Published in Artichoke, Australia's Interiors and Design Magazine, Issue #53 December 2015 - architectureau.com/magazines/artichoke/
Words by Freya Lombardo
" If you’ve skied or snowboarded with any enthusiasm, you know the kiss of crisp, mountain air on your cheeks, the thrill of charging down the slopes, the delight of riding the first lift and the bolt to catch the last lift for one more run as the sun disappears behind the summit. Once all that adrenaline has coursed through your system, you’ll also know the physical exhaustion that takes hold once evening descends. That’s when the apres-ski experience really comes into its own. Think open fires, a welcoming bar and unpretentious dining that makes it easy to settle in and enjoy the company of family, friends and fellow snow lovers.
Phase one of a major refurbishment has just amplified the apres credentials of Astra Lodge at Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps. Architect Grant Amon has distilled the essence of a European ski chalet with that of a hunting lodge and a gentlemen’s club, while respecting robust local materials and artisan expertise.
Amon accepted the honour to revisit and reinterpret the interiors of the building he originally designed in 1988 as a young graduate with Hayball Leonard Stent (now Hayball). Back then, client Roy Morris and his wife Pamela envisioned Astra to be the pinnacle of ski lodge accommodation in Falls Creek, if not in Australia. Morris’s friendship with Len Hayball proved fortuitous for the young Amon, as the client knew he had a strong interest in skiing and ski fields. “They looked at me and said ‘Right, you’re it – let’s go!’” recalls Amon. So began an enviable opportunity to gain solid experience on a commercial development of twenty-five hotel rooms where the emphasis was firmly on the lounge, the pool, a grand foyer and creating an alpine ambience.
Amon’s affinity with alpine climes was forged early. “I’m half Austrian. My father arrived in Australia from Vienna in the early fifties and when we were young he would haul us up to the mountains for a couple of weeks each year. My first skiing experiences were all at Falls Creek so there was a definite affection and association with the place that I could draw upon,” he explains.
The original building features curved walls made of stone sourced from local quarries, a sloped roof, projecting eaves and a giant chimney. Cedar-framed French doors that open onto a curling balcony take advantage of the north-west orientation and views of the summit. The appeal of the aspect and natural materials endures and informs the palette of the revitalized interiors.
“Initially, all the money was spent up front and the rooms were a bit compact by comparison. It’s a privilege to be invited back to revisit this building and give a number of areas the attention they deserve,” says Amon. Astra also benefits from three decades of hospitality projects that the architect has completed with his own office since the lodge was built. “Hopefully, a lot of that expertise filters through and shows in this current incarnation.”
Inside, an oversized flagstone fireplace beckons guests and visitors into a newly programmed bar, lounge and restaurant space. That well-deserved beer or schnapps is guaranteed to taste better when downed at the wraparound bar, with bespoke leather swivel stools and a dark slab of soft-honed granite. Behind the bar, bottle racks backlit in crimson Marblo resin echo the warmth of the fireplace, providing a cosy invitation for patrons to linger. Overhead, a mountainscape silhouette of timber veneer panels crowns the space. This eye-catching feature is crafted in plywood and subtle gradations of natural tones reference the surrounding high country vistas out to Spion Kopje and the Bogong High Plains. The topmost layer recalls the silvery pelt of burnt gum trees leading to Falls Creek that are the ghosts of past bushfires. Battening boards that line the bar and booths are treated in black tar paint, while steel footrests were deliberately left outside to rust so that they’d have a patina of age. Large format herringbone floorboards complement the original cedar linings to walls and ceilings. “Nothing’s too polished,” notes Amon. “Keeping the palette fairly rudimentary calls to mind the welcoming tones of old-school sixties ski lodges.”
Multiple zones across split levels encourage easy entertaining throughout the space. Columns near the bar almost disappear thanks to bronze mirrored fasciae. Reflections hint at other areas to explore. Beyond the bar, guests can relax in leather-upholstered lounges close to the fireplace or adjourn to the lower lounge where banquettes are built in. Others gravitate to the island buffet bench that informally separates lounge and dining areas. When appetites stretch beyond bar snacks, the restaurant area accommodates up to sixty diners. Lighting throughout is discreet and subdued, moulding the spaces and adding to the relaxed ambience. Behind the scenes, a completely new commercial kitchen, scullery and waiters’ stations are the result of Amon’s consultation with Astra’s chefs, who attest to vastly improved functionality.
Individual elements show a craft-driven flair that adds distinction to the project. Guests often remark on the foyer’s striking chandelier. Designers Sally Mill and Noel Crombie have fashioned a snowflake-shaped cascade from silver and copper-plated leaves taken from colanders and steamers. Elsewhere, snowflake feature lights, elk horn coat racks and a deer-hide-wrapped column are unmistakably alpine artisanal totems.
Downstairs, the pool area retains its stone feature wall and cedar lining. Freshly mosaic-tiled columns pick up the aqua hues of the water. Dated terracotta floor tiles have been replaced with Brazilian slate underfoot. Lights embedded between flagstones highlight the texture of the rock face. Clever lighting in the pool and spanning the rafters also adds drama to the atmosphere of this grotto-like space.
Phase two of Astra’s refurbishment continues over summer and autumn in preparation for the 2016 snow season. One of the main objectives is to address the balance between hospitality, accommodation, back-of-house functions and access. In the existing building, smaller hotel-style rooms will be completely upgraded and balconies will be added to the front-facing rooms. The family suite will transform into a day spa with luxurious treatment rooms and a hairdressing salon. Off the foyer, a former vodka bar will become an adult lounge area and reading room, while another underused room will provide a dedicated kids’ playroom. “Once it is complete, there’ll be a better balance of accommodation and plenty of places to congregate or retreat,” says Amon.
An ambitious extension to the south-east end of the building is also planned and will comprise larger apartment-style suites, penthouses and a new entry with improved ski-in, ski-out ingress and disabled amenities. “Ultimately, this extension will reciprocate the original form and feel more expressive of the original intent.”
Already, Grant Amon’s work better connects Astra to its alpine setting and brings a level of comfortable luxury to a lodge that has possibly the strongest architectural pedigree of all the accommodation at Falls Creek. Bookings are sure to flow as steadily as the schnapps and friendly conversations. A "