It is the grand old dame of Balmoral, a much-loved building that has figured prominently in the lives of Sydneysiders since its construction almost 100 years ago.

The Bathers’ Pavilion, one of the few remaining examples of Spanish mission architecture in Sydney, has an inimitable charm. Built in 1928 and 1929 to accommodate the sudden surge in popularity of sea bathing in Sydney, Bathers’ served the needs of Balmoral swimmers for four decades until 1969, when it became Misha’s Restaurant.

In 1998, French-Canadian chef Serge Dansereau took over the restaurant in Bathers’ Pavilion, which thrived under his stewardship. In 2018, Dansereau signed a 20-year lease with the restaurant’s new co-owners, Ian Pagent and Jessica Shirvington, before departing the business in October 2020. The new owners recruited designer Rachel Luchetti, co-director of Sydney architecture and interior design firm Luchetti Krelle, to lead a much-needed refurbishment of the venue in 2019.

“The most important thing to remember was this was an institution already – a lot of people didn’t want to see it change dramatically,” says Luchetti of the building, heritage-listed since 1999. “It was about giving it the next chapter, without taking away what people loved about it.”

While the building’s bones remained unaltered, the interior was gutted to make way for a ’20s-inspired “Med-luxe” update. Walnut timber panels line the fine-dining Bathers’ Pavilion Restaurant, evoking the interior of a luxury cruise ship, a nautical theme carried on by shades of maritime blue and grey and brass detailing. The Bathers’ Bistro, a space dedicated to casual all-day dining, recalls bistros of Paris and the Mediterranean. Between the two, a spectacular onyx bar faces the ocean.

Luchetti wanted to activate overlooked areas of the building and turn them into spots guests could drop into for a drink between mealtimes. That meant revitalising the terrace, previously under-used as an events space – “a lot of people didn’t know it was there,” says Luchetti – and opening up the downstairs bar area. “We took out coolrooms and things that were obstructing the view, so now you can sit at the back of the bar and look out across the room to the water,” says Luchetti. “It’s a lovely place to sit.”

At waterfront venues famous for their ocean views, “people tend to jostle for position along the window line,” says Luchetti. “The challenge is to create comfortable, interesting places to sit – it’s about making every single seat in the house desirable.”

Art aficionados will spy paintings by past and present luminaries of Australia’s art world including Jeffrey Smart, Rosalie Gascoigne, Robert MacPherson and Kerrie Lester.

“Between Artbank (a government-owned art collection) and the client’s private collection, we were lucky enough to curate a huge amount of iconic Australian artwork that brings a lot of personality to the space,” says Luchetti. “The great thing about Artbank is you can swap them out after a year. It’s nice for regulars to see that change, which is happening at the moment.”

Hot Wednesday, a Ken Done beach scene, hangs in Luchetti’s favourite room of the refurbished venue – the Sunroom, formerly known as the Red Room. Featuring cane furniture and ikat fabrics, it’s a double-height space thanks to a vaulted ceiling. “The scale is impressive,” says Luchetti. “You feel like you’re in this annexe off the bistro. It has this intimacy about it which is really lovely.”

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