Updating public areas is de rigueur for any hotel. Rebecca Lo discovers that when the spaces are designed to target diverse markets segments, the results make business sense.

Tung Lo Wan Road in lower Tai Hang district is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and most affluent neighbourhoods. It is home to St. Paul’s Hospital, Chinese Recreation Club and Queen’s College, all highly respected institutions. A row of tong laus – low rise tenements with retail on the ground floor and apartments above – have occupied 98 to 108 Tung Lo Wan Road in the years following World War II. In 2017, Little Tai Hang opened in the locale where these residences used to stand. What was formerly home to 24 families is now a 182 key boutique property open to anyone wanting a slice of Tai Hang life.

Be My Neighbour

Little Tai Hang
Little Tai Hang

Little Tai Hang is a high rise hotel catering to short and long staying guests, a trend seen all over Asia that combines hospitality with flexible home environments. The hotel’s ground floor is leased to local brewer Young Master’s Second Draft pub offering celebrity chef May Chow’s east meets west menu.

Architect and cultural curator Tommy Watari Pao, Little Tai Hang’s proprietor, wanted to give back to the neighbourhood with many references to the area’s distinctive characteristics. The lobby feels more like a living room: a brick fireplace dominates one wall, and the check-in desk is a marble and timber clad counter that could be mistaken for a chic home bar. Public areas such as a lounge have a distinctively Mid Century Modern vibe, with Scandinavian style furnishings and colourful area rugs.

“The priority was to realise a well built design that established a strong relationship to its context and is able to bring out the most unique and charming qualities of Tai Hang,” explains Pao.

Tommy Watari Pao
Architect and cultural curator Tommy Watari Pao, Little Tai Hang’s proprietor

Little Tai Hang may be an extreme example, yet it is common in Hong Kong to bulldoze heritage buildings in favour of shiny skyscrapers. In recent years, the city has become more sensitive to its unique architectural heritage – and that goes for hotels as well.

On the other side of the pond on Nathan Road, Eaton Hong Kong enjoyed many decades as a budget friendly tour group hotel owned and operated under Hong Kong based Great Eagle Holdings. Last November, it opened its doors as Eaton HK on the heels of its flagship Eaton property in Washington DC. While he attended McGill University in Canada, Great Eagle chairman Lo Ka Shui was impressed with the Timothy Eaton chain of eponymous department stores operating coast to coast. He decided to name his first hotel, opened in 1980, after the brand: the Eaton name had a solid ring to it that stuck to this day.

Millennial Market

Fast forward to 2018. Lo’s daughter and Eaton president Katherine Lo was tasked with updating the brand to appeal to millennials. She kept the property’s late 1980s rust coloured tile exterior, yet its interiors courtesy of New York headquartered hospitality specialists AvroKO are strikingly different.

“One goal of this brand is to be authentic,” states William Harris, principal at AvroKO. “To drive that sensation home, we funneled the pure and unadulterated spirit of the surrounding Jordan neighbourhood into the property through the use of local materials and colour palettes.”

The Astor
The Astor

The most significant architectural change was a pit dug into the ground floor. Now, guests arriving can see directly down two levels into Eaton Foodhall and all day dining establishment The Astor. They can browse a retail area off reception featuring LGBT friendly products.

One Michelin starred Cantonese restaurant Yat Tung Heen was given a sexy Wong Kar Wai inspired update that includes mustard stained glass panel inserts and Neo Art Deco ceiling lamps.

Co-working hub Eaton House was created to be an incubator for local art and culture, and features its own bookable screening room. There is a dedicated installation area for multimedia art. Eaton feels distinctly younger now, and offers a few of Hong Kong’s first gender friendly washrooms featuring signage that equally welcomes male, female and transitioning folks with quirky symbols symbolising each demographic.

Eaton House Lounge
Eaton House Lounge

Grand Dame

Karen Hay of IN-dulge has taken a different approach to the renovation of beloved restaurant Angelina in Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Creative director and founder of Hong Kong based IN-dulge, Hay is a Scotswoman who looked to her homeland for the destination whisky bar and restaurant. As Sofitel’s highest category of luxury hotels, Legends are historic properties that have been sensitively updated with contemporary touches. It made sense for Hay to deep dive into the heathery hills of Scotland’s countryside—a place renowned for its whiskies—to develop Angelina’s design concept.

“We wanted to bring authenticity to Angelina without being clichéd,” Hay explains. “We used wools from Scotland and rich leathers. Screens behind booth seating were constructed out of blue and gold metal rods that remind people of Scottish tartans. The interiors have been described as cleverly Celtic. There is also a lot of Vietnam in the space: floor tiles in the bar are made locally from cement and resembles many of the French colonial floor tiles you see in the city.”

Angelina in Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.

More of Singapore

Further south, HBA Singapore instilled the 343 key Grand Park City Hall with a definitive sense of place by injecting cultural and artistic references to its hometown. Yet to appeal to millennials, it has gone high tech, with a user initiated check in process on smart phones. By accessing a dedicated app, full control over room entry, lights or air conditioning can be conducted through a swipe. It is the tension between old and new that gives Singapore based Park Hotel Group’s flagship hotel its niche, opening up a new world to locals and visitors who want to indulge in a Crazy Rich Asians experience.

“We wanted to create a hotel design that narrates the rich history of this landmark location, thereby allowing guests to have an authentic local experience and at the same time offering a hotel that speaks to the needs of the modern traveller,” says Rahul Shankhwalker, HBA Singapore’s principal designer.

The Singapore-based Park Hotel Group is positioning its Grand Park properties as the leading brand within its 16 strong hotels and resorts portfolio across 11 destinations in Asia Pacific. To that end, HBA worked with six local artists to create a distinctively Singaporean aesthetic. From a typical Singapore street scene printed on collaterals such as silk scarves and backdrops on the wall of lifts, to enamel Tiffin containers used to serve candy and biscuits, details of the Lion City’s culture come alive. The outdoor swimming pool has been updated to integrate wading areas for young children within the main lap pool, in a nod to Singaporeans’ love of staycations with family. To encourage guests to sweat during workouts, the outdoor gym is situated beside the swimming pool and offers views of Fort Canning Park’s greenery.

“Guests today want to experience a place – not just the amenities,” says John Kockan, general manager of Grand Park City Hall. “Through incorporating art and graphics, we created a lifestyle space to engage guests and instill a sense of destination.”