Yi House, Beijing
Can hotels be works of art? Shauna Liu would argue they can. The former Hong Kong investment banker is the driving force behind Yi House hotel, an achingly hip boutique property located in Beijing's thriving art zone, Factory 798.
So it was once a factory? Yi House was indeed a crystal-lighting factory, although it had long been in a state of disrepair. Liu and her investors pumped in about US$6 million to convert it into a hotel featuring plenty of East-meets-West touches. She admits being influenced by Hong Kong's colonial architecture and cites the old Repulse Bay Hotel as one of her favourite examples.
Any more factories around there? The main part of Factory 798 was once an armaments factory, albeit a rather elegant one, with Bauhaus-style buildings. The biggest building in the area, the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, regularly displays controversial artwork.
Who goes to Yi House? Billionaire financier George Soros was spotted having lunch here recently, during a fleeting break from banking matters, but he is hardly a typical guest. Art buyers and browsers alike seem to enjoy the comforts Yi House has to offer. Before the hotel opened, the only options were to stay in grungy local accommodation or make the long, traffic-clogged schlep out from downtown.
What are the rooms like? Exquisite. Liu has a refined eye for design and detail, and personally selected the furnishings and fittings, which include Chinese-style cabinets, wooden floors and Afghan carpets. The bathrooms are uncompromisingly Western, with chunky, industrial-style rainforest showers. 'I travel a lot, so I picked up things from my travels that I like,' Liu says. 'The main colour is green - the colour of the environment. We also use black, white and grey. We are an art hotel, so I want to show the artwork and keep the colours simple. I didn't want it to look too noisy.'
Any other reasons to stay here? Loads. The hotel has regularly changing art displays and a gourmet restaurant, Fennel, which has become a kind of upmarket canteen for the 798 crowd, who, previously, had to make do with the area's uninspiring cafes and bars. Christian Hoffmann, former head chef at Raffles Beijing, has drawn up a Mediterranean-inspired menu that includes dishes such as seafood lasagne, pigeon with sesame sauce, spicy garlic prawns and Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb.
Will the boss greet me? Very likely. The gregarious Liu is a real chatterbox, who is rightly proud of her creation.
What's the bottom line? A single 'artists room' (above right) is priced at 690 yuan (HK$800) per night while an Emperor Suite (above far right) is 3,200 yuan.
Yi House hotel is at 706 Hou Jie No 1, 798 Art District, Jiu Xian Qiao Lu, 2 Hao Yuan, Beijing tel: 86 10 6436 1818; www.yi-house.com.