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KiKi ARCHi's residential design is a seamless blend of classic and modern aesthetics

'Classic meets Modern' in Beijing, by KiKi ARCHi, is an unlikely modernist home for the owner's collection of classic Golden nanmu wood furniture.

by Akash SinghPublished on : Mar 27, 2023

When KiKi ARCHi, an architecture firm—founded by Yoshihiko Seki and Saika Akiyoshi—centred around residential architecture, with offices in Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai, was entrusted with a brief to build a modern residence in Beijing, their biggest challenge was weaving in the client’s prized collection of golden nanmu wood furniture. While the furniture design forms the main character of the house, the designer believed that it would flood the limited living space. In addition, the classical style, size and traditional decoration lacked the potential to synergise with modern living.

The entrance hall, as seen from the living area |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The entrance hall, as seen from the living area Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

Nanmu is a type of wood, whose use can be traced back to the imperial family in the Ming and Qing dynasties where it was a popular architectural and furniture material. Obtained from a species of the tree Phoebe zhennan, nanmu can grow up to 30 metres. In the past, the furniture from this tree was so valuable that only royal families could afford its use. Its most notable usage is in the 'Forbidden City,' where pillars were created using entire wood logs. Chinese books have records of golden nanmu being a fine and sturdy material with a unique texture and silky lustre, emitting delicate fragrances and being very elegant.

First floor plan of the project |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
First floor plan of the project Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

The private residence then, becomes an exploration of combining the owner’s classic collection hobby with a design language that compliments a contemporary lifestyle. By making modifications to the structure, layout, daylight and material texture of the house, a 'sense of ritual' and 'inclusiveness' was demonstrated. It represents life and the balance in space and display design. The house has a basement, two floors above ground and an attic. The first floor also consists of a terrace garden.

The entrance hall |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The entrance hall Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

The user is welcomed into the entrance hall with a double-volume space. The designer has created a 'patio' with interiors flooded with natural light, softened by a textured art deco wall. The original washroom was removed from the second floor, creating a five-metre-high space which brings down the light from the second floor to the first. This section is a prologue to the entire interior design experience, with three colours of black, white and grey used in large quantities. They become integral backgrounds for the 'traditional,' 'modern' and 'transition' respectively. A translucent black-framed glass sliding door serves as a transitional element into the upcoming dark scene. The texture of the grey terrazzo connects with the outdoors, while the art deco wall creates a sense of rhythm.

The dining room and the living hall |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The dining room and the living hall Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

The ‘coexistence of nanmu and modern life’ becomes the theme of the residential design, with the tone, light and texture of the space becoming a point of balance for the relationship between the nanmu wooden furniture and the environment. The first floor—where the owner spends most of their time—makes for the centre point of the design. It consists of the hallway, the dining room, the kitchen, the tea room, the outdoor courtyard etc. The living hall, past the black framed glass sliding door, stands out in its bold black background. The form of the living room originates from the ‘central room’ in traditional Chinese architecture. The golden nanmu long table and the calligraphy work on the wall, propped against the black textured background, exhibit an old-world charm. The couch on the side, with a rug underneath, breaks the symmetry in the traditional aesthetic, making the space more relaxed and in touch with modern architecture. The spaces are well-lit, with big openings welcoming natural light everywhere.

The kitchen |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The kitchen Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

The dining room, attached to the living room, conveys a brighter element. The custom-made tables, chairs, and side cabinets highlight the characteristics of the golden nanmu wood with their unadorned features. The built-in side cabinet allows the space to express a sense of volume, since it does not take up open space. It makes the cabinet look visually lighter. The kitchen, adjacent to the dining room and attached to the garden terrace, is given a grey style, with a hint of warmth exuded from the wooden cabinets. The lightness in form was brought by propping up the functions against the wall. Transparency was achieved with the hanging shelves, maximising the circulation of light and air.

The tea room |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The tea room Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

The owner’s favourite room is the tea room, a glass room located at the end of the first floor. It is attached to the garden terrace. Made with an aluminium roof and glass partition, it provides an ethereal sensation. A sense of timelessness is achieved with the space, as the room overlooks the garden terrace with white walls. The minimalist garden has a sunken platform and accesses the basement with an external stairway. The outdoor spaces layer into a modern space after the renovation. The space provides a sense of freedom as it blurs the borders between the inside and the outside. The plants bring an earthiness to the spaces, completing the symphony of old and new.

The terrace garden attached to the tea room |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The terrace garden attached to the tea room Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

A modernist staircase with floating steps and a folded metal plate railing leads to the upper floor. The surrounding art deco wall creates a sense of softness with natural light, lending a sense of warmth to the space leading up to the more private areas—the study room and the bedroom. The attic—previously difficult to use—was transformed into a small space for meditation, playing the zither and incensing—a space to connect with oneself.

The modern staircase |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The modern staircase Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

‘Mountains are far away,’ a musical piece by Yo-Yo Ma featuring traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa and the sheng, as well as a modern string quartet, creating a unique blend, has a contemplative and peaceful quality, with a steady rhythm and a gentle melody, comparable to the warmth and richness that the golden nanmu furniture can bring to a modern interior. This project then, acts as an extension of KiKi ARCHi’s value as a multinational design studio that internalises design for well-being, through thoughtfully crafted simplicity.

The attic space |Classic Meets Modern | KiKi ARCHi | STIRworld
The attic space Image: Courtesy of ZHANYING Studio

Project Details

Name: Classic Meets Modern
Location: Beijing, China
Area: 120 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Yoshihiko Seki

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