Historic Home Turned Wabi-Sabi Oasis

June 9, 2022
Mavis Zhou

This historic building may just be the remedy in a world riddled with high-stress living, unrealistic pursuits of perfection, and a damaging affliction with material wealth. Repaired and refurbished over four years, this home brings it back to basics by embracing a deep connection to living with nature.

Xie Ke, the chief designer for this restoration project, now known as Sisan Hupao 1934, retained an honourable amount of history from when the building was used as the military attaché and a temporary site for Xinhua bank. He managed to distil the essence of ‘wabi, which recognises beauty in humble simplicity, detaching from the vanity of materialism, and ‘sabi’, which revolves around the passage of time, embracing growth, decay, and ageing.

Wang Chi, the lead architect of this project, leaned more toward expressing modernity with themes like 'present 'and 'now-ness'. Ostensibly her approach wrestles with Xie's. However, the emphasis on ˋpresent 'is shared between them. The building is characterised by exposed brick masonry, a wood-framed structure and embraces touches of modernity through structural steels and glass panes used to widen the space.

Wabi-sabi teachings express gratitude for what we already have rather than always yearning for something new. Therefore, the designers retained the previous facades as much as possible to highlight its stunning historical characteristics. Xie Ke explained, "We would like to display the natural texture and actual colour of the materials and curtail our time investment in decorating the exterior walls but carry out the essential repair work".

Upon entering Sisan Hupao, a lust for serenity and tranquillity prevails in the lobby from the bamboo-flanked gateway. The refreshing scene thaws out boredom and inertia, acting as a mesmerising and mild tranquilliser from the outside world. The interior design uses a simple palette of wood tones and off-white, with Asian inspired furniture that has an elevated, yet humble quality to it. Each room feels very nurturing with shades of brown that breed good feng shui.

The guest rooms in Sisan embrace rustic simplicity and quietness as followed by Japanese philosophy. The rooms serve a private and therapeutic purpose, staying close to nature as the primary remedy to undo any negative emotions you may harbour. These rooms provide natural lighting and a dim night lamp come dusk, converting the space into a sanctuary surrounded by the calls of nature.

Sisan comes complete with a rooftop and dining room that overlooks the infamous West Lake, featuring a panoramic view of the Qiantang River. It encourages all to take in the refreshing sights perched inside or be seated in the open air to reach out and touch the treetops. During twilight, when the atmosphere is just partially illuminated by the sun, Sisan possesses a hypnotic, breath-taking afterglow that is not to be missed.

Retreating to this haven of peace and stillness, deeply rooted in the imposing nature of Hangzhou, makes embracing the wabi-sabi philosophy a luxury pursuit, cementing the idea that beauty is only found in imperfection.

Images via Amazing Architecture

“Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry.” ― Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers