One For All

CTRL Space design studio combines considered colour technique with playful detail in Ōtautahi’s newest downtown hotel.

One For All

CTRL Space design studio combines considered colour technique with playful detail in Ōtautahi’s newest downtown hotel.

As CTRL Space director Chris Stevens tells it, part of the brief for Ōtautahi’s new downtown hybrid hotel, Drifter, was to make it “the quintessential Christchurch experience”. But for a city still finding itself in a stretching rebuild, defining what that meant and looked like was tough. “We started by going down the Garden City route, which immediately felt too cliché,” says Stevens. “So we regrouped and focussed on the bits between the cracks – the graffiti, the vibrant installations – and where we landed was that Christchurch is a place of confidence, full of colour, art and pattern.”

Sitting on the corner of Lichfield Street and His Lordships Lane, Drifter Christchurch is the first of five hybrid hotels planned by Leisure Accommodation Collective (LA Co). Offering private and shared accommodation (that’s the hybrid part), the 95 rooms range from female-only dorms to two-bedroom family lofts, with classic and premium suites available, along with an impressive roster of amenities. CTRL Space’s design had to translate across the lot. “It had to appeal to backpackers through to business travellers, so we didn’t want it to feel too trendy, over­designed, or like we were trying too hard,” says Stevens.

The team began with a deep dive into the grand building’s origin story. Built in 1919 as a factory for the Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company, it’s one of only three buildings in Aotearoa with a Tākaka marble façade (Parliament is another). Touted as a progressive example of modern architecture at the time, CTRL Space played with this idea, turning to modernist styles and references. “We pulled on some pretty classic design language,” says Stevens. “It’s got this mid-century undertone, but it’s not overly retro or niche. That gave us licence to explore colour.” A lot of colour.

The tones follow a strategic approach. “We created an ‘energy period’, whereby the further up the building you move, the softer the colours become,” Stevens explains. Delegating the vibrant yellows, reds and greens to the Revel Room – Drifter’s central communal space with kitchen, lounge, pool tables and workstations – the colours quiet as you rise, used in sophisticated abundance. A central light well punches through the middle of the hotel, highlighting the successful scheme.

There are nods to the building’s manufacturing roots, with industrial pendant lights, raw plaster, chrome and steel, plus plenty of wool references. “Where possible, we worked with local suppliers,” adds Stevens, noting the Wilson & Dorset sheepskin beanbags and Nightworks sconces. “The hotel will host a predominantly international audience, so we wanted it to feel international, but with a touch of New Zealand… without being Kiwiana.”


It’s inherently cool and packed with character but doesn’t read too young. There are moments of pure fun too, like Australian artist Beni Single’s enormous murals, wayfinding, and randomly occurring doodles. Known for his work in Sydney’s Dolphin Hotel, he’s hidden tiny artworks around Drifter, like “oh no, a fire” secretly scrawled inside a fire-hose box.

Along with the Revel Room, there’s a cinema, library, boardroom, multiple terraces (firepit included), and the Drifter Leisure Club, a wellness hub encompassing a yoga studio, courtyard, and zen room. A 150-seat restaurant, bar, and retail are also set to open down the track, giving Drifter a bit of an Ace Hotel/Paramount House vibe, intended for locals and tourists alike.

With Drifter Byron Bay set to open in the coming months, CTRL Space is also working on Wellington and Auckland outposts. Stevens says they’ll follow the same site-specific approach. “The backbone of the Drifter aesthetic is that the character of the building is a strong driver for the broader concept. But design is just one part of it; it’s all about an attitude. No matter which hotel you visit, it will be a Drifter experience.”


96 Lichfield Street, Ōtautahi Christchurch

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