Looking back on four decades of hotel design there have been many unusual project briefs for the legendary studio, CHADA, but a quirky Beijing hotel aimed at movie folk was one of the more memorable.

Rick Whalley and Juliet Ashworth, who head up the Sydney based interiors studio CHADA, had no notion of the scale of the Chinese film industry until they received the commission to design a hotel at its heart.

The 280-room hotel in Huai’rou District about 50 kilometres north of Beijing city centre, is the beating heart of the massive Chinese film industry with box office takings now larger than Hollywood. Huai’rou is enjoying a development boom with new film studios, production houses and the Beijing Film Academy driving major infrastructure projects to accommodate the fast-escalating film output which now rivals Bollywood.

The word Cineaste literally means movie maker and that was the target guest for the hotel. The owners wanted the interiors to provide an experience for the film crews and casts who would be visiting the nearby studios, something that would resonate in their world.

‘We didn’t want to default to the usual movie themes and be too literal in our design interpretation,’ says Rick Whalley “So we looked behind the scenes to find inspiration in the back lot and the sound stage of a movie set.”

Central to the concept were the conflicting elements of raw and polished. The rawness of concrete and scaffolding – the infrastructure of film lots – is set against rich, over-the-top ‘sets’. This became theatre when dramatic movie lighting was introduced.

As all the internal walls were concrete blocks the construction was both inexpensive and speedy and fell within the constraints of the budget and programme. All the materials could easily be sourced locally, reducing the carbon footprint of the project.

CHADA collaborated with FPOV, an international lighting studio with expertise in dramatic, theatre-style light.

“This was a very important aspect of the interiors, and we had a clear vision that the public areas should have spot lit spaces that created drama and the all-important Instagrammable moments,” explains Juliet Ashworth, CHADA Creative Director.

From the entrance experience through to the guest rooms the guest is wowed, and, like a movie set, the interiors change through the course of the day using lighting as a device to alter the ambience.

On arrival at the Porte Cochere, the guest is filmed approaching the front door on the red carpet by a giant Paparazzi Dog, created by artists Gillie and Marc. Once inside, the guest’s film is projected on the rear wall of the box office-styled reception desk as they check-in to the hotel.

A linear fireplace runs along the length of the lobby and overhead, like an eagle’s nest, hovers a Champagne pod viewing platform. This serves as a private entertaining balcony for VIP guests who can view the drama below, including a series of glass showcases with ‘exploding’ light fixtures.

Heavy velvet movie theatre-inspired curtains separate public spaces and white feathers line the restaurant ceiling creating a whimsical ambience. Here, the plush seating banquettes and decorative privacy screens provide intimate dining spaces rather like the great Hollywood eateries where starlets would be courted by studio bosses.

“The base finishes were super simple but we used very bold colours like pink, purple and lime in the soft furnishings,’ says Juliet. “We mixed it up and did some crazy things like round beds in the guest room and padded leather walls in the bathroom – we threw out many of the pre-conceptions and expectations for a five-star hotel. The result was very funky and there was nothing else quite like it.”

The project is very locally relevant and iconic, and this was achieved despite demanding operational and budget considerations imposed by the hotel owners.

The fit-out budget had to be carefully apportioned. So the team used artwork, artifacts and custom-designed furniture and textiles to bring uniqueness to the project.

Subtle design elements throughout draw on the history of the movie industry such as the house phone in the guestroom corridor, a replica of 1950s Bakelite phones you see in old black and white films.

“Then there’s a nod to the infamous casting couch on a plinth in the lift lobbies. That one’s a bit cheeky and perhaps not so subtle,” Juliet laughs.

Project: Cineaste Garden Hotel
Location: Beijing, China
Design Studio: CHADA
Photo Credits: Images courtesy of Cineaste Garden Hotel
Website: chada.com.au