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As a Kiwi lad in his first job in the UK, Stewart Harris worked for betting company Ladbrokes, setting up bingo halls around the country – orange walls and brown lino were the go.
Then he had a lightbulb moment – tasked with transforming a derelict opera house he rebelled against the orange/brown and retained the red velvet seats and chandeliers.
Fast-forward 40-odd years after a lifetime of travelling the globe as chief designer for the world’s top hotel brands and he’s passionate about his latest project. It’s a luxury multi-million-dollar refurbishment of Queenstown hospitality icon St Moritz, bringing elegant, residential, handsome and desirable touches to the hotel’s rooms and suites.
Call it déjà vu -- twenty years ago he worked with the hotel’s first GM and owner after convincing them a ‘bog standard’ fitout wouldn’t do the job for the property, Queenstown or location.
The yellow of the poplar trees outside the property became a signature colour back in 1998, and while designing a hotel for guests is his ‘mantra’ he also designs for housekeeping and the engineer. “No point designing something that falls apart after six months or takes too long to clean or make up,” he says.
The latest transformation to the boutique hotel elevates the property to its new McGallery by Sofitel branding, reflecting the Central Otago landscape while being ‘cocooning and serene’ in one fell swoop.
His favourite deep velvets are there in rich ochre, deep teal and copper, married with a touch of Scottish heritage in the tartan cushions. Thoughtful touches include bespoke gold and cream herringbone woollen throws in each suite, designed by current GM Jo Finnigan.
Whimsical twists include local rural fauna in the artwork, including a painting of a hare called Bruce (after a regular guest).
Old-style kitchenettes in the suites have been replaced with modern wet bars. “If you’re staying in a five-star property you’re not cooking your own eggs,” says Stewart.
“I hate things that match. The rooms are a natural progression of colours that reflect the clarity of the Central Otago light and the teal blue of the lake.
“Some of the rooms are different shapes or sizes so we’ve cherry-picked some unique bits of furniture, such as a lamp or a chair. We’ve ‘stuffed’ the rooms so they’re very homely.”
It’s said his design embodies the style, stories and allure of Queenstown. Interested? Check it out for yourself.