Union Bar, China

Images: Courtesy of AvroKO

The Opposite House hotel in Beijing has recently completed its first phase of refurbishment with the new Union bar, designed by AvroKO. 

The Union bar is the first completed edition of the Opposite House hotel’s refurbishment. An elegant bar that exudes comfort and the free spirit of an artisan’s studio, it has been created by New York-based design firm AvroKO, with the interior design takeing inspiration from 1920s modernist sensibilities.

Located in the Taikoo Li Sanlitun – a vibrant open-plan shopping, entertainment and dining destination – The Opposite House is part of the Swire Hotels Group and is one of four houses in The House Collective – a group of hotels each with a unique identity inspired by its location, which began with The Opposite House, designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma in 2008. 

AvroKO’s Bangkok-based studio was responsible for the interiors that pull inspiration from Lucie Rie’s 20th Century modernist pottery studio: ‘a beautiful, yet versatile, space that was suited to living, working and socialising.’

“We have a long working relationship with Swire, having created all of the restaurant and bar venues at its Temple House Hotel in Chengdu,” explains William Harris, Founding Partner at AvroKO. “Based on the success of that, they approached us to help re-invent the ground floor food and beverage for The Opposite House. Union is the first phase, with a hip, pop-culture, casual Chinese concept called Superfly, which is coming next.

“The brief was to create a magnetic and chic all-day lounge experience that was equally as desirable during the day as it was late into the evening. One goal in particular was for the space to feel like a swanky living room in Sanlitun, where locals, as much as guests, would feel welcome and catered to.”

Taking a total of fifteen months to complete, the design executed a balance of ceremony and warmth to create a personal and authentic experience. Offering a variety of food and drink flavours that celebrate traditions of the Silk Road, the bar creates a sense of belonging and discovery. 

“For us, decorative lighting is a critical part of all our designs globally,” elaborates Harris. “We sculpt with light. The fixtures themselves become pieces of art, drawing the guest’s eye and body through various spaces in meaningful ways. 

“Lighting is also incredibly important when venues need to function during different parts of the day and look equally amazing regardless of the time. Strong lighting becomes a signature and helps to define a brand. It also needs to make people look good, and when they look good they feel good, and when they feel good, their experience, as well as the business’ bottom line, does all the better. Lighting really is one of the most influential aspects of interior design.” 

The team at AvroKO worked in collaboration with lighting designers, Firefly Point Of View (FPOV), to create the all-important lighting scheme for the Union, as they believe lighting designers “focus on and complement our design schemes, bringing an added layer of detail, technical prowess and local support on our global projects.” 

Studio Director of FPOV, Owen Xuan, explains to darc how his team came on board: “The client had engaged with us, in a report that highlighted lighting as a very important design element that needed to be upgraded to transform the space for the current trend of end customers.” 

All of the decorative lighting fixtures provided for Union were bespoke creations by AvroKO and manufactured by Hong Kong-based Ricardo Lighting. “In service to the concept, all lighting pieces give a nod to mid-century design and international style,” continues Harris. “Signature chandeliers and dramatic pendants over the bar utilise a gradient teal cast glass. The colour is unique and memorable, while still being warm and inviting. The chandeliers anchor both ends of the fairly symmetrical space, while the soaring, planar installation of pendants really helps to define and highlight the prominent bar experience.” 

Custom-made salmon-hued blown glass table lamps create an element of intimacy on the bar floor, as well as helping with the illumination of the monolithic travertine bar. Several other custom-made table lamps are peppered throughout, evoking a comfortable residential feel. The architectural lighting worked to gently highlight the textured surfaces and columns, bringing some drama and contrast to the space. 

“The façade/backbar wall also becomes its own light feature, with integrated LED lighting sandwiched between perforated brass screens to define the geometric structure. The resulting glow is both ethereal and tailored, becoming more dominant as the sun slowly sets,” says Harris. 

“The decorative and architectural lighting work together seamlessly. For such a voluminous space, it was important to have large scale memorable decorative pieces. The lighting as a whole brings a sense of order and strength. It is sculptural and idiosyncratic, channelling the spirit of the concept and the rest of the design. The lighting acts as anchors of experience and draws guests through the space helping identify key moments of focus.

“It creates very simple and effective detailing, but it was incredibly hard to try to co-ordinate the fixture locations clearly on the wall. We finally made a mock-up to define the lighting effect.”

Xuan elaborated: “At the very beginning of the project, when we were reviewing the designer’s concept sketches, we immediately knew where the architectural lighting could help to create identity. We took the opportunity to integrate light to the perforated panel, sandwiched in between to form the feature wall that is in the hotel reception.”

The grand space with large windows demanded a design that filled the room and created a strong presence to help shape the surroundings and create rhythm. 

“The lighting takes on one of the very important roles to transform the space from day to night – from a lobby lounge to a lobby bar, seamlessly working with the lighting control system on the pre-set lighting scenes,” expands Xuan. “Accenting the features of the spaces as well as balancing the ambience lighting level is key to the interior design as a whole. Creating the right atmosphere throughout different times of the day is challenging but is the hidden soul to any successful F+B space. 

“We focused all of the adjustable fixtures and commissioned the control system with the AvroKO team and the hotel’s General Manager for a few nights in order to get the right atmospheres that are both appreciated inside and out. The design is timeless; it has not overtaken the interior design, but blends nicely, and the success of the project truly comes down to team spirit!”

www.avroko.com | www.f-pov.com