Not every great hotel is born great. Some come into this world as anything from office buildings to prisons, girls’ schools to parking garages, until they are wholly overhauled into five-star sleepovers. Why are hoteliers increasingly seeking to tease out hospitality from breweries, theatres, banks, hospitals and even churches, some decades, even centuries old? The unique aesthetics found in these places speak for themselves.
Temple Tree, Langkawi, Malaysia
Malaysia-based hotelier Narelle McMurtrie has turned an affection for her adoptive country’s cultural melting pot into this inviting resort comprising nine heritage houses of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian origin, each at least 80 years old. Built in the 1920s by a Eurasian family living in Penang, the Straits Club House, for example, acts as the communal space, with a pool table, library and bar. Guests staying in the Chinese House, imported from Johor, can take their afternoon tea and homemade coconut cake on its wraparound verandas. The Colonial House, built by Arab gold traders living in Georgetown, offers accommodation well suited to families, letting them spread out across four bedrooms filled with antiques and sumptuously upholstered chairs and couches.
Knai Bang Chatt, Kep, Cambodia
Ten years ago, a European couple exploring Cambodia’s southwestern coast stumbled upon three modernist villas built in the Bauhaus style by protégés of acclaimed Khmer architect Vann Molyvann. They saw past the crumbling concrete and peeling paint to appreciate the bones of what would become an 18-room seaside resort. Art deco details abound here, especially in the 1962 Blue Villa with its elegant spiral staircase and artful outdoor railings. This photogenic time warp taps into the romance of Indochine with every low-slung, curvilinear armchair and carved wooden armoire in the guest rooms. Nearby, a former Khmer fisherman’s cottage has been reinvented as the Sailing Club, serving lunch and dinner.
The Inn Patan, Kathmandu, Nepal
‘People think only temples and palaces are monuments,’ says Nepalese architect Rohit Ranjitkar, ‘but I think old houses are also monuments.’ This passion to share Nepal’s vernacular heritage led the country director for the non-profit Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust to restore this 100-year-old brick and timber Newari house (the Newar are the area’s historical inhabitants) as a 10-room hotel just off Patan Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Ranjitkar brought techniques he mastered through renovating this valley’s historic temples and monasteries, creating individually decorated guest rooms that feature exposed beams, handmade local carpets, European bedding and beaten-brass basins in their sleek modern bathrooms. Exquisite Newari woodcarvings add a finishing touch to the decor.
Old Capital Bike Inn, Bangkok, Thailand
A palace originally stood on this land granted by Thailand’s revered King Rama V (r. 1868-1910) to an ancestor of current owner Nantiya Tulyanond. After the ensuing six generations, a noodle shop inhabited this prime real estate near the Grand Palace. Ten years ago, Tulayanond and her son Jason closed the humble eatery to convert the traditional shophouse into a family-run bed and breakfast, which was an early adopter of green technologies like energy-efficient appliances and a solar water-heating system. The now 10-room bolthole tastefully balances antique Thai furniture with modern necessities like Wi-Fi and satellite TV. From day one, this multilingual duo have generously shared their considerable local intel with guests and now offer free evening tours around this heritage neighbourhood – known as Rattanakosin Island – of mirror-clad Thai Buddhist temples and festive night markets.