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Grand Casino Dunedin interior retrofit ups the ante and scores big

22 Feb 2022

Located on the first floor of the Scenic Hotel Southern Cross building, the Grand Casino Dunedin is not your typical gaming locale. Originally named the Grand Hotel, it was built in 1883 and designed by Italian architect Louis Boldini. The opulent interior of the Heritage 1 status building showcases all the decadence of the Victorian era, containing some of Dunedin’s finest ornate plasterwork and what was one of the city’s first large ballrooms (known today as the Gainsborough Room). The original mosaic floor of the foyer is still present, along with the enchanting dome roof at the top of the entrance and the original spiral staircase. The building's elegant details have always been an important part of the building’s story, with its grandeur underpinning player’s dreams of hitting the jackpot. But over time, the interior had lost its vibrancy and needed a refurbishment to reignite the magic and keep the fantasy alive.

When designer Annie Simpson King was offered the opportunity to head up a retrofit which would see the property rebrand from the Dunedin Casino to the Grand Casino Dunedin, it was a dream come true. “I had previously been introduced to the client and a while later was approached to see if I was interested in refurbishing the casino. Of course, I said yes – what a fabulous opportunity!”

“My creative aim was to contemporise the Grand Casino and make it appealing for today’s generation as an entertainment destination for grand and memorable experiences,” says Annie. “I wanted to capture a feeling of being dressed up in elegant clothing with sparkle and bling that would give visitors the sensation they were overseas somewhere like the Savoy Hotel in London or a tropical conservatory-like space filled with timeless opulence. I wanted that experience we search for now more than ever: to be captured and be uplifted, with a vibe that was comfortable yet edgy at the same time.”

Annie set about winning the ‘wow’ back to the restaurant, bar and atrium areas in a way that was respectful of the building’s original rich, Victorian layers but with a modern, elegant twist. “As with any historic building, certain elements needed to remain: the tiles in the atrium, the gold filigree and gold sconces in the restaurant. I needed to create mood and atmosphere, so I started thinking about my design concept within the bar area – which was dark and had a very heavy feeling. There were dark slate tiles and lots of heavy wood panels, with a deep yet loud red toned carpet and a cream ceiling with peachy undertones.”

To return the grandeur, Annie played off the historic gold details and added more metallics throughout to enhance existing elements. “This design was all about the attention to details of layering textures, colours and shapes together. The ceiling was key, which has large carved gold sconces on the side edges that had to remain. I decided to flip the look and paint the ceiling in Resene Pure Pewter metallic, maximising the impact. The wood needed to be lighter, so we painted the panels in tones that went the main atrium tiles in Resene Tea and Resene Alabaster. Highlighting the panel design with two colour tones on the walls gave the elegance back,” she explains.

“The carpet I chose was lighter and brighter with gold markings, linking its look to the other metallic touches. We also replaced the dark slate on the front of the bar with bright gold mosaic tiles and added new black marble bench tops. The rear of the bar needed to be bright and eye catching, and I wanted to connect the look and feel of the ceiling look to it, so we painted the back bar in Resene Pure Pewter metallic to bring that touch of sparkle and casino feel.” 

Lighting was also a key consideration in order to best show off the new metallic ceiling. “It was so important to create atmosphere and mood, but the lighting also needed to be flexible and modern enough to change depending on the event being held. We added LED strip lighting behind the bar that can change colour when required, and the addition of a hanging gold feature light over the bar brings a breath-taking connection to the large gold wall sconces,” Annie says. For the furniture, she focused on bringing in elegant velvets and gold tones that would add to the lush feeling she was after, with pops of colour and large potted palms to bring life into the spaces.

Annie says that the main challenges for the project were connecting the old with the new and getting her clients to buy into going darker on the ceilings. “I took some convincing to help them understand the ceilings would look amazing in metallic and it would end up being one if the glory pieces of the design. I was so pleased when they jumped onboard and trusted in me, as the final product would not be what it is now without that dramatic finish.”

“The best outcome for any designer, I believe, is that your client is happy with the end result – and, with this project, they really were. I feel that the glamour and opulence brought back the space back to bygone era and I loved designing that side of it. The most effective part of the design and my personal highlight overall, were the Resene Pure Pewter metallic ceilings which brought high impact. I thought it would be one of the superstars in the design, and is definitely ended up being one of my favourite features.”

If Annie was doing the project over again, she doesn’t expect she would have done things differently. “There are so many highlights that work so well in the space. I did have to change a couple of things along the way that become unavailable in the climate we are working in, which can be a little stressful at the time. But in the end, those things became stars in their own right.”

“I find Resene’s to be an inspirational company on many levels; they are current in the marketplace, with great product performance that I trust. The one thing I find myself using all the time is the Resene website, which is so informative and gives me easy access to everything at my fingertips. I personally love the Resene Whites & Neutrals Collection with its many tones, tints and shades and I really enjoy the magazines and in-house articles, too.”

“My hands down favourite colour to use is Resene Alabaster. It is a simple clean white that has a slight touch of black in so that it reflects as a pure white. I love the strength and impact of the Resene FX Metallics – especially for commercial jobs, where they can offer another layer of surprise. My other go-to is the Karen Walker Paints range, as I find those colours very emotive and love their base tones.”

“Colour was really key to my design; to allow it to be light and bright yet dramatic enough to make you feel you are in what is indeed a grand casino. Casinos are busy places with lots going on. I kept telling myself the inspiration was all in the gold and metallics; that the key to get the feeling of opulence back was adding more layers. As designers, we often look for ways to tone things down, but I found myself enhancing it with the Resene metallics to create the mood and atmosphere supported by those two key neutrals, Resene Tea and Resene Alabaster, to give it the grace and calmness the design needed,” says Annie.

Her efforts didn’t go unrecognised. Last year, the project took home the Resene Total Colour Heritage Colour Maestro Award.

“I loved working on this job. It certainly made me think in new ways and pushed my boundaries as a designer.”


The restaurant and bar ceilings are a standout of the new design. Their ornate coffered forms have been decked out in Resene Pure Pewter metallic paint, giving their detailed features glitter. The walls and panels have been painted in Resene Quarter Tea and Resene Half Tea to bring more definition to the rectangular shapes while gilded details in Resene Gold Dust metallic makes the edges pop.

The new bar design saw a hefty dose of bling added through gold tiling, LED strip lighting and the arched feature getting glammed up in Resene Pure Pewter metallic paint to connect it with the other shining details. Ceiling in Resene Pure Pewter metallic, walls in Resene Half Tea and Resene Quarter Tea with details in Resene Gold Dust metallic.

A new light fixture above the bar echoes the shape and style of the heritage sconces in the dining area, highlighting the glimmering effect of the Resene Pure Pewter metallic ceiling and add to the moody ambiance. Back bar in Resene Pure Pewter metallic, restaurant walls in Resene Quarter Tea and Resene Half Tea with Resene Gold Dust metallic filigree.

Annie used two different neutral tones, Resene Half Alabaster and Resene Quarter Tea, to give the walls and their narrow panels a layered and almost three dimensional appearance. “This space needed to be lighter and brighter and welcoming,” she explains, “as it is the main entrance and the main connection to the other spaces within the Casino. These lighter shades give your eyes time to adjust to the other moodier areas I had created as you make your way through. The arches and filigree were repainted in Resene Gold Dust metallic to match the existing gold details in the space.”

Resene FX Gold Dust metallic was used in the atrium to touch up existing gold filigree. Walls in Resene Half Alabaster (left) and Resene Quarter Tea (right).

Designer Annie Simpson-King (left) with Dominique Dowding, Grand Dunedin Casino Chief Executive, in the casino’s retrofitted bar with the project’s Resene Total Colour Heritage Colour Maestro Award. Annie wore a number of hats during the project, including leading the interior design, estimating and managing the project from start to finish. Image by Gregor Richardson.

interior design and project management Simpson King Design

architectural specification Otra Forma

build Taylor Made Joinery

painting Otago Painting Solutions

images Nourished Studio

Published: 22 Feb 2022