatic space. And we used theatre lighting to focus on certain things and let everything else recede into shadow. That’s the key—trying to create that sense of theatre and doing it without making it too slick.

The room is divided by a sliding glass door so it can be broken down into two spaces or opened up into one large space. The feel is intimate because you sit in booths. We designed a sofa that runs around the walls. All the furniture is loose so it can all be removed without doing any damage.

Circa’s interior is a  different style to the original structure but I think it sits comfortably inside it because of the neutral palate. It’s all white with beautiful recycled timber floors. We tried to keep the palate earthy then inject controlled elements of colour like the pink curtains at one end of the room.

Original features still remain, like glass windows with the frosted Prince of Wales logo. We tried to be sensitive in the way we added elements so they worked with the existing building.”

Interior designer
Paul Hecker at Hecker Phelan Guthrie, Melbourne.

The Prince Hotel
2 Acland St, St Kilda, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9536 1122
Area: 140 square metres
Seats: 120

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