Auckland: Classy old dame

By Kerri Jackson

Hotel DeBrett. Photo / Supplied
Hotel DeBrett. Photo / Supplied

I see the light, I see the light," a small boy cries as he nibbles on his bread roll.

His fellow diners look wildly around, perhaps expecting some kind of epiphany over their early meal at Kitchen restaurant in Auckland's stylishly revamped Hotel DeBrett.

The apparently prophetic boy is right, you can see the light - the still bright sunshine - through the glass ceiling. It floods this atrium space with natural light which somehow - along with the open fireplace and comfy armchairs - makes the space extra inviting, even homely if your home was as chic and stylish as you'd like it to be.

"Why isn't our living room like this?" asks the other half, bemused and a little put out.

"Because you refuse to get a second job, dear. Let's have another wine and just pretend it is."

The other kind of light you can see from here is that coming from the unusual but very cool chandeliers designed and made by Auckland artist Judy Darragh.

They're created from copper pipe and recycled lampshades salvaged from the building before its stunning makeover. They're like a timeline of the hotel's varied and colourful history, the old made new again and the perfect metaphor for the hotel itself.

In 2007 the then-vacant building, on the corner of High St and Shortland St in the heart of Auckland's CBD, was bought by John Courtney and Michelle Deery with hoteliers Arnauld and Su Kindt, who set about tastefully restoring DeBrett to glory.

Built in 1849 the then-wooden building was Auckland's first hotel, The Commercial. Gutted by fire in the 1920s, the original structure was replaced with the stone one that still stands on the site.

It's a building firmly entrenched in Auckland's social history. Taken over by Dominion Breweries in the 1950s, it was revamped and reopened as Hotel DeBrett. From then it grew in popularity as a local watering hole until the 80s when it was revamped again as a one-stop entertainment spot, with four bars (of those the legendary house bar survives and has been stylishly madeover), 25 guest rooms and the famous Delmonico's restaurant.

Today, with the street level occupied by retail, the only real sign of the hotel is two fairly discreet entrances - the main on High St to the hotel foyer, and a stairway on O'Connell St up to the restaurant. It's street presence gives little indication of the luxury within. And that's somehow fitting because inside the hotel there is very little sign of the outside world.

The beautifully judged blend of Victorian, Deco and modern fittings, the spiral staircase, the glass-lined lift, mean stepping in here is a little like stepping back in time.

Follow the plush and distinctive turquoise, brown and yellow striped carpet - designed by Deery and made from New Zealand wool - through the hotel's labrynthine corridors to the guest rooms. Each of the 25 - a range of suites and apartments; some single, some split-level - is unique in its fittings and layout while still meeting that elegant design brief of "classic meets modern".

The beds are vast and comfy, and the carpet so squishy if you found yourself bumped to the floor that wouldn't be so bad either.

Some of the rooms even open to that spectacular atrium, and are accessible by an impressive overbridge. And there's always the retreat of the drawing room; a cosy snug lined with books, newspapers, magazines, a television and DVDs - plus a collection of fine wines.

It's a space particularly popular with the business travellers who frequent the hotel ... the perfect spot to unwind at the end of a frenetic day - perhaps a chance to chat with your fellow guests.

All in all, Hotel DeBrett feels like a classy old dame - back, with the very best facelift after a messy divorce, ready to restore herself at the centre of the very classiest of social scenes.

Kerri Jackson was a guest of Hotel DeBrett.

- Herald on Sunday

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