Beijing’s Opposite House Luxury Hotel Brings Top-End Accommodations To New Sanlitun Village Development
Over the last few years, fevered demolition and construction has transformed Beijing’s popular Sanlitun bar district, home to dozens of restaurants, bars, and shops. Where the area once served as a magnet for locals and foreigners looking for cheap drinks and bootleg DVDs, the new “Village at Sanlitun” complex — which includes a new mall and several high-end restaurants and stores — has given Sanlitun a fresh look and international cosmopolitan appeal. Recently, the area’s newest boutique luxury hotel, the Opposite House, has garnered rave reviews in the press, both for its bold exterior and interior design as well as its near-perfection — something that James Fallows notes is hard to find in Chinese hotels, many of which focus more on projecting a modern and impressive image than putting attention to detail.
As Fallows writes, The Opposite House is a huge step in the right direction for Chinese hoteliers:
I am touched and fascinated by the islands of perfectionism in modern China, by efforts to achieve something truly first-rate. I have seen them in factories, in art studios, in university research labs—and most recently in the Sanlitun district of Beijing, from the designers and managers of the new Opposite House hotel.
The hotel’s name, based on a Chinese term for the guesthouse in an auspicious spot on the far side of a family courtyard, is the least unusual thing about it. With rooms at list prices of $700 and up, Opposite House comes in at the very top end of a Beijing hotel market that has been glutted with new capacity just as international business travel has fallen off.
Fallows notes that the Opposite House — which is owned by the same Hong Kong property company, Swire, as the Village at Sanlitun complex — was conceived by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who was given nearly free rein. Kuma, Fallows points out, had never designed a hotel before, and his enthusiasm for the project comes across in the design. As Alex Chen, assistant sales director of the Opposite House says, “There is literally a book on how to design hotels, which we threw away.”
According to several travel publications, the decision to throw the design book away sets the hotel apart from other Beijing luxury hotels. As Luxury Travel Magazine notes,
The May edition of Condé Nast Traveler US applauds the 99 guest rooms for “Japanese minimalism with ingenious built-ins and natural brushed-oak floors. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the rooms with light while blocking out street noise, even here in the Sanlitun nightlife district.”
Australian Gourmet Traveller additionally includes The Opposite House on its annual 2009 Best of the Best list of the world’s Top 30 New Hotels.
National Geographic Traveler, China includes the hotel on its 2009 Gold List, as Best Designed Hotel.
Every aspect of the Opposite House’s design is meant to enhance the hotel experience for guests, and Kuma’s design eschews classic hotel features accordingly:
There is no check-in desk, nor any bellmen or other obvious members of staff. “If you come in carrying bags, someone will spot you and come to greet you,” Chen said. From there the staff members—young Chinese recruited for affable personalities rather than experience—help guests register using tablet computers. The atrium doubles as a display area for contemporary Chinese art. Two floors down are the gym and a large, stainless-steel swimming pool.
The private spaces, the rooms, look like what an architect would dream of if freed from practical constraints. They are in two color ranges only: the white/ivory of walls, linens, pillows; and the natural wood hues of the oak floors and the recycled pine (from old structures in southern China) that lines the corridors. In the bathroom, there are square wooden sinks and a huge, deep, rectangular wooden soaking tub. Many of the rooms overlook a rare sylvan area of Beijing, the Sanlitun diplomatic compound, which, with its low-rise buildings and high-rise trees, gives the impression of a mini Central Park. The rooms are called “studios,” not rooms, “so guests will feel creative,” Ross said. “We want them to feel at home.” If only home were this nice.