Pier to Pier

Ovolo’s $20m refresh is a work of art.

Story: Lucie Robson

Ovolo Woolloomooloo: 6 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo NSW 
(02) 9331 9000 or

Down on the 100-year old finger wharf in picturesque Woolloomooloo, a new hotel has docked. On the edge of the navy ships and the expanse of the sparkling harbour, Ovolo Woolloomooloo has smart TVs in its boutique, city-view rooms, artwork in almost every eyeline and deluxe rock star suites for those who really want to party like it’s 1999.

The Hong Kong-based Ovolo company now operates three hotels in Australia. International design firm Hassell, led by Senior Associate Matthew Sheargold, was enlisted. Hassell had previously designed Ovolo Laneways in Melbourne.

The wharf is a huge timber structure with busy restaurants along one side, and a public thoroughfare within. Ovolo Woolloomooloo occupies a quarter of the length. Key to Hassell’s design approach was activating the large space and making it feel welcome to hotel guests and casual passersby alike.

Until the year 2000 the wharf was largely abandoned. It first became the W Hotel, then the Blue Hotel by Taj Group which sold it to Ovolo for $32m. Ovolo has now sunk a further $20m into refreshing its investment.

Sheargold felt the previous hotels hadn’t added enough excitement to the unique space. The wharf became a canvas for something new. “There was a huge opportunity to inject a whole lot of life into that space,” he explains. “It was a bit of a wind tunnel. It was also a huge space, so the volume of the space really dwarfs people. It’s hot in summer, it’s cold in winter. So there’s a lot of challenges going on, and the biggest one was this: how do we activate the space and draw people back in?”


Hassell worked from the outside in, crafting the guest journey from the point of arrival at the taxi stand. “There were no triggers to indicate you’d arrived at a hotel,” Sheargold says. “We brought an entry rug out to the street along with lighting, planting, signage,” he continues. “And it’s an open space, and anyone can walk through there, but all these triggers are now there to announce you’ve arrived at a hotel.”

The entrance hall features trees festooned with fairy lights and a mix of different shades and textures in the light fittings and loose furniture. A cluster of silver eggs hang high from the ceiling, referencing the ‘ovo’ in the hotel’s name — new life/rebirth. In the hallways are housekeeping cabinets decorated with colourful graffiti. Eye-catching details abound amid the original industrial wooden elements.

The design team began activating the atrium space. They added a new concierge facility in the lower lobby and relocated the reception desk to the top of the entry stairs. Then came the three huge pavilions, 3.5m high: one for reception, one as a living room and one for the dining area or ‘kitchen table’.

“In addition to housing those functions, they help us manage the scale of the space, so guests are no longer just sitting in this cavernous void of an atrium,” Sheargold explains. “Which can be really overpowering. So there are options now. You can sit in a much more intimate space and still enjoying the heritage value of the building.” As the wharf is heritage listed and can’t be substantially altered, the pavilions provide walls for art, as well as space for lighting, heating and cooling. And they make the place more interesting. “Treating it like a laneway really has connected it in a much stronger way to the building,” says Sheargold, who names the atrium as his favourite part of the finished product. “We literally created a tree-lined little avenue.”


Ovolo’s slogan is ‘effortless living’, described by General Manager Adam Taloni thus: “It means you just arrive and relax. It means everything you could possibly need as our hotel guest is already ready for you as soon as you step in.” When one checks into the Ovolo, everything is included — breakfast, minibar and entertainment.

Guests enjoy a full audiovisual environment with integrated smart TVs and bluetooth speakers. On the top floor are two special penthouse split-level suites, named for rock bands INXS and AC/DC. These feature the best city views, a dancefloor, cocktail bars and huge showers to share with your groupies.

The new function facilities (completed as we were going to press) will be flexible, and a “mix of old and new”, according to Taloni.


Ovolo’s branding embraces what is bright, young and aware. “They’ve got a really lovely young energy, and we’ve carried that through in the palette, the artwork packaging, and there’s over a thousand pieces of art in that hotel,” Sheargold says. Asked whether the tone is rock ’n’ roll and generally informal, he agrees. “And it’s funny, because sometimes ‘informal’ can have a connotation of being a bit lax, but they’re so professional. Professional but relaxed and fun and really very nice.”

The opportunity to express such branding on a uniquely antique structure was exciting for Hassell. “So much of our detailing is born out of the building’s original details, and then we’ve given them a contemporary twist,” Sheargold adds. “Every detail, we’re looking at the building and then we’re looking through an Ovolo filter.”


Hassell: (03) 8102 3000 or


The key AV challenge was to bring some musical atmosphere into the huge lobby space, while complying with the strictures of the heritage listing — leave the Ryobi in the van, as you’re not screwing anything into the historical timbers. The head electrical contractor was Alland Group which worked closely with the builder, Sphere. CAVS was engaged for the specialist AV job of installing the background music system. Chris Smith and his team knew they had a tricky task ahead of them with the limited availability of loudspeaker positions — the solution was really quite ingenious.

The client required seven separate audio zones. A music server connected to a digital zone controller and DSP unit (a Biamp Tesira), on into Crown CTi amplifiers powering Electrovoice EViD surfacemount speakers. Easy-to-use Biamp wall-panel volume controllers are dotted about, while a password-protected AMX 10-inch touchpanel provides mothership control of all the zones. A Williams Sound infrared hearing augmentation system ensures the lobby is compliant with the relevant regulations.

And how did CAVS negotiate the speaker placement problem? By mounting some of the larger EViD loudspeakers in the lobby trees! Like I said, ingenious.

CAVS: (02) 9648 0583 or

Alland Group: 1300 255 263 or

Bosch (Electrovoice): 1300 026 724 or

Hills (Biamp, Williams Sound): 1800 720 000 or