Jane Ram on what a total rethink did to Eaton Hong Kong.

Renovation at Eaton Hong Kong began with a big hole in the ground to create an atrium that is key to a total re-think of what the hotel is all about. The plain red-brick building occupies a commanding Nathan Road site at the edge of one of Kowloon’s grittier districts. Since it opened in 1990, competition has intensified from the area’s new three- and four-star properties mainly targeting the booming China tourist trade.

Early in its existence Eaton HK made a unique selling point of its food, which was of unusually high quality for an establishment of this caliber in this location. The Chinese restaurant, Yat Tung Heen, has held a well-deserved Michelin Star since 2017. As part of the renovation, this restaurant was moved to the second basement, but otherwise it maintains its legacy branding with subtle enhancements to create an olde worlde Hong Kong ambiance of indeterminate vintage.

The newly-created atrium highlights the Astor, the spectacular buffet restaurant that occupies Basement One. No yawning familiarity about this place: like everything else at today’s Eaton Hong Kong it is more than a little special. Clever design breaks up the space and creates a sense of warmth and intimacy in what could easily have been a chilly and predictable space. Tables come complete with maps that help diners navigate their way around the eight interactive cooking stations. The restaurant’s name, incidentally, is part of the nostalgic emphasis in the hotel’s new look. It recalls a historic cinema that formerly occupied this site. The design team used a light hand in creating the retro setting while the special brand of cheerful and informal yet efficient service builds customer loyalty.

Design to completion took 26 months.  But it was a sequential renovation of spaces, with the hotel never fully closed throughout the process. Actual construction time required only 14 months. Specially commissioned artwork by leading local artists occupies strategic wallspace. For the most part design features are generally understated, except where guests turn to walk towards the reception and concierge area. They can’t miss a massive custom-designed chandelier made of steel and tarpaulin designed by Avroko to pay tribute to the industrial past of the surrounding area of Kowloon. The hotel’s striking floor and wall tiles were designed by the same company along with the custom furniture and carpeting.

Sustainability is an important aspect of Eaton Hong Kong, which is EarthCheck Gold Certified. The hotel has its own in-house water purification system, energy-saving LED lighting and consumption reducing water-cooled chillers.

An important part of the new image is a Food Hall that harks back to the surrounding district’s heyday as a centre of street food culture. It “blends dining and creativity,” says the hotel’s Director of Culture, Chantal Wong. “It was inspired in part by our founder, Katherine Lo’s appreciation of European food halls that have become democratic and friendly community spaces within their neighbourhoods.”

As the daughter of the group’s owner, Lo has played a pivotal role in the hotel’s renovation. According to Wong, Lo sees Eaton Hong Kong as “a porous place for all kinds of diverse communities to interact, be they local families, our business visionaries from Eaton House or travellers from all over the world who are staying at the hotel. In selecting the vendors, we prioritized local, independent culinary innovators.”

The new co-working club within the hotel is called Eaton House. House is one of the core pillars of Eaton Workshop (alongside Hotel, Wellness, Media and Impact), the new global brand under which Eaton HK operates. Unique to the co-working sector, this concept was specifically envisioned as a gathering space and community centre for likeminded activists, creatives, artisans and progressive thinkers to come together and collaborate under a common cause of making the world a better place. Eaton House Founding Members were selected to provide a cross section of renowned local artists and business owners.

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Katherine Lo’s vision is to be inclusive, to make Eaton HK a space for the local community, which is why Eaton House and the Food Hall exist as part of the new Eaton HK. Local culture and community are part of her core vision of hospitality.

Guest room floor area remains unchanged, but it has been successfully re-thought to create the illusion of more space and light. ”We had to do it smartly, allowing for as many features and as much natural light to be let in to these intimate spaces as possible,” says Wong. White bedding and light wood finishes give a lean, Scandinavian feel to the rooms. This part of town rarely sleeps, but triple glazing and sliding light-tight window screens ensure a good night’s rest for guests.

Eaton HK has been named the 2019 winner for Hotel Renovation & Restoration at the prestigious AHEAD Asia Awards. The hotel was transformed into a new multidisciplinary lifestyle, coworking, community and hospitality concept over an 18-month renovation period in Jordan, Kowloon. 

AHEAD, the Awards for Hospitality, Experience and Design, comprises four annual, regional awards schemes run over a two-year period, culminating in a global biennale. The awards are entered, judged and attended by leading hotel owners, developers, operators, architects and designers from around the world.