DESIGNED FOR THOUGHT
Swire Hotels’ Upper House and Middle House are exemplars of style
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.
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