When the Tasmanian government took possession of a seen-better-days line of 19th-century warehouses and a disused jam factory on Hobart's blustery waterfront in the Seventies, it could have done two things: knock the whole lot down and commission a steel-and-glass number in their place, or preserve the historic façade and wait for someone with funds and imagination to do something interesting with the shell. The island's government took the controversial second option – then waited 30 years before Australia's first dedicated art hotel opened in 2004.
At first sight, little has changed since the colonial era. The archaic sign of the defunct company – "H Jones & Co Pty Ltd" – has been left as it was, and although the sandstone exterior has been buffed up, the effect is still distinctly industrial. Henry Jones was a Tasmanian icon, and the hotel honours his memory. In 1874, at the age of 12, Jones began his working life pasting labels on jam tins six days a week, 10 hours a day. By the time he retired, half a century later, he owned Australia's largest private company, with interests in timber, mining and shipping – as well as jam. His motto was "IXL" – short for "I excel in all the products I make".
Inside the Henry Jones, the architect Robert Morris Nunn has excelled, too: it's a triumph of innovative design, with unexpected combinations of heavy industrial objects, contemporary art, photography and furniture. The most eye-catching feature is the three-storey glass atrium. The artistic connection comes from the Tasmanian School of Art just around the corner, whose students helped with the project and are among those whose work is displayed throughout the hotel.
The quality of the design is matched by the informal but attentive service, an excellent restaurant and the lively IXL Long Bar, which has twice been voted Tasmania's Bar of the Year.
Henry Jones Art Hotel, 25 Hunter Street, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia (00 613 6210 7700; www.thehenryjones.com). The hotel is a short walk from the historic waterfront area where Australia's second colonial settlement was established in 1804.
Time from international airport: Hobart airport, which has regular connections with Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane, is less than half an hour's drive away.
The guest rooms come in all shapes and sizes, and are priced in eight different categories. The sandstone walls are undressed, with heavy, rustic beams and corrugated iron ceilings that judder in the wind. Contrasting with the natural timber furnishings, the king-size beds are dressed in exotic silks. The majority of the 56 rooms have spa baths.
Freebies: A generous range of Australian-made Ecossential toiletries.
Keeping in touch: Flat-screen TVs and DVD players are provided in all the suites, along with direct-dial phones and free broadband.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Standard rooms start at A$260 (£113); rooms with a harbour view cost from A$350 (£152) per night. The rates include breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Customs House Hotel, 1 Murray Street, Hobart (00 613 6234 6645; www.customshousehotel.com) charges A$125 (£54) for a standard double; A$140 (£61) for a view of the waterfront, including breakfast.