China’s tea culture has a long-standing history that dates back to the Tang dynasty, more than eleven centuries ago. Since then traditional teahouses have become a common fixture in Chinese cities and villages as a place for drinking tea, relaxation and entertainment. While the contemporary establishments usually adhere to a traditional or minimalist aesthetic, it is always refreshing to see architects and designers approaching the concept of a teahouse through a more creative and innovative lens, as is the case for Icha Chateau’s new flagship restaurant and tea bar in Shanghai. Housed in a mid-19th century colonial heritage building in a newly developed outdoor shopping district, local architecture and interior design practice Spacemen have found inspiration in the rolling hills of tea plantations to create a sculptural space of subtle luxury and modern sophistication.
The stern sensibility of the immaculately renovated exterior of the heritage building belies the wondrous playfulness of the interiors but the designers have artfully incorporated a few hints of what lies inside. Angled brass slats elegantly framing the glazed arches provide shading from the midday sun but also bestow upon the brick facades as sense of understated opulence. Likewise, the swirling, teapot-like structure that fronts the outdoor tea bar adds a dash of flair to the sedate pedestrian area while at night it becomes a dazzling beacon of light.
In the main dining area, guests are seated below a sublime, gleaming canopy made out of 35,000 meters of gold chains that form a series of undulating planes; the disembodied landscape is an allusion to the scenic topography of endless rolling hills where tea is cultivated. Varying in hue from gold to bronze to copper, the organic shapes create an ethereal grotto enhanced by the strategically placed mirror behind the banquet seating, which also gives a sense of spaciousness to the otherwise narrow space, and the wavy line of illuminated brass orbs by UK designer Lee Broom.
The semi-transparency of the chain-curtains not only offer guests a sense of privacy but also conceals light fittings, sprinklers, ducts and other equipment as well as camouflages a structural pillar that stands inconveniently in the middle of the space, while their quivering tactility invite guests to touch them. Meanwhile, the golden fantasia conjured by the suspended chain-curtains is complemented by the brass details of the chairs, tables and other furnishings, while the grey terrazzo flooring, the muted hues of the upholstery and the matte black cabinetry provide a much needed visual respite without subtracting from the venue’s overall muted luxuriance. The result is a dream-like space of effortless sophistication that evocatively conjures in the middle of Shanghai the rural beauty of Chinese countryside.