DE­SIGNED FOR THOUGHT

Swire Ho­tels’ Up­per House and Mid­dle House are ex­em­plars of style

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The Up­per House, Hong Kong

In a time when grandiose lob­bies, larger-than-life chan­de­liers and uni­formed staff stand­ing be­hind check-in coun­ters are the norm, one ho­tel de­fied all con­ven­tions to take on a more thoughtful and tran­quil mien: The Up­per House in Hong Kong.

The sec­ond prop­erty of the House Col­lec­tive un­der Swire Ho­tels cel­e­brates its de­cen­nial an­niver­sary in 2019, yet it feels freshly con­tem­po­rary; a re­mark­able feat con­sid­er­ing that it was famed ar­chi­tect An­dré Fu’s, irst ho­tel pro­ject back when he only had a three­man stu­dio.

Up­ward jour­ney to bliss

A Be­do­nia stone door­way façade and a strik­ing cir­cu­lar art in­stal­la­tion by Ko­rean artist Choi Tae-Hoon, made of thou­sands of black­ened steel parts welded to­gether, greets us upon ar­rival at the ho­tel, which oc­cu­pies the 38th to 49th floors of mixe­duse com­plex Pa­cific Place in the cen­tral busi­ness district of Ad­mi­ralty.

But that’s not the rea­son for The Up­per House’s name. Rather, it’s the jour­ney of leav­ing ur­ban stresses be­hind as a guest ex­pe­ri­ence of­fi­cer per­son­ally escorts us up­wards on an es­ca­la­tor through a Torii gate-in­spired tun­nel to a world of re­laxed lux­ury and calm­ing spa­ces.

Here, there are no lob­bies, fussy pa­per check-ins, or even “close” but­tons in the el­e­va­tors. In­stead, there are in­ti­mate set­tings invit­ing you to slow down and con­nect such as the se­cret gar­den lawn on Level 6 where weekly yoga classes and evening cock­tails take place, and 49th floor The Sky Lounge, which hosts fire­place talks by a care­fully cu­rated list of thought lead­ers in the fields of art, de­sign, mu­sic, fash­ion and travel.

Artis­tic in­spi­ra­tion abounds at ev­ery turn, from the eye-catch­ing ce­ramic disc by lo­cal artist Man Fung-yi ac­com­pa­ny­ing us in the el­e­va­tors to Ja­panese artist Hiro­to­shi Sawada’s stain­less steel sculp­ture Rise me­an­der­ing from the 38th floor atrium to a height of 30 me­tres to­wards the top 49th floor Sky Bridge and um­brella-like sculp­tural sky­light – the jour­ney’s zenith.

Re­laxed lux­ury

Guests en­joy the largest ho­tel rooms in Hong Kong, each with panoramic Vic­to­ria Har­bour or is­land views. The 117 wellap­pointed rooms, in­clud­ing 21 suites and two pent­houses, start from 68 square me­tres (the equiv­a­lent of two av­er­age ho­tel rooms) to a whop­ping 182 square me­tres.

My Up­per Suite, decked in monochro­matic tones of nat­u­ral tim­ber, shoji glass, lime­stone and lac­quered pa­per pan­els, felt like a cul­tured res­i­dence with thoughtful pam­per­ing touches: neatly stacked art and de­sign tomes and a spa­cious lime­stone-cladded bath­room look­ing more art gallery than wash area with its free-stand­ing bath­tub and a seed­shaped wood­grain sand­stone sculp­ture be­side.

On the day of de­par­ture, as I closed my room door for the last time, my mind re­wound back to mo­ments of com­fort­ing be­spoke gin­ger ver­bena scent waft­ing through the cor­ri­dors, the el­e­va­tor’s quiet tem­ple chime an­nounc­ing my floor, and the dis­creet back-lit num­bers and card-tap point by my door that tells me I’m just steps away from my co­coon. Sub­tly and in­tan­gi­bly, I al­ways knew I was home.

The Mid­dle House, Shang­hai

Swire Ho­tels’ lat­est stylish ad­di­tion to Shang­hai’s sky­line is like two brood­ing war­riors ar­moured in round alu­minium lou­vers, its 14-storey green­ery-en­veloped tow­ers cut­ting an im­pres­sive sil­hou­ette in Shang­hai’s new­est life­style des­ti­na­tion HKRI Taikoo Hui near the bustling Nan­jing Road (West).

Its name is a nod to its lo­ca­tion in Dazhongli (the Man­darin char­ac­ter “zhong” means “cen­tre”) one of the old­est re­main­ing shiku­men, or lane­house, clus­ters in the city. Walk through the main foyer and the spec­tac­u­lar Mu­rano chan­de­lier against a jade-green ce­ramic wall cladding re­sem­bling a bam­boo grove her­alds the be­gin­ning of a cu­ra­to­rial theme cen­tred around China’s porce­lain and ce­ramic her­itage.

The lobby car­ries the at­mos­phere of a res­i­den­tial liv­ing room with its neu­tral hues, plush so­fas and shelves of ob­jets d’art and de­sign tomes, where the splen­did sight of Hong Kong artist Caro­line Cheng’s 12,000 hand­made porce­lain but­ter­flies sewn on a burlap Chi­nese robe, and Chi­nese-Aus­tralian artist Lindy Lee’s Fire Over Fire pa­per works with burnt per­fo­ra­tions, loosely in­spired by tra­di­tional porce­lain paint­ing pat­terns, is enough to spark con­ver­sa­tion and a myr­iad awed ob­ser­va­tions.

Mod­ern yet lo­cal

In his first ho­tel pro­ject in Asia, Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Piero Lis­soni, who is renowned for his mod­ernist fur­ni­ture col­lab­o­ra­tions with brands such as Fritz Hansen, Cassina and Kartell, melds his sig­na­ture clean lines with lo­cal crafts­man­ship, im­bu­ing

the 111 guest rooms with dark neu­tral hues and pops of jewel-toned ac­cents and nu­anced mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Chi­nese fur­ni­ture, in­clud­ing sleek pen­dant lamps and ori­en­tal-style night­stands. Even the bath­room with a free­stand­ing bath­tub has char­ac­ter: Its brown ce­ramic par­quet tiles come with brushed bam­boo tex­tures. The el­e­gant, if not some­what mas­cu­line, de­meanor of the room is also tem­pered by quirky de­tails such as a mas­ter switch in the shape of a dan­gling tas­seled rope by the bed­side, and frog em­bel­lish­ments at the back of the 180-de­gree swivel TV.

Meals were soul- and ap­petite-stir­ring af­fairs. The famed Café Gray Deluxe from The Up­per House also has an edi­tion here, where we dined un­der high ceil­ings and cheery paint­ings of vases, wa­ter jugs and tea can­is­ters by Hong Kong-based artist Richard Winkworth. At Ital­ian restau­rant Frasca, we had gen­er­ous por­tions of hearty plates such as the pap­pardelle veal ragout and wood-grilled wagyu in be­tween ad­mir­ing a quilted horse­hair car­pet and a black stone-tiled dress with flo­ral em­bel­lish­ments on the wall. And be­fore we were daz­zled by Chi­nese restau­rant Sui Tang Li’s in­no­va­tive herbal cock­tails, exquisitely plated dim sum and ro­bustly flavoured Can­tonese and Shang­hainese dishes, we were busy gawk­ing at the black metal spi­ral stair­case flanked by hand­made bricks that links the sec­ond floor restau­rant in the Mid­dle House Res­i­dences tower to the un­der­ground Mi Xun Spa, a cav­ernous lair with a heated in­door swim­ming pool, 24-hour gym and spa treat­ment rooms.

They say that great minds think alike. In these two houses opened nine years apart, where both pro­jects were a first of sorts for their re­spec­tive ar­chi­tects, the quiet ge­nius be­hind the cre­ation of sub­tly stir­ring hos­pi­tal­ity ex­pe­ri­ences is re­mark­able.

FROM LEFT: Ja­panese artist Hiro­to­shi Sawada’s stain­less steel sculp­ture “Rise” goes up to 30 me­tres in height, from the 38th floor atrium to­wards the top of the 49th floor Sky Bridge; Café Gray’s en­trance on the Sky Bridge on the 39th floor

FROM LEFT: Level 6 of The Up­per House is where guests go for evening cock­tails; liv­ing room of the Up­per Suite

LEFT: Fluid and sculp­tural stair­case at the Res­i­dencesTOP: Plus so­fas and beau­ti­ful ob­jets d’art at the lobby in­vite guest to linger for in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tionsBOT­TOM: Ital­ian restau­rant Frasca

A spec­tac­u­lar Mu­rano chan­de­lier makes for a strik­ing im­pres­sion against a back­drop of a jade green ce­ramic wall in the main foyer

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