An 18th century ship that serviced the Asian spice routes sparked the inspiration for the Warders Cottages revamp.
Matthew Crawford delved into the history books to prepare for the redevelopment of some of Fremantle’s oldest buildings.
Having worked on world-heritage listed sites across Europe early in his architecture career, Mr Crawford’s penchant for historic structures is perhaps only outdone by his deep-seated passion for uncovering and retelling the stories from that time.
This has become clear in his recent architectural approach to a series of limestone cottages on Henderson Street.
The Warders’ Cottages were built in 1851 to house Fremantle Prison’s warders and their families. Starting work on initial concept plans six years ago, Matthew Crawford Architects has reconfigured one of the three sets of terrace homes into the 11-room Warders Hotel.
The local architect also transformed the landholding behind the cottages into Emily Taylor, a 450-person bar and restaurant.
Drawing on Fremantle’s port city heritage, the hospitality offering’s namesake is derived from a 207-tonne, 12-gun ship, which was wrecked off the coast of Fremantle in 1830 and named after its owner’s wife, Emily Taylor.
On its voyages from England to Fremantle, the ship docked in Asia, stocking up on items such as tea and spices.
“That’s the theme that runs through the overall aesthetics of the place,” Mr Crawford told Business News.
“The cottages are full of flavour; anyone who goes in there feels like they’ve gone back in time.
“On the hospitality side, the challenge was to juxtapose that against the heritage, so I spent a lot of time trying to make it not look new.”
That included embossing split bamboo in the concrete of the restaurant, he said, as well as integrating steel trusses and sawtooth roofs to reflect Fremantle’s industrial characteristics.
The limestone wall dividing the restaurant’s courtyard from the cottages was another element to intertwine the old with the new.
“The pan-Asian theme was something I wanted to lay through subtly as well,” Mr Crawford said.
“And it was about how we could do that in a Fremantle way … rather than the cliché red lanterns: there’s the jade-green bar top and tiles, jade green has Chinese symbolism but not in an overt way.
“We also imported the grey bricks in the restaurant from China.”
Besides the Asian menu, another nod to the historic story is the four-by-three-metre mural of a reimagined Emily Taylor by Archibald Prize-winning artist Tessa MacKay.
Historians believe the first Chinese to formally arrive in the Swan Colony stepped off the Emily Taylor.
Ms Mackay’s artwork extends to the cottages, where each hotel room displays one of 11 portraits of different women from that era, complementing the interior design and styled to echo the Georgian and Victorian eras.
The rooms emulate ship cabins, featuring new copper conduits and timber floorboards.
The nautical motif extends to the hotel’s ground floor bar, Gimlet, named after the gin and lemon-based cocktail developed for navy officers to prevent scurvy.
Mr Crawford worked alongside heritage specialist Griffiths Architects and an archaeologist to navigate some of the challenges associated with the national heritage-listed buildings, including sourcing heritage-approved detail to acoustically separate the floors of the terraces into two rooms.
Interior staircases were removed to create separate access via external stairs.
The project won awards in the commercial property, lighting, and heritage categories at last month’s Australian Institute of Architects WA Awards, and will be judged in the national competition later this year.
“I think a lot of people shy away from heritage because they see it as expensive and troublesome,” Mr Crawford said.
“But it’s not often I get the chance to work on a WA building from 1851.
“It’s an honour to be able to work on buildings from that time.”
Matthew Crawford on the upper levels of the Warders Hotel. Photo: David Henry