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Seaside luxury at The Continental Sorrento

Seaside luxury at The Continental Sorrento

The Continental Sorrento is open for business, and Stephen Crafti takes us on a walk-through the beautiful seaside spot.

Every so often, a development comes along that sends a ripple through a place. But in the case of the rebirth of The Continental Sorrento, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, this ripple is already creating waves, not just in Victoria, but interstate and overseas. Even though the 108 hotel rooms haven’t been completed, there have been steady bookings well into mid-2023.

Stakeholders include the Victor Smorgon Group, the Kanat Group, Trenerry Property, leading chef Scott Pickett, and publican Craig Shearer. The hotel combines the original 1875 limestone pile with tower, the streamlined Jazz Moderne 1930s wing and new additions by Woods Bagot – working closely with Broached Commissions in the curation of art, photography, sculpture and installation work.

For those who appreciate the combination of great architecture and interiors, with the work of prominent local and overseas artists, one will simply need to be added to the ever-growing reservation list (well at least to stay).

The Continental Sorrento

For architect Nik Karalis, CEO of Woods Bagot, who worked closely with interior designer Sarah Alessi and their team, it was both a challenging and rewarding project that brought together so many previous disparate elements – from the original heritage-listed hotel working with consultant architect Bryce Raworth, to reimagining the history of the past in a contemporary manner.

There are a number of themes that are threaded through the design, including the orchid (an orchid nursery once existed at Sorrento), which is expressed in several mediums by Adam Goodrum together with artist Arthur Seigneur.

Other works, such as two impressive photographs by Erik Madigan Heck, titled the ‘Milkmaid (1 and 2)’, with the subject wearing a sumptuously embroidered skirt, are the focal point in the fine dining offering. Known as Audrey’s, the restaurant is named after chef Scott Pickett’s grandmother who was renowned for her garden of flowers and home-grown vegetables.

Karalis also took inspiration from the film ‘The Great Gatsby’, with high-back velvet chairs and banquette seating framing rugs by Catherine Martin (the Australian costume designer who produced lavish sets for ‘The Great Gatsby’).

The Continental Sorrento

It could have been much easier for Karalis and his team to simply go down the nostalgia path. However, as with Broached Commissions, he thought carefully about the mood he was looking for in each area of this vast complex – from the more casual beer-style hall, to the cafes and the lounges including the Barlow which provides an intimate setting for live music.

Here, one can enjoy the comfort of deep emerald green velvet armchairs and glass objects artistically arranged in vitrines by Tarlo and Mitchell. The uranium glass becomes ‘animated’ with colour when the lights come on.

Guests are spoilt for choice with the hotel’s extensive offering of dining destinations, leisure areas and curated guest suites. Karalis worked exclusively with revered Australian brand, James Richardson Furniture to bring these areas to life with a captivating mix of both local and international design pieces. Drawing from the hotel’s past, each piece has been meticulously selected by JRF to celebrate new beginnings at The Continental Sorrento, while paying homage to the unforgettable stories and experiences that have taken place throughout the years.

Karalis also showed his strength with his treatment of the guest hotel suites: 108 in total and shared between the heritage limestone building and the new contemporary wings. Rather than going with a heritage feel in a period structure, he reversed this by combining contemporary furnishings and fittings. And in the contemporary guest wing, one will be surprised to find a more classic approach, with rattan joinery popular in the 1930s.

“There is an overall ‘cruise feel’ (think of the luxury ocean liners) but interwoven with stories that capture the history of this place and as importantly, what the future holds,” adds Karalis.

Project details

Architecture – Woods Bagot
Photography – Gareth Sobey, Greg Elms, Alex Squadrito, Jeremy Wright

The Continental Sorrento
The Continental Sorrento
The Continental Sorrento
The Continental Sorrento


Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti is a leading architecture and design writer with more than 40 books to his name. He has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he is keen to share the things he sees so he started Architours, which run architectural private tours four times a year through some of Melbourne’s best and often award-winning homes.