When Peng Loh began scouting Sydney’s Chippendale neighborhood in 2011, it hardly looked like a good site for chic hotels and celebrity-chef restaurants. He spotted needles from drug users on the ground and run-down buildings covered in graffiti. But something about the derelict district appealed to him. As he puts it: “I can see the potential in neighborhoods.”
Now Chippendale is one of Australia’s trendiest areas, part of a municipal $1.5 billion urban overhaul, bustling with parks and fashion boutiques. Travel + Leisure magazine proclaimed: “This is Sydney’s Hottest Neighborhood Right Now.” Pat Nourse, deputy editor at Australia’s Gourmet Traveller magazine, noted “Peng’s knack for seeing the potential for a site ahead of the crowd.”
Since opening last year, the Old Clare Hotel, the product of Loh’s renovation of the century-old Carlton & United Breweries building and adjacent Chippendale pub and guesthouse, has been hailed as a superlative example of historic renovation. And its high-end restaurants have won accolades from critics. It’s the latest success for this Singaporean who has won fans from London to Shanghai, and now Down Under.
Loh, 44, might seem an unlikely barometer of hipness. He looks as straight-laced as a schoolteacher and says his ideal weekend is staying home with violinist wife Min Lee and romping with his two young children. Yet the ex-lawyer provides the creative juice for 20 award-winning hotels and restaurants, all kitted out with his whimsical discoveries. A pack-rat collector from childhood, Loh fancies weird lamps and oddball furnishings. His properties celebrate his wacky taste, from signature barbershop chairs to junkyard lighting.