LTW Designworks redefines the benchmark for luxury design in Seoul with the opening of the timelessly elegant and culturally sensitive Four Seasons Hotel.

A plain stone marker nearby the hotel site proclaims its location to be Seoul’s “Kilometer Zero,” the point from which all distances around the city are measured. This is as downtown as you can get in the South Korean capital, right in the heart of the bustling Gwanghwamun financial district where the frenetic energy and flow of business hums through the air. It is this site where the Four Seasons Hotel is situated and comes to life.

Known around the world for unsurpassed luxury and service, the latest iteration of the Four Seasons brand in Seoul represents both an international standard of design excellence but with a respectful and sensitive interplay of local traditional vernacular and historical motifs within a contemporary, residential-style interior. The team at LTW Designworks was tasked to create the next evolution of the Four Seasons brand in Korea and one that was decidedly influenced by the cultural heritage of the capital city, yet still reflective of the Four Seasons brand positioning.

Early excavations at the site unearthed an amazing and fortuitous archaeological discovery that would justify the creative inspiration and direction for the hotel. Buried deep beneath the surface, a collection of neatly organized ondols (ancient under-floor heating systems dating back to the 16th Century) were discovered, revealing the preserved topology of the historic Gong-jo-gil Street, one of Seoul’s oldest and most famous thoroughfares.

As these “lost streets” reflect Seoul’s bygone history, this in turn formed and justified the design direction for the interior – a seamless blend of traditional architectural and cultural elements with understated contemporary luxury.

“When we started out, we already knew that we wanted to tap into the endlessly rich sources of Korean cultural traditions,” says LTW partner Su Seam Teo. “These archaeological treasures felt like a calling from the past. It was like a confluence of stories in time – using the materials, patterns, colours and architecture of local Korean history and recreating it in a timeless aesthetic that has a respect and sensitivity to both the new architectural design and the overall contemporary luxe interior we wanted to create.”

One of the main features of the hotel is the lobby lounge where Four Seasons loyalists are known to congregate for meals, casual meetings, afternoon teas, restful shopping breaks and evening aperitifs. For Seoul, LTW crafted a residential style “living room” with deep, textured sofas and armchairs wrapped with subtly shimmering upholstery and plush, floral-patterned carpeting in subtle shades of grey, indigo and caramel laid underfoot.

A square timber frame sits above a central hearth which is anchored in black steel joints, gently uplift by discreet pin-spot lighting. The fireplace hearth is constructed of antiqued bronze with custom designed artwork depicting the majestic mountains and organic city plans to resemble old maps from centuries ago. Hanging above the hearth are a band of suspended silk panels that mimic a traditional Korean house, or hanok. These panels add a layer of delicate softness and lead the eye upwards to allow guests to see all points within the lounge.

As such the concept achieved is truly the best of both worlds: uncompromisingly luxurious and well-appointed in its detailing, proportions and amenities, yet a proud representation of the rich cultural heritage of the site. Traditionally, the chosen area, being situated close to the Royal Palace, had always been an area where visitors and locals of any conceivable social status and background would meet and mingle, and the hotel would likewise represent a meeting place of people, ideas and perspectives.

The materials used for the Four Seasons guestrooms and public spaces pay homage to the original ancient buildings that had gone before it: solid timber framing with steel joinery lacquered frames with delicate silkscreen inserts, locally sourced art and artifacts. There is very little repetition: each area is carefully crafted to break up a single space into separate storylines. The overall feeling is one of intimacy and belonging, a quiet respite from the bustle of city life below.

The Four Seasons feels surprisingly spacious for a high-rise hotel in one of the most crowded areas of the capital. Most rooms are indeed larger than those in other five-star accommodations in the city (the smallest guestroom starts around 43 square meters), but the expansive feeling is mostly due to a carefully crafted layout, with translucent panels and wooden frames creating sightlines that hint at something beyond.

As Su Seam points out, “ ‘space’ itself is a given – it’s the box you’re given to design in. However, ‘spaciousness’ is a positive emotion derived and positive connection to the interior environment that is created by the designer through clever planning, careful attention to scale and proportion, and thoughtful detailing and use of quality materials.”

Korean architecture is always conscious of the delicate relationship between a place and its environment and strives for a harmonious interplay between the two. Mindful of this heritage, the LTW Designworks team combined these traditional building elements with inspiration drawn from nature: gemstone colour palettes, wallpapers and silk screens that feature silhouettes of tree branches, lighting fixtures comprised of hundreds of delicate transparent glass tubes, like icicles suspended from the leaves.

The plush carpets feature floral motifs, such as images of the exuberant yellow kenari spring flower, merged with hand-drawn geometries in muted, warm tones. The interplay of these two visual narratives, natural and man-made, are firmly rooted in the local culture and tells the story of Seoul like it has never been told before.

The richly detailed suites feature hidden opaque lighted surfaces and panelled walls that, combined with a palette of muted earth tones, enhance the sense of lightness and openness. Even though the environment is rich in detail, there is absolutely no sense of clutter. The result is an amazing combination of freedom and intimacy; no small feat to achieve.

The Four Seasons Seoul provides its guests with an unforgettable, immersive hospitality experience that forges a link between the vibrant Korean culture of the past and the contemporary luxury Four Seasons is synonymous with.

Project: Four Seasons
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Design Studio: LTW Designworks
Photography: Michael Weber