Hulbert House: An Historic Queenstown Hideaway

Hulbert House, Queenstown
Hulbert House, Queenstown

It’s not too often you check into a hotel and feel instantly at home, but such is the case at historic boutique lodging, Hulbert House, in New Zealand’s South Island

Perched high and mighty atop a hill in the popular holiday spot of Queenstown, New Zealand, luxury lodge Hulbert House’s superior location couldn’t be more fitting for such a distinguished hotel. Suitably above the action of Queenstown and yet a convenient 500 metres from the centre of town, its prime position offers guests at this exclusive, six-room accommodation unrivalled panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and its formidable mountainous horizon.

So it is that before you’ve even stepped through the grand doors of this Victorian villa, you’re faced with an overwhelming sense of majesty, vastness and beauty – three things that keep luring travellers to this magical part of New Zealand year after year. But if Queenstown is the sweet spot of the South Island, then Hulbert House must be the jewel in the crown of Queenstown, and its location, just one of its facets.

Its interior is undoubtedly another, and it shines brightly. The building’s rooms and halls are instilled with the feeling of old-fashioned grandeur, and yet there’s no mistaking the feeling of cosiness thanks to the rich Victorian architecture and heavy use of top-shelf materials and fabrics. With the feel of luxuriously thick carpet under foot, you could almost be in the comfort of your own home, which is, of course, precisely the point.

A long lineage

Hulbert House’s history is as colourful as the lodge’s wallpaper-clad walls. Built by Horatio Nelson Firth, the keeper of the gold during the Otago Gold Rush, the stately weatherboard building’s roots reach as deep as the year 1874, and it is such a testament to Queenstown’s history that it was given Heritage status in 1983. And while the building has had many iterations in the century and a half it has been standing, it’s difficult to imagine any being as impressive as the current.

This is thanks to high-profile Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake, who is known for creating the Japanese art island destination of Naoshima, and who has long been an advocate for historical restoration. After moving to Auckland with his family, He purchased the then-decaying Queenstown villa in 2013 with the sole purpose of restoring it to its former glory.

Needless to say, he has succeeded. With the incomparable design skills of Neil McLachlan as his weapon, Hulbert House underwent an epic overhaul in the years that followed the sale of the property, and the result is a lodging where absolute luxury meets homely comfort. With a brief was to respect the heritage values of the building and create a contemporary luxurious and welcoming interior that also reflected Victorian aesthetics, McLachlan had a hefty task ahead of him. Along with his team he embarked on a ground-up restoration, including the laborious task of installing bathrooms in each bedroom, all the while paying the utmost respect to the existing detailing throughout the building.

Exotic references

Hulbert House’s colour palette is striking and uplifting, with rich and contrasting purple, blue, green, yellow and red all making a suitably grand entrance in the establishment. The wallpaper is particularly eye-catching, and is a key element in an interior that feels opulent, layered, and enveloping. The vast majority of the wallpaper designs herald from the time the villa was built, and the bathrooms’ patterned encaustic tiles are redolent of the Victorian period.

The rooms and halls of Hulbert House are also peppered with references to the Chinese gold miners that lived in Queenstown during the time it was built. For example, the custom cobalt carpet that lines every piece of floor space from the ground floor, up the stairs and beyond, is inspired by Chinese willow pattern china. It was made in England and shipped to Queenstown, and the Chinese blue and white china accessories also found throughout the property were chosen to compliment this piece of bespoke craftsmanship. It is impeccable and narrative-rich details like these that make Hulbert House so special, and they are not lost on the guests who frequent the multi-award winning establishment.

The six guest rooms, which could just as easily be called ‘bed chambers’, are lavishly and beautifully adorned, and each has its own unique character and name. The window treatments are sumptuous London blinds trimmed with fringes and bobbles, while most of the furniture is antique, much of it hailing from France, which also would have been the fashion of the day.

Making a statement

It is the Palm Lounge, however, that is the focal point of Hulbert House. A gathering space added in the refurbishment that was inspired by Victorian palm parlours, its bright green-printed, Victorian-designed wallpaper is not to everyone’s taste, but it certainly makes a lasting impression. With custom-made tiling housing the big open fire and steel trusses inspired by Victorian English railway station, the space is extravagant and warm. The incorporated bar area features the original rear stone wall of the building and the light fixtures are glamorous yet quirky – a reminder that the Victorian period was not as drab as people think. In fact, there was a huge amount of pattern, colour and exotic design influence that permeated the 19th century.

A stay at Hulbert House is intimate, exclusive, inspiring, relaxing and stately all at the same time, and above all it is truly one of a kind. The closer you inspect this grandiose building, the more appreciation you tend to have for what the owners, designer and staff have achieved, and there is a strong sense of family about the place that makes it a real pleasure to experience right up until you return your old-fashioned brass key at check-out. It’s no accident the lodge is called Hulbert House, not Hulbert Hotel – it’s a place you’ll feel right at home in.

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