A mercy mission

Caved in roofs, kicked in doors and drug paraphernalia littering the floors was what greeted owner Andy Davies when he finally secured the St Joseph’s convent in Grey Lynn after it had been on the market for 15 years. 

The building certainly had a chequered history. Built in 1917, the original timber convent had burnt down in 1921 and was rebuilt in 1922 in the Spanish Mission style. When the sisters officially vacated the building in the early 1990s it became a boarding house, and as the building deteriorated it became known as Hotel California – a notorious hangout for vagrants, squatters and addicts. 

The previous owner had the historic classification removed from the house, which made converting it into a 22-room boutique hotel more straight forward than it otherwise would have been.

However, Andy didn’t want to remove the history, rather he set out on a mercy mission of restoring and revealing the original bones of the building.

“A lot of the walls are concrete with plaster and steel windows. We wanted to leave it in its raw state – we haven’t tried to cover it up,” he says.

To carve out the rooms and six suites, partition walls were removed and the interior entirely gutted. Roofs were restored and from there, Andy set about dividing the spaces, wherever possible locating bathrooms on external walls to bring daylight in, and patching and repairing to restore walls back to their former glory. 

The upstairs chapel with ornate ceiling was converted into two suites, each with their own terrace; a large hall was divided into multiple rooms; and an iron roof that had caved in over an internal carpark and ablution block was removed and replaced with a glass one, creating a conservatory over the restaurant’s dining room.

Antique and time-worn pieces furnish the rooms, most of which Andy sourced on a trip to Jaipur. Throughout the two-year renovation period original artworks with a Catholic theme were sourced and now adorn the interior spaces for guests to enjoy.  

Andy’s vision for The Convent hotel was a space that the local community could be a part of, as would have originally been the case, and in line with this Ada restaurant and bar were conceived, with Hayden Phiskie (ex Cotto) and Johnny Price (ex Rita) at the helm. 

The restaurant is the jewel in the crown as far as Andy is concerned, and his favourite spot is its cosy internal spaces – “It’s a bit like a grotto.” Those lucky enough to stay in the Mother Superior suites look down over the glass roof and can see the restaurant, and what will soon be an English garden out the back. 

The boutique hotel has so far proved very popular in the Grey Lynn community. But there was one tick of approval that meant even more to Andy: the blessing of the original Sisters of St Joseph’s. When they came to visit recently – one of them at the ripe old age of 102 – they found a building a far cry from its Hotel California days, and were incredibly pleased to see it faithfully restored to its origins as a place of gathering for the community.

Related articles

Empathic lightness: Inside Kowtow’s new Melbourne store

In a late-1800s building of timber, brick, iron, and bluestone in a character-filled street in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, New Zealand-brand Kowtow has opened its first international boutique, designed by Auckland-based interior architect Rufus Knight.

Spatial identity

The winners of the Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand Institute of Architects 2023 New Zealand Architecture Awards were announced in November. We explore some of the winning projects.