House proud

By Jennifer Choo

A decade since launching its first hotel, Swire Hotels has built an intriguing individualistic brand of hotels known as The House Collective.

Dean Winter

From Liverpool to Shanghai, The Swire Group is a 202-year-old company that is known colloquially in Hong Kong (where it grew most of its business) as Taikoo which loosely translates to Great and Ancient.

Today, the company established by John Samuel Swire, is a conglomerate which hold the largest shares in Cathay Pacific and has interests in shipping, property, food, Coca-Cola bottling and bio-energy operations. When the Swire Group formed Swire Hotels about a decade ago, it was with great interest to see how this company which had extensive experience of developing properties for world class hoteliers, both in Hong Kong and overseas, would shape their own brand.

According to Dean Winter, Group Director of Operations at Swire Hotels, the impetus in starting a hotel division was a strategic diversification the Swire portfolio. “Having our own hotel group adds value and synergy to the Swire Properties Mixed-Use Developments. This also helps enhance our database and ability to attract business and leisure traveller,” says Winter.

Right off the bat, Swire Hotels took an unusual tact; they both owned and operated its venues which is counter to most of the world’s major hotel companies and worked on a model where the hotel was a part of larger property developments owned by Swire Properties.

“We wanted to stay away from the standardisedhotel style, especially for The House Collective. We aim for each house to be different and unique which can only be achieved when we have full control an influence in all aspects of the development. In the near future, we are exploring management contract approach to expand into other markets in Asia Pacific,” states Winter.

For its first property in Beijing, Swire Hotels aimed high by appointing renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to overseeits masterplan. In a country renowned for its flashy and brassy architecture, The Opposite is a minimalist masterpiece. Its slick emerald-hued glass exterior – which looks like an art installation from the outside – reflects the impressive curation of traditional and modern artworks found in its lofty atrium. The 99-rooms featuring serenely understated interiors incorporating clean lines, exotic woods and impressive contemporary Chinese art.

The Upper House in Hong Kong swiftly followed, designed Cambridge trained architect Andre Fu, who transformed the 38th to 49th floors of a high-rise above the Thomas Heatherwick designed Pacific Place mall (also owned by Swire) into an oasis of sleek design. Fu also offered guests a more experiential take on luxury hospitality starting from an upward journey on the main escalator ascending through a low-lit wooden tunnel, signalling a departure from the Hong Kong’s relentless pace to the discreet room check in by the hotel’s “guest experience team” who make themselves available.

The visually innovative Temple House was completed in 2015, a sensitive and profoundly designed property which was a tour de force by MAKE Architects and complemented Chengdu’s landscape and rich history. Located in a restored Qing Dynasty heritage building and using traditional Chengdu architectural elements of timber, stone, and brick, Temple House offers a contemporary interpretation of a typical Chinese courtyard house configuration, with two slender L-shaped blocks surrounding a secluded landscaped inner area.

With three successful properties under its belt, it would seem that the fundamental philosophy of Swire Hotel’s The House Collective which set out to create “small,  beautifully designed luxury properties that appeal to those who desire an intimate and personalised experience with impeccable service” is very evident.

The choices of designers for said properties, while never expected, has been inspired and one wonders if there a particular set of requirements or certain qualities that Swire Hotels looks for in headlining the project.

Winter weighs in: “The House Collective brand is all about being soulfully individual and this is also expressed through the hotel design concepts. We believe in having each hotel designed for seasoned travellers who seek a different, intimate and personalised experience. Each with its own sense of style, inspired by the distinctive location which gives each hotel it’s very own unique identity yet there’s a consistent flair that connects across the houses.” To date, Winter reveals that of among The House Collective, The Upper House is the most famous, being a popular venue in the heart of dynamic Hong Kong.

Exterior of Opposite House

This year, Shanghai got its own “House” with The Middle House situated in the heart of the city’s historic Dazhongli neighbourhood and in close proximity to the fashionable Nanjing Road (West). Situated within a 14-story tower semi-circular tower with a moody facade, veteran Italian architect Piero Lissoni was chosen to dress the interiors of the 111 rooms and took inspiration from Shanghai’s heritage of craftsmanship. For this new property, Winter explains that apart from the design, the F&B outlets have been playing a part in its success: “The Middle House has three F&B options: Café Gray Deluxe spearheaded by New- York based chef Gray Kunz, FRASCA, an Italian eatery offering authentic Italian cuisine and Sui Tang Li, a creative and contemporary Chinese cuisine featuring the best flavours from across the country.”

Despite the challenges of operating inChina, The House Collective has become known for their impeccable service and thoughtful details which in a market asdiverse as China is no easy task. Winter explains that the integral DNA of the group of individualistic experiences is an advantage in this respect: “In a way, the diverse market works to our advantage as we don’t offer ‘cookie cutter’ services across. Instead we encourage our people to be spontaneous, offering personalised services and experiences beyond simply the hotel stay.”

From amazing architecture to intriguing interiors, flawless service to exciting f&B outlets, it would seem that Swire Hotels have found the magic combination of how to turn a house into a home.

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