The power of place is immediate and all-encompassing in the design of the luxurious interiors of the Mandarin Oriental in Guangzhou, China. A distinctive east-meets-west aesthetic is infused in this hotel by Tony Chi and his New York-based firm, tonychi and associates.
This is the first complete Mandarin Oriental by Chi and his firm, which has completed restaurants in Mandarin Oriental hotels in New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C., and is currently designing four restaurants in the Mandarin Oriental Taipei.
“The uniqueness of the property is reflected through embracing the sense of history and location,” says Johnny Marsh, senior associate at tonychi and associates. The Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou includes 233 guestrooms and 30 suites within a large mixed-use complex called Taikoo Hui designed by Arquitectonica. Besides the hotel, Taikoo Hui includes a retail center, two office towers, and a cultural center with a library and public art spaces. Swire Properties Ltd., established in Hong Kong with British origins, developed Taikoo Hui, including the hotel. Mandarin Oriental’s parent company Jardine Matheson was founded as a trading company with roots in nearby Hong Kong. Together, Swire and Jardine Matheson have an international approach with histories dating to the European colonial presence in southern China.
“It’s a modern hotel that reflects part of that history with reference to the colonial,” Marsh says. The references to history begin with the overall concept of the hotel as a courtyard building, inspired in plan by traditional Chinese architecture in which the courtyard is the center of life. The hotel has an inward focus—in contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern Guangzhou outside—stacking vertically around a central courtyard.
Guests arrive in an entry hall of dark, smoked oak floors with a polished appearance and columns clad in bronze and white-washed oak. The metaphor is a colonial-era manor, with 26-foot ceilings providing an airy, expansive feel. That colonial estate sense is heightened by floor-to-ceiling oak shutters that are opened in the morning and closed in the evening to focus the guest’s experience on the interior.In the entrance hall for the grand ballroom, the black-and-white floor has curved marble strips laid in a pattern that recalls the flowing water of the Pearl River, adding multi-layered depth to the space. One level above in the ballroom itself, pivoting doors open to an outdoor balcony with LED light fixtures that can emit any color of light.
An eclectic mix of furnishings
Furnishings throughout the hotel are curated based on an aesthetic that is modern with inspiration ranging from the 1920s Art Deco period of affluence to the Victorian era of British Colonialism. “Our approach was to create a collection of eclectic pieces just as a person would collect over time to furnish their own residence,” Marsh says. “The pieces needed to reflect different periods of time and cultures.”
Quality furniture craftsmanship is essential for all of Chi’s interiors, and that proved to be a challenge here as furnishings were primarily locally sourced. “Our client, Swire Properties, Ltd., expected all items to be locally procured and produced; no imports,” Marsh says. “But, to achieve the quality level that we expected, and to maximize our time involved, we had to convince the client to purchase and import some items.”
The primary three-meal restaurant of the hotel, Ebony, features an interior in which specially commissioned paintings by Uruguayan artist Carlos Capelán enliven white walls that contrast with surrounding dark oak. A living moss sculpture at the restaurant entrance serves as both a buffer to the entry hall and as a verdant, colorful centerpiece for the dining area. Dining chairs and tables were custom-designed by tonychi and associates, and Marsh says the process involved at least four or five shop drawings and mockups to meet his design intentions.
Regional Cantonese dishes are served in an Art Deco-influenced restaurant named Jiang, with spaces framed by semi-enclosed booths, glass partitions, and smoky mirrored walls. Exquisite cakes and pastries are available in the Mandarin Cake Shop, a boutique of yellow lacquer walls that is also a transition space between the hotel’s public spaces and the adjacent Taikhoo Hui shopping center. On the mezzanine level, a bar with no official name is a secret treat for guests. The intimate space includes a main bar, private booths, and a private room.
Guestrooms are based, in plan, on a nine-square grid inspired by Chinese courtyard structures. The room foyer is on center—rather than to one side—and flanked by separate bathing rooms for dressing and vanity as well as a bath and shower. Pocket doors separate the foyer from the bedroom, enhancing a quality of an urban luxury residence.
Marsh reflects on the lessons learned from this major project. “Our greatest challenge was achieving our quality expectation with all parties involved,” he says. “We met that challenge face-on by educating everyone on our expectations and consideration of alternative approaches.”
Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou
- Interior Designer: tonychi and associates
- Architect: Arquitectonica
- Client: Swire Properties
- Where: Guangzhou, China
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- The hotel is organized around a central courtyard, as in traditional Chinese architecture, but has an east-meets-west design aesthetic.
- Referencing the colonial era, the entry hall features a high ceiling, columns clad in bronze and oak, and tall, shuttered doors.
- Furnishings throughout the hotel are a mix of locally sourced and imported pieces and reflect many different time periods and cultures.
- Guestrooms were designed based on a nine-square grid and the layouts emphasize privacy.