Located in the picturesque village of Yan in Eastern China, the Wuyuan Skywells is a distinct heritage hotel with a history spanning 300 years. It offers guests the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, and immerse themselves in country living, without compromising on all the comforts the city can provide.
Made in the Huizhou style three centuries ago, the building features skywells (called ‘tian jing’ in Chinese): regional-style courtyards that allows natural light into the building’s interiors, which provided the inspiration for the name of the hotel. The property was inherited by the current owners in a state of disrepair. Beautifully carved timber frames in the skywells were almost completely destroyed by decades of neglect. Since this is an essential part of the design and character of the building, a very talented local artisan was commissioned to reproduce the carvings. The new version also features motifs inspired by the clients’ journey as a multiracial couple in Shanghai investing their life savings in renovating the mansion and building a new chapter in its life. This is an important aspect since the timber was not only restored artfully, but also because it is a rare feature in China due to a lack of skilled labour and compliance issues.
The elegant historical architecture creates a rich context for the contrasting modern and tasteful interior decoration. The main challenge for the interior design was the use of minimal lighting in the suites. Since the team was hesitant to make major changes to the building in order to preserve its historical quality, the rooms were supplemented with latticed panelling on the walls facing the skywells and high-quality artificial lighting.
A mix of warm colours, cool neutrals and striking accent colours set a sophisticated tone for the interiors to let the Qing-era design stand out. The hotel is one of a kind as it balances the sometimes conflicting goals of preservation with top-notch hospitality.
The hotel is an undisruptive addition to the village. The number of available suites has been kept low to ensure that, even at full capacity, guests do not feel crowded by each other’s presence. The hotel also has a high level of thermal insulation and waste management, ensuring better energy use and sustainable management.
‘’This project was an almost unanimous winner with the judges who were impressed by the ‘lightness of touch’ of the modern interventions introduced into the 300 year old historic building toprovide a modicum of 21st century comfort necessary in the transformation of the building for hospitality use. With interiors sensitively renovated with zen like charm and simplicity, and maintaining the grandeur, elegance and beauty of the original wood and stone features, the historic narrative of the building lives on with its new custodians preserving the past for generations to come.’’