''I am up in the clouds… and I can't and I can't come down''.
As this year’s Beijing Design Week came to an end, I couldn’t resist the chance to see more of the region, so I decided to continue my journey on to Hong Kong. Minutes after my arrival, I found myself in the back of a luxurious black car being whisked towards Hong Kong Island. It felt as if I was on the set of a futuristic film, driving through the sets of famous films like Gattaca or maybe even better…Blade Runner. I looked out of the car’s window, out at the huge metropolis unfolding before me, at the layer upon layer of skyscrapers, the glass bridges connecting almost all of them together, the endless metro stations and long underground tunnels... And yet, despite all the modernity emerging before my eyes, there was something magical in how the skyscrapers stood juxtaposed against among the verdant, lush hills behind them. Like a riddle, you’re almost not sure if the city was erected in the hills that surround it, or the other way round.
Soon enough however, I was about to rise high above the bustling city. My destination? The Upper House hotel, a prestigious member of Swire Hotels; a luxurious urban retreat perched at the top of one of the towers in the Pacific Place complex, in the Admiralty business district bordered by Wan Chai to the east and Victoria Harbour to the north. Since its opening in October 2009, The Upper House has taken the city by storm scooping up top awards along the way. We entered the hotel’s driveway through a massive sculptural facade: giant curtains made of Bedonia natural stone seemed to open to greet me (I later found out that this commissioned artwork was made by Thomas Heatherwick).
As I got out of the car, I felt a sense of drama, as if these curtains were opening onto a stage where a performance was about to take place. This was now my space, my time, my moment – so let the journey begin!
Thanks to the hotel’s paperless check-in service, I didn’t have to stop at any reception desk: Instead of the traditional hotel reception counter, The Upper House provides a more flexible Guest Experience team. These are ‘‘your’’ people, there for your every need during your stay in Hong Kong. I was greeted by Son, who very politely led me inside through the main entrance into The Lantern entry hall which derives its name from the shape of its bamboo-wood enclosure. Inside, escalators ran through a dimly-lit Torii tunnel – as if to signify a departure from the normal world into a sacred, purified space.
Stepping off the escalator I found myself in a lobby space - a subtle fragrance of ginger and verbena filled me with a warm welcoming feeling. As we crossed the space towards the elevators to the other end, we passed a glass door leading to an open, stepped corridor: this takes you to a secluded area outdoors, called The Lawn which is ideal for snacks and drinks when the weather is nice (it’s also the only place where someone can enjoy a cigarette). Son explained that we needed to take the elevator in order to reach the rest of the hotel which occupies the uppermost floors of the building.
As we ascended the empty, numberless space between Level 7 and the rest of the hotel, it felt as if time had stopped: we were definitely going up but the number on the elevator’s screen was stuck on the number 7, we were in stasis and in motion at the same time - before reaching the 38th floor when the numbers appeared and started going up again. This sweet paradox had a strong impact on me - where rising to meet The Upper House was akin to an almost poetic experience.
Conceived as a retreat away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, André Fu, the famous Asian architect and designer behind the property, wanted to create a small luxury hotel reminiscent of a private residence. He has clearly achieved his goal, evident from the sense of tranquility and calmness throughout: in the interiors’ monochrome colour palette, the natural materials that have been used, the warm lighting, all the way through to the carefully curated selection of harmonious artworks that reflect the minimal aesthetic and philosophy found in Asian culture. All in all, a sense of tranquility and seclusion abounds everywhere where a sweet sense of ‘‘being at home’’ is amplified by the discreet service and heart-warming disposition of the staff. Everything is so well-done and organised that it really feels like you’re in a luxurious home, not a hotel.
Upon reaching the 38th floor, I entered an impressive, 40-meter high open atrium, lit by an enormous roof window. This is the Atrium void onto which all the room corridors look out. Here, André Fu seized on the opportunity to convey an uplifting sensation yet again: the atrium’s wall is covered by a sculpture by Hiroshiwata Sawada, a wire-like composition which creates an impression of dynamic upward movement. At the very top of the Atrium Void is the Sky Bridge which connects a lounge area on the 49th floor with the hotel’s restaurant and bar. In front of us, a pond feature filled the space with the soothing sound of moving water.
Now my upward journey was about to reach its destination as Son showed me to my room. The hotel has three categories of rooms: Standard, Upper Suite and Penthouse. I got to stay in one of the 21 Upper Suites, suite number #4709 - to be more precise. Upon entering, my first impression was of how spacious it was. Hong Kong is not famous for its roomy, large interiors and accommodations, and The Upper House goes against this grain, boasting the largest hotel rooms in town. My Upper Suite was as big as a private apartment, including a 28-square-meter bathroom, wardrobe, seating area and desk space. The view from the enormous windows was breathtaking: I could see all the way from Victoria Bay to the mountains in the south. Sitting on the windowsill on the 47th floor made me feel like I was floating above the clouds and I couldn’t stop whispering the lyric from my favourite Radiohead song ''I am up in the clouds… and I can't and I can't come down''. Again, the way the city blends in the jungle-covered hills struck me. Who would have thought that I would find a “home away from home’’ in such a far-away place?
My favourite part of visiting a hotel for the first time is exploring the room and all its ‘secrets’. Like a child, I open drawers and containers, and I wasn’t disappointed inside my Upper Suite. Little gifts could be found all over the place, from colourful pencils to an elegant Tote bag. I soon realised that whatever I needed was within reach. I set up my laptop and connected to the high-speed internet and voila, a pop-up Yatzer office was ready to go, just like that! In one of the drawers, I found an iPod Touch, with which I could do everything, from ordering room service to calling a cab or playing music throughout the suite. The way this hotel provided me with independence and privacy was really unique – throughout my stay, there was a lingering, reassuring sensation of being at ‘‘home’’, on my own, all the while however, discreetly being taken care of.
The hotel doesn’t have a spa. But each bathroom is like a mini spa decorated with luxurious limestone and natural wood. Inside, everything is provided for you to relax and pamper yourself: bathtub salts, essential Moroccan Rose Bath oils and the entire chemical free skincare range by REN… I could choose either to refresh myself in the walk-in rain shower, or take my time to soak and relax in the bathtub, while looking out over the spectacular view. And at the end of the day, a deep sleep full of dreams was guaranteed, thanks to the Egyptian-cotton bed linens.
One of the things that make The Upper House such a special place is of course its restaurant on the 49th floor. With its 14-metre-long open kitchen and equally long bar, Café Gray Deluxe is a 21st-century grand café, albeit with relaxed service, that overlooks Victoria Harbour, with a delectable menu from celebrated Chef Gray Kunz with added twists to ‘‘everyday dishes,’’ using local organic produce. The restaurant area includes a dining area, bar, semi-private area as well as a small private area for exclusive meetings.
Inevitably, the day came when my stay at this hotel had to come to an end. I somehow managed to put chaos in order and pack my suitcase right on time to catch my flight back to Greece. I pulled my suitcase out of the room, and through the open door took a final look at the unforgettable view. I closed the door behind me and made my way towards the exit. Doing the whole journey in reverse felt like the ending of a film - what was once an upwards voyage full of anticipation had now became a tranquil experience of withdrawal. Thanks to the hotel’s ‘‘express departure’’ service, I didn’t need to stop anywhere for the usual check-out formalities. My bills and other paperwork were simply settled via email. I walked out of the door, got in the car, and left. Just as you would do at home.
[YatzerTip] British actor George Young plays a young businessman discovering the unique Upper House experience in this Swire Hotels promo video by Laura Holmes. A must watch!
The Upper House Check List
> Hybrid cars for airport transfers and private hire. Check.√
> Paperless arrival and departure experience. Check.√
> 400 thread count Egyptian cotton & luxury down bedding. Check.√
> Gym equipped with cardiovascular and weight training equipment. Check.√
> Yoga classes on the weekends at The Lawn. Check.√
> iPod touch in every room for room service and information. Check.√
> High-speed wireless internet on the premises and in hotel cars. Check.√
> Streamlined services throughout the hotel thanks to the Guest Experience team. Check.√