Refined Tastes

Linehouse is no stranger to large adaptive re-use projects, having renovated a former opium production facility to deliver WeWork Weihai Lu three years ago. And just like that impressive undertaking, the studio’s recently completed fit-out for Tingtai Teahouse is a masterful study in balance, exhibiting sensitivity towards the existing structure and a confident materiality. Old and new happily co-exist in a cavernous space that was once a textile factory and up until its current iteration was being used as an art gallery.

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The brief for a traditional Chinese teahouse with a modern twist led the designers to create a series of private teahouse rooms, each offering their own individual spatial experience. Co-director Briar Hickling and the team stripped back the interior, exposing the original raw concrete and brick ceilings, walls and columns, as well as many years’ worth of history in the form of layered patinas. An existing mezzanine was also removed, the resulting double-height space giving the designers plenty of scope for play. In this respect, the stacked teahouse concept, featuring three upper rooms, may have an element of whimsy to it, but it’s resoundingly logical too.

‘We wanted the teahouses to read as singular insertions that contrast with the interior as well as reflect the surrounds,’ notes Hickling. ‘The upper rooms in particular have a strong relationship with the existing building in the way they connect to the original clerestory windows, and because each of these rooms is bookended with full-height glazing, guests don’t feel completely removed from the activities below.’ Each has a different roofline, and all occupy the space not unlike pieces in a puzzle: dipping here to accommodate a structural beam, extending there to capture natural light.

While three of the ground-level rooms at the rear of the space are fully enclosed, the three that sit directly beneath the upper ones are clad in brushed darkened stainless steel, with a low glass datum. The interiors of each room are clad in smoked oak, which adds warmth and heightens the sense of intimacy within these small insertions, in juxtaposition with the overtly industrial aesthetic of the overall space. But perhaps the most unexpected material choice is the green terrazzo that runs the interior.

As Hickling explains, ‘It needed to appear as a solid shifting landscape and not only operate as a floor finish, but as a surface that could be used as a seat when drinking tea or as an elevated platform on which the teahouses can rest.’ The speckled finish adds another level of visual interest to the overall scheme, and its deep hue is a counterpoint to the space’s predominantly black, grey, cream and brown palette. This is a design of elegant restraint and striking spatiality that ultimately provides a quiet and comfortable environment in which people can gather and socialise.

Text / Leanne Amodeo
Images / Dirk Weiblen

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