Lara Knight – 12 February 2019
Small towns built around discontinued industries have a dilemma with factory buildings. They are central fixtures that contain the memories and history of a community, but they lack purpose and maintenance. Decades of neglect move slowly towards demolition.
Adaptive reuse is an alternative that brings life back to rural hubs. Many regional centres have opened successful business incubators in industrial space like The Mill Castlemaine, a marketplace of artists, makers, vintage dealers, foodies, brewers and local services in an 1875 woollen mill.
Isolated heritage sites, however, can be harder to repurpose.
The Premier Roller Flour Mill in Katanning, 300km south east of Perth, was three storeys of 130 year old brickwork and heavy machinery waiting for a plan. The Shire of Katanning offered a nominal sale price to a team who could conserve the building and take it in a new direction.
The challenge was taken up by Dome Group, a West Australian coffee chain with a history of adaptive reuse. Around twenty of their cafes are housed in heritage buildings and Katanning became Dome’s first accommodation conversion with a huge step up in commitment and cost. It took six years from early negotiations to reopening the entire mill.
The Dome team worked with Fremantle architecture firm Spaceagency to turn a tired industrial shell into an engaging destination. And, it’s a triumph! Take a look at the ‘after’ pics below.
Adaptive reuse can be far more complex than a new build. Issues like heritage restrictions, styles of restoration, structural decay, and community negotiations are an ongoing challenge.
Spaceagency architect, Dimmity Walker, shared a few details of the mill project.
“The original building was never intended for inhabitation and the challenges of inserting the new program into the old building were many faceted.
Extensive integration of modern services was required to bring the building to current standards – particularly for fire and access. Reticulation of plumbing and electricity, the installation of thermal and acoustic insulation, lighting and air conditioning were all important aspects of the design which had to be incorporated without compromising the special quality of the space.
The interiors were also arranged around existing features.
The original steel boiler, retained in-situ, rises three stories through a central void forming a dramatic feature in the lobby. The basement bar is artfully inserted amongst the timber columns and retained mechanical components of the mills engine.
Where possible the rooms have exposed remnant machinery and original timber structure… The rooms nestled within the timber silo are very special.”
Keen upcycling visitors should look for details like clothes hooks made from repurposed ceramic isolators, salvaged materials from the ‘flour shakers’ lining the counter of the basement Cordial Bar, and mill machinery, like the flour bag printing press, on display throughout the building.
Despite all this industrial flavour, Premier Mill Hotel aims for luxury. Each room features bespoke furniture, full length drapes, inset carpets, mood lighting, Aesop toiletries and smart technology. The wine bar offers an extensive selection of regional wines, craft beers, handmade cordials and shared tasting plates.
This is definitely not roughing it in an outback pub. The Premier Mill Hotel is a sophisticated reinvention that puts Katanning firmly on the tourist run though Western Australia. A growing events calendar, and a wide range of function spaces, will also draw corporate and domestic get togethers to the Great Southern region.
Heritage adaptive reuse runs a fine line between preserving an iconic building and creating functionality and value for the future. Spaceagency calls it “…a celebration of the story of the building made of layers of times past and times to come.”
A few months after I wrote this story we visited Premier Hill Hotel for a family celebration and stayed two nights. LOVED IT! This is the most beautifully detailed, thoughtfully preserved building I have ever stayed in. There isn’t a lot going on around the hotel, and Katanning isn’t a foodie town, but if you like a combination of heritage and luxury this conversion is worth seeing. I highly recommend adding it to a WA travel itinerary.