Two decades ago Belfast’s first boutique hotel disappeared. McCausland’s – the scene of lively lunches for a few years – may be missed but thankfully from its ashes arose the phoenix that is Malmaison. But hey, halcyon days are back to stay, today’s the future’s heyday. Malmaison’s trademark extensive use of black allows the architecture to speak. And speak it does. Dropping a consonant (remember the amusing Lost Consonants cartoon in the Saturday Guardian when it used to come with a shelf load of supplements?) between editions, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society published Marcus Patton’s Central Belfast A Historical Gazetteer in 1993 and 22 years later Central Belfast An Historical Gazetteer. Going with the earlier version:
“1867 to 1868 by William Hastings with sculpture by Thomas Fitzpatrick. A pair of four storey stone warehouses built as a pair but with varied detail to suit the two clients: the rival seed merchants John Lytle and Sons and Samuel McCausland. Lytle’s warehouse has a five bay ground floor with arches springing from columns with varied capitals and standing birds at the springing of the arches; a massive rope moulding forms a cil course to the second floor windows, which are grouped as a triple light flanked by duples, with red granite colonettes and freely carved almost Celtic arches and keystones; over the third floor windows, grotesque heads with long tongues form corbels for the cornice brackets which are interspersed with strapwork panels; at the centre of the parapet is a little pediment over a crown and harp (Lytle’s trademark).”
Malmaison is really a pair of semi detached warehouses forming one architectural composition. Looking up from Victoria Street, the lefthand five bays are Lytle’s; the righthand six bays, McCausland’s. Round the corner on Marlborough Street, over a carriageway entrance into Lytle’s warehouse is a carved Chinaman stone head. Complete with coolie hat, drooping moustache and pigtail he is very Fu Manchu. An African stone head rescued from nearby demolished sugar stores forms an unusual talking piece in Malmaison reception.
But it’s McCausland’s warehouse which really goes to town, shouting out its international credentials. Peering over the top of the five ground floor piers along Victoria Street are carved stone heads placed above clusters of fruit and vegetables. They represent the five continents, a conscious and highly visible display linking this business to the great trading houses of the past, demonstrating global trading connections and pride in the Empire. Africa has wavy hair and wears earrings. Asia is turbaned. Oceania is the only female. Europe is whiskered. America wears a feathered headdress.