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Chao Hotel

Will Speros • Photography by He Shu • March 2, 2017

Photos: Chao Hotel

Set in the bustling Sanlitun area of Beijing’s Chaoyang District, the Chao hotel stands prominently at the site of the former City Hotel Beijing with a clean, modern radiance. The dramatic effect continues inside, with a contemporary design at the hands of Melbourne-based architecture firm Smlwrld.

“Compositionally, we aspired to bring guests on a journey from the intimate to the grand, allowing plenty of discovery, providing detail for those who search for it, and avoiding the obvious ‘big moves’ that are common design clichés,” says firm designer Lucas Chirnside, who chose expressive textures and materials, while keeping simplicity and warmth at the forefront of the plan for the hotel and members club.

Upon arrival, a grand set of stairs replaces the standard lobby arrival hall, illuminated with warm yellow lights to balance the minimal interior architecture. Reclaimed hardwood doors from demolished Beijing hutongs have been repurposed for the lobby floors, forming a grid pattern of extra wide planks. But the standout: a pixelated wool felt ceiling installation. Animated thanks to a linear backlight treatment, it produces a floating, postmodernist visualization of an exploded slate stone.

An industrial aesthetic defines the first-floor restaurant, which exposes part of the original structure to illustrate its transition into a dining room with reinforced joints and simple materials like concrete and blackened steel. The eatery also includes an indoor-outdoor tobacco lounge outfitted with slow-turning wooden fans for a quasi-Cuban ambiance. “Within the overall plan there were zones that could be explored almost like standalone restaurants,” says Chirnside.

A dramatic lighting scheme that highlighted the artful details and created spatial discoveries was essential. Take the eye-catching, floor-to-ceiling shelves featured in the second-floor Clubhouse and Library. Since the shelves not only display books but also alcohol, cooking material, and art, “different lighting techniques are required for different functions,” explains Wang, who worked with locally based GD-Lighting Design on the project. “The common element is integrating lighting within the shelves.” Meanwhile, the property’s Sunlight Hall event space represents a simple blank slate aglow with wall luminaries to highlight its endless possibilities. The finished surfaces amplify the purity of the design with materials, such as precast concrete, aluminum grids, plasterboard, and soft-film screens.

Chao’s 180 spacious, studio-style suites and 40 apartments enjoy ample natural light via floor-to-ceiling windows, which also spotlight the muted, natural palette infused across bespoke walnut and leather furnishings. The presidential suite offers residential warmth with amber-toned step lighting to softly brighten the multilevel accommodation.

“Chao’s design is about feeling more than it is about a particular style,” Chirnside notes. “If it generates a good feeling, then it’s a potential design solution. This is actually harder than it sounds.”