A Design-Lover’s Guide To New South Wales
Luxury meets architecture.
Ask what typifies the Australian aesthetic and you’re bound to get an earful about “laid-back” style. In the Australian state of New South Wales — which includes geologically diverse and iconic destinations (like the Blue Mountains and Sydney’s Opera House, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year), and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, mountain ranges, sedimentary rock formations, and light quality — the vibe is certainly comfortable and user friendly.
Biophilic design, which aims to connect the people within a building to nature (think the incorporation of natural lighting, fresh air, and native plant life), is right at home here, along with muted hues swiped from striping in sandstone, frothy ocean tide, and Tasmanian oak and gum trees. Indoor spaces, often flooded with natural light, are designed to feel expansive and uncluttered, which in turn, have a similar effect on one’s mind.
But with nature serving as endless inspiration to those dreaming up New South Wales’ newest hotels, it turns out there’s more to absorb than a surfer bruh’s chill. Through the use of smooth and buttery textures, curved lines, and energy-saving structural elements, a spirit of warmth and optimism emerges — and delivers the kind of good vibes that countless coffee cups extoll, but seldom manifest as actual, life-affirming energy.
While staying in sustainable chalets in the bush, airy lofts in Sydney, or modern-meets-bohemian boutique properties by the beach, you can’t help but notice your energy isn’t simply calibrated to chillax but optimized for opportunity — in New South Wales’ newest hospitality spaces, it’s all part of the design.
Not even flying business class can completely wipe away the arduous aspects of travel from the United States to Sydney, so it’s essential to pad your journey with a soft landing at a hotel swathed in luxurious comforts and customer service that anticipates one’s needs. Enter Capella Sydney, a hotel that opened in March of 2023 in Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). Its handsome suites embody what’s become known as the quiet luxury aesthetic — tranquil, custom Pantone colors, cozy textures, and the kind of ridiculously high ceilings that is just the thing after a cramped plane ride.
What’s more, it’s the kind of place where everything is low-lift, zero thought, and measured for maximum comfort. For example, a soaking tub feels as if it’s been molded to fit your particular curves and dispenses the precisely warm — but not too hot — temperature of water, even when mindlessly turned to full blast. Everything else in the room, from the water carafes to the Frette robes and one-touch lighting controls, offers perfect pitch of warmth and ease. In short, a stay in these rooms is what being in the womb must have felt like. When it finally comes time to leave this cocoon, an apothecary-inspired cocktail bar, brasserie, wellness spa, and heated Roman pool, help round out the property’s thoughtful offerings, while outside the hotel doors, the world-class Art Gallery of New South Wales, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, and Sydney Opera House, among other points of interest, are just short walks away.
Sydney has no shortage of cute, walkable neighborhoods teeming with cafes, galleries, vintage shops, and indie Aussie designer stores. (Hi, Paddington and Paddington Markets!) A stay at Paramount House feels like being given the keys to your cool artist friend’s loft apartment in the middle of one of those neighborhoods, Surry Hills. Within one of its colorfully appointed rooms is an Aesop-stocked and terrazzo-tiled bathroom that flows into a living space made homey by low-profile furniture, thriving live plants, and, get this, a stack of throwback CDs (think: Casius 1999) and player in place of a giant flat screen (or any TV for that matter). Just like your artsy friend’s place at home, rooms are thoughtfully stocked with amenities created by local artists (a mural painted on the private balcony wall by Sonny Day and little essentials you forgot to pack (think: bandages, tampons, single-serving skin care).
As if the accommodations aren’t endearing enough, the property provides plenty of other perks: In the lobby, you’ll find the original location of PCP (Paramount Coffee Project), an outstanding coffee shop familiar to those who have visited its Los Angeles outposts; a basement movie theater, Golden Age Cinema and Bar, comprises a dimly lit bar and restored screening room of the heritage-listed Paramount Pictures Building; and an outpost of A.P. Bakery, hidden on the second floor of the property, serves an outstanding al fresco breakfast and offers unbelievably delicious pastries that I’m still thinking about. Even reception offers an unexpected twist: Its vending machine is stocked with Hanes x Supreme socks, vinyl EPs, vibrators, and Dr. Jart+ face masks.
Just an hour and a half drive east of Sydney is one of the state’s most beautiful landscapes, the Blue Mountains National Park. Nestled against this UNESCO World Heritage site (and its must-hike Grand Canyon track) is Chalets at Blackheath, a family-owned property comprising four impeccably designed studios and a communal library on 17 acres of brushland. Each chalet is teeming with little luxuries: heated floors, an ample soaking tub, and a wood-burning fireplace (prepared with everything needed to spark a roaring fire with the strike of a match), along with a fully stocked kitchen. But where the property truly shines is in the details: Gorgeous resin tablewares by Sydney-based Dinosaur Designs are rendered in shades that echo the blue gum trees and sandstone plateaus outside (and eradicate single-use plastics, which I didn’t see anywhere onsite). A generous, farm-to-table breakfast spread includes an array of indigenous superfoods (like lemon myrtle, rosella rye berry, and Davidson plum) that make incredible coconut yogurt toppings.
Though a stay at the Chalets feels like living on the most remote edge of the planet, amenities on offer also made me feel like I had to world at my fingertips: A stargazer is available for hire (with zero area light pollution — and guidance — one can spot an international space station floating by); delivery of locally sourced barbecue fixings can be arranged for use on your private grill; and at dusk, a communal fire pit is lit for homemade marshmallow roasting. Though Wi-Fi is seamless inside the chalets, it’s at the firepit’s spotty connection that my mind was finally free of email and social media’s relentless feed, something that allowed it to wander and wonder. It’s a truly priceless gift I haven’t been able to replicate since my visit.
Forget Portlandia — the spirit of the ’90s is alive in Byron Bay. Though the region’s impeccable coastline attracts A-list celebrities (like Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie) and 1-percenter wealth, the town of Byron Bay has held on to its extremely chill spirit and bohemian charm thanks to thriving farmer’s and regional markets, creative arts, and beach scenes that put community first. One of the long-standing hotels that balances Byron’s laid-back spirit with a sophistication (thanks to the eye of interior designer Tamsin Johnson) is Rae’s at Wategos, a chic seven-room property right at the foot of Wategos Beach.
It’s the kind of place that hosts a heavy rotation of celebrity guests but never discloses their names, and it doesn’t engage in pay-for-play from content creators because, really, these influencers are often just working to emulate the cool of Rae’s. Each room is individually appointed with unique, sunbleached decor that draw on Indonesian and Moroccan influences. (One suite features a rounded window seat large enough to accommodate three NBA players.) If you can’t book a room at Rae’s, eat lunch at the breezy Rae’s Dining Room, which offers a great sense of the place. When you’re done, spend a few hours at Wategos Beach, just a few steps down from the restaurant. From there, walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse for incredible ocean views and seasonal whale sightings.
One of the newest boutique hotels in Byron Bay is Hotel Marvell, a 24-room property in the heart of town that hits on a mix of of-the-moment design trends. The building? Brutalist-meets-biophilic. The room decor? Japandi (a combination of Japanese and Scandinavian influences), which marries a minimalist aesthetic with natural materials, textures, and hues (such as, leather, linen and boulice in warm oranges and pinks).
Though the property doesn’t feature a spa just yet, it elevates the art of spa living with amenities like linen robes from Eadie (Australia’s answer to Jenni Kayne), plush organic beach towels from cool-girl Aussie brand Baina, body care by botanically driven Antipodean brand Leif, and a rooftop bromine pool (ideal for those with sensitive skin). A final essential: The hotel is working to become EarthCheck certified, a rigorous sustainability management system for the hospitality industry that is driving the property to offer car-share services for guests, partner with local farmers, and other earth-conscious benchmarks that feel just right in a peace and planet-loving place like Byron Bay.
With so many New South Wales destinations dripping in style, it’s hard to reckon with adding a sleepy fishing village to a travel itinerary. But when that village is populated by slumbering rescue koala bears, then a stop at Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary to glamp among the world’s cutest marsupials is too cool an experience to pass up. Here, tricked-out tents offer everything a luxury hotel room would: plush bedding, private bathrooms, Wi-Fi, electricity and a mini fridge stocked with charcuterie and fresh mimosa makings. But, the real luxury is in what most resorts can’t offer: sleeping among towering eucalyptus trees populated with koalas, dozing off to the sounds of crashing waves along the neighboring coastline, and accessing a private tour of the koala quarters and skywalk (available to overnight guests only and before the park is open to the public — and throngs of school children).
Before you ask: No, you can’t hold the koalas here — that would require having the animals (a population in decline) sedated and declawed. The sanctuary’s firm stance against these measures is a sign that it’s doing things right. (No wonder recent patrons include animal welfare activists Mike White and Jennifer Coolidge.)
While in town, treat yourself to award-winning seafood dishes at celebrity chef Rick Stein’s and take in impeccable beach views at the Worimi Sand Dunes (recorded as the largest coastal moving sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere) while on 400cc quad bikes with Sand Dune Adventures. If returning to Sydney by car, stop at Mooney Mooney for the Sydney Oyster Farm Tour in the Hawkesbury River for sustainably raised oysters and champagne on linen-covered tables placed in the water at river’s edge.
Most world-class art museums take up residence in cosmopolitan cities. But the newly established Bundanon, ensconced on remote land registered as a wildlife refuge about 2.5 hours’ drive south from Sydney (and still a hidden gem to even locals), is becoming a destination all its own. Once occupied by famed painter Arthur Boyd (who gifted the property to the Australian people in 1993), the more than 2,000 acres of bushland now boasts one of the state’s most compelling examples of sustainable design. The contemporary art museum, which opened last year, is embedded in a sloping hillside of native bush land where contemporary and First Nation artworks are displayed.
As part of the property’s Bundanon Experience Stay Weekends, guests can stay overnight in one of the 32 rooms inside the newly erected Bridge for Creative Learning, an environmentally sustainable structure equipped with solar power, rain water harvesting, and other structural elements that reduce energy use. What’s more, the stay includes three-course, chef-prepared meals, sunrise yoga overlooking the Shoalhaven River, artmaking workshops, and a tour of the contemporary art museum before checkout. During downtime, check out Boyd’s original art studio or just gaze upon dozens of kangaroos that bound throughout the property come golden hour. The experience is a design and art lover’s dream, only made better by this bonus: Proceeds from each stay enables two children from local primary schools to participate in a day-learning program at Bundanon, something that continues Boyd’s legacy as a community teacher of art.
This article was originally published on