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A lesson in designing hospitality with the maverick Tony Chi

Presenting some of the best works of the illustrious designer from the New York-based global design practice, tonychi.

by Mrinalini Ghadiok Jul 16, 2019

Tony Chi crafted his internationally acclaimed namesake company around ‘creating spaces that seek to evoke emotions’.

Hospitality is a tradition, an experience, a form of communication found in all cultures and sacred traditions. It is inherent in our character abiding within each of ourselves and is expressed wherever and whenever human beings interact. - Tony Chi

Starting with a niche in restaurant development in 1984, the practice today has come to include a whole continuum of work, from planning, development and execution of interior, architectural and landscape design, to urban planning and multimedia production. The team has transformed in over three decades from a small start-up company concentrating on turnkey projects in New York to an international powerhouse providing design services to a diverse group of clients in major business, cultural and leisure centres around the world.

Creating custom projects for each client, the company refrains from being bracketed into a specific style. Yet, there is a common aspiration found behind all the works, best described by Chi as, “invisible design - what touches you rather than what you see. It is the meticulously orchestrated subtleties of the understated rather than an ‘in your face’ approach. Invisible design allows patrons to participate and use their surroundings to create their own individual experiences and ensures a look that retains beauty over time.”

ANDAZ TOKYO Tokyo, Japan

Tony Chi played an intrinsic role in envisioning the Andaz brand with Hyatt Hotels, as an urban hotel positioned to address new challenges facing hospitality in today’s urban lifestyle. Deriving its name from the Hindi word for ‘self-expression’, the brand was founded to explore a unique character and creative expression in culture and location.

  • Andaz Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan | tony chi | STIR
    Andaz Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan Image Credit: Michael Moran / Andaz Tokyo
  • Andaz Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan | tony chi | STIR
    Andaz Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan Image Credit: Michael Moran / Andaz Tokyo
  • Andaz Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan | tony chi | STIR
    Andaz Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan Image Credit: Michael Moran / Andaz Tokyo

“Placed in the heart of Tokyo in an area experiencing a transformation from a predominantly business community into a diverse region of residents, workers and travellers, the property explores how a hotel can evolve from its typical definition into an experience of the new and familiar where workers, residents and travellers all gather; a place where memories are imprinted on each of us, coming from ordinary moments of meeting new friends or from extraordinary moments such as one’s first impression of Tokyo and Japan,” says Chi.

Reflecting on Japan’s intrinsic relationship with nature, Chi uses the purest forms of its native materials to keep the visitor engaged. Washi paper presents a warm greeting at the porte-cochere, guiding people through the art gallery corridor and even into the passenger elevators, leading onwards into various spaces. Every meticulous tuck and intricate fold is reminiscent of the Japanese art of origami, composed within a precise palette of walnut timber, basalt stone and bronze trims. “Andaz Tokyo reflects the past, captivates the present and beholds a future journey, timelessly evolving with the community,” he adds.

GRAND HYATT Chengdu, China

Sitting amid a busy area of the city, the Grand Hyatt occupies floors 10 to 39 of a landmark high-rise building. Inspired by country houses of local aristocracy on one hand, and French nobility on the other, the hotel finds itself draped in European elegance with splashes of eastern sensuality. This is evident in the range of dining options on offer – a patisserie designed as a jewellery store sheathed in hand-painted and embroidered Chinoiserie wallpaper, one restaurant carved around a courtyard, another styled as a cabaret, a Tea House, a Grand Café, and even an Asian style outdoor barbeque. However, the place of pride rests with the 7,600 sqft. ballroom, replete with high ceilings, angled mirror panels and a fully equipped lighting system, the only of its kind in the city.

  • Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China | tony chi | STIR
    Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Grand Hyatt Chengdu
  • Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China | tony chi | STIR
    Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Grand Hyatt Chengdu
  • Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China | tony chi | STIR
    Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Grand Hyatt Chengdu
  • Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China | tony chi | STIR
    Grand Hyatt, Chengdu, China Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Grand Hyatt Chengdu

The hotel is rendered in a calm sophistication achieved through a muted colour palette, precise geometries and deep perspectives. Yet, its brilliance is seen in the dramatic accents of vibrant artwork, light studded walkways; intricate screens and a collection of striking artefacts that create a sense of glamorous intrigue. Stately volumes are presented in all their regal glory, but humbled in the fragmentation of their adornment – be it through keenly placed artefacts or even dissolution of their scale.

ROSEWOOD LONDON London, UK

Marking the international debut of the hotel brand, Rosewood London defined the brand identity as a ‘sense of place’ that presents a hospitality experience with an intimate connection to the culture and heritage of a particular place. Situated on the crossroads of the East End, West End, trendy Covent Garden and popular theatre district, the Rosewood London is considered a, ‘collective sum point of personalities from all of London; a place of projecting a heightened sense of British-ness with a modern flair.’

Rosewood London, London, UK | tony chi | STIR
Rosewood London, London, UK Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Rosewood London

Inspired largely by this identity, location and an inherent distinction and elegance, the hotel’s experience begins from afar when the grand façade comes in view. Embracing its visitors, the entrance courtyard becomes integral in connecting the property to its immediate urban landscape, while at the same time ensuring a gradual detachment from the streetscape. Alluding to the grandeur of arriving at an English manor, one is immediately drawn into a Bronze Gallery that exudes dramatic British expressions, leading to the quintessential Mirror Room designed for the pronounced culture of a distinguished high tea. Small mirror panels are angled and stacked closely, splitting the light into myriad radiant shards, redolent of strings of glittering pearls sitting at tea.

  • Rosewood London, London, UK | tony chi | STIR
    Rosewood London, London, UK Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Rosewood London
  • Rosewood London, London, UK | tony chi | STIR
    Rosewood London, London, UK Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Rosewood London
  • Rosewood London, London, UK | tony chi | STIR
    Rosewood London, London, UK Image Credit: Durston Saylor / Rosewood London
Hospitality is not exclusive to a particular time and place. It creates the most unforgettable memories formed by the most extraordinary and the most ordinary moments of our lives. Creating the ultimate hospitality experience is an art that requires passion. - Tony Chi

Adjacent meeting salons are crafted after the eccentricities of British humour, signage created as open books on pedestals in tribute to the area’s strong literary past, where Charles Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers. The design intent of the guestrooms and suits follows that of the public areas, reflective of the City of London. Chi says, “Rosewood London is a property that recalls past and present, opulence and majesty, manor and sophisticated urban living, humorous, yet unflinching in its refined mannerisms. It is a collection of stories where one is entertained, never overwhelmed. The ‘sense of place’ experienced by the traveller, forever, indelibly seals an impressive image of London for a lifetime.”

(The article was first published in Issue#17 of mondo*arc india – an initiative by STIR.)

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About Author

Mrinalini Ghadiok

Mrinalini Ghadiok

Ghadiok is an architect by training, visualizer by heart and writer by passion. Having worked in the fields of architecture, lighting design, historical research and writing for more than a decade, she is driven by her passion for exceptional design and the narrative that choreographs its experience. As the editor of mondo*arc india journal and now STIRworld, she continues her foray in design journalism and publishing.

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