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How to design your home like the luxury penthouse at Brisbane’s Emporium Hotel

Leaving a hotel that feels like ‘home’ – or what home could be like – can be a wrench.

Going back to the reality of domestic life after living in luxury for a day, a week or longer is sometimes difficult.

Many of us have reflected wistfully on little touches of luxury that a hotel room offers, wishing we had the same in our own homes.

Balcony in the penthouse © Justin Nicholas

So why not draw inspiration from those hotels that linger in our memories, and create similar memorable touches to our own homes? It may be a lovely objet, a colour scheme, a pattern, a floral arrangement, a wonderful work of art, a fabulous bathtub or something as simple as a jazzy ironing-board cover.

Francine John, whose passion for design is reflected in every corner of Brisbane’s luxury Emporium Hotel South Bank, believes there are no rules when it comes to good design.

“Follow your gut,” she says. “Style and design is a really personal thing.”

Francine and her architect husband Tony, of the Anthony John Group, created the Emporium Hotel South Bank and its predecessor, the original Emporium Hotel in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley with a commitment to bespoke Queensland design.

“Tony designs the building and I colour it in,” laughs Francine.

Penthouse walk-in robe
Penthouse walk-in robe

How to take the luxury of a hotel home with you

When designing the hotels, Francine says she created rooms that reflected “what I would like to live in myself” rather than following trends.

The three recurring design elements that Francine brought to the new hotel from the first Emporium are the frangipani flower, white orchids and zebra patterns.

“When we were building the first hotel, we had just come back from a trip to Africa and the zebra theme was related to that,” she says. “It was part of a personal journey and I wanted something to ‘crisp’ everything up.”

That something manifested itself as the elegant zebra-striped high-backed chairs that are a focal point in the lobby of the hotel. The painted cow-hide upholstery on the chairs, also used on ottomans and bar stools in some of the new hotel’s suites, are ethically sourced from the Sunshine Coast to create a fun black-and-white theme alongside the hotel’s signature red.

Brisbane Emporium Penthouse kitchen
Brisbane Emporium Penthouse kitchen

It’s all in the finer details

While the Emporium Hotel South Bank opened in mid-2018, the last stage to open to guests (in October 2020) was the sophisticated four-bedroom Parklands Suite, at 785 square metres one of the largest hotel penthouses in Australia.

As we meet, Francine is pondering a replacement for the stunning Tim Storrier painting – one of his Boys Own series – that dominates the spacious lounge area. The painting is a temporary hanging, brought in from the Johns’ own home to fill the space.

Her musing is leaning towards a feature wall echoing that in the penthouse lobby, a bold wallpaper featuring banana trees, by designer Catherine Martin (better known for her Oscar-winning movie costumes).

Verandah dining in the penthouse
Verandah dining in the penthouse

Another feature of the penthouse lobby is a bespoke wooden table by the late Robert Dunlop, a renowned Brisbane furniture maker who was inducted into the Design Institute of Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2015.  Inlaid with a frangipani design, the table is one of only two pieces that came from the original Emporium hotel; the other is a stunning stained-glass window from a Parisian patisserie which is now a focal point at the entrance to the hotel’s Signature restaurant.

Tips for home design

Personal touches are essential, but Francine also has other hints for home design. Rugs “cosy it up” and make a space feel intimate, also adding the all-important textures to a room which can be achieved through the use of fabrics.

A suite with a view
A suite with a view

The use of texture – woven rugs, velvet throws, and lovely lamps – can add elements of luxury, while also adding an “edgy” touch.

Colour is also important, with Francine’s current favourite a burnt orange/rust colour that is used to effect in the Parklands Suite, picking up some of the highlights in the Storrier works, which include flames in a print in the master bedroom.  She has also used subtle grey-blues in the lounge, picking up the shimmer of the Brisbane River and clouds beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“It’s so important not to take away from the cityscape,” she says. “No-one else has that view.”

Master ensuite interior
Master ensuite interior

Flowers are also an essential item for Francine in creating a warm, homely feel. “I love walking into a space that is warm, a little edgy, but where you feel at home. The most important thing is to feel comfortable,” she says.

Francine’s advice is also to give rooms a “magic little tweak” every now and again to change things around and make a room “pop”.

Don’t forget that like the Emporium Hotel South Bank, many hotels have items for sale that you can take home to help recreate the interiors you’ve loved staying in. These can include large and small items, from comfortable beds and toppers to pyjamas, bath salts, room scent, chocolates and more.

As a final piece of advice, Francine says: “Trust yourself. You are the one living in that space.”

Brisbane Emporium Penthouse's master suite ensuite
Brisbane Emporium Penthouse ensuite

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Lead image: Private pool © Justin Nicholas