Finding somewhere to sleep in Beijing might be easy, but choosing the perfect place to stay from an estimated 50,000 luxury hotel rooms in China’s capital is an altogether more difficult, and daunting, task. Yet one hotel is simplifying the conundrum of how best to experience this great city of extremes.
With elegantly designed rooms, muted palette and a minimalist touch, The Orchid is changing the way Beijing hosts its visitors by combining immaculate boutique living with a strong sense of community in the heart of the city’s historic Drum Tower district. We spoke with Youngcall, one half of The Orchid’s wife-and-husband team, about how their project came into bloom:
Tell us a bit about your backstory – how did a Tibetan and a Canadian end up together in Beijing?
Joel and I got to know each other through our many mutual friends here in Beijing. We hit it off and went for dinner, just chatting and having fun together.
How did the idea for The Orchid come about and what was the original vision for the project?
At the start we were just trying to be good hosts – recommending great places to eat and stay to our friends who visited Beijing. This began happening more and more often, so eventually we thought why not start a place of our own? We decided to design a location for our friends to stay in one of our favorite areas of the city, complete with the best facilities and most comfortable atmosphere we could create.
What was it that attracted you to the hutong location, specifically the Shichahai area near the Drum and Bell towers?
The Drum Tower is a very special place. It has all the cultural atmosphere and ancient architecture unique to Beijing but with modern hipster vibes and designer brands mixed in. A lot of local Beijingers and trendy young people congregate together here. You can experience very traditional hutong life while at the same time enjoying the intersection of multiple contemporary cultures.
What is The Orchid mission statement – what is it you want to achieve?
We want to achieve a way of life and a sense of community for our guests through The Orchid and our bakery, restaurant, activity space and bar. We want to provide a multifaceted experience for our guests. Staying here is only the first step – exploring this space and connecting with the other people in it while experiencing a more diverse side of Beijing is the ‘Orchid lifestyle’ we want to offer people.
Between you you have roots in China and the West. How have your respective backgrounds informed The Orchid’s development?
We both love the lifestyle in Beijing, and we’re attracted to different aspects of culture from all over the world. In terms of the architecture, for example, we agreed that we should break with the comfort limitations of traditional hutong living by creating a truly livable space that remains true to hutong style.
Our different cultural backgrounds also allow us to offer more inclusive products and services. In addition to our Chinese and Western restaurants, guests can choose between things like hot wontons and freshly made cheese at our free hotel breakfast. No matter where you are from, we want to provide a comfortable and considerate experience during your stay at The Orchid. This is very important to us!
You’ve been ranked one of Beijing’s best hotels by AFAR and the city’s best-run boutique hotel by Lonely Planet. What sets you apart from other hotels and boutique stays in the capital?
I guess it’s that we are warm and easy-going. We treat everyone like our family and friends by being as helpful and friendly as we can. We also like to share our favorite restaurants and cafés with our guests. For everyone who stays at The Orchid we provide a kind of map, which collates all the places that members of our community usually go to eat, drink and have fun. Although most people are used to looking these kind of places up on their phones these days, we think paper communication and exploration has a certain traditional charm.
Why do you think it is important to ‘upgrade’ people’s China experience, as you say on your website?
Traditional hutong homes have a certain allure, but their confined space, rustic appearance and limited sanitation mean they are not suitable for all guests. In renovating the space, we feel we have upgraded the traditional hutong experience from a sensory perspective. For example, we have increased the amount of natural light by adding skylights, which has made the interior a lot brighter. Air also circulates better. The addition of underfloor heating has also made the hutong much more comfortable in winter.
Meanwhile, we have designed a lot of hands-on experiences with classes to teach people how to cook dumplings and noodles as well as traditional Beijing crafts like cloisonné. Lately we’ve also added more contemporary activities such as bartending and barista training. Through these different cultural activities we want our guests to experience the genuine Beijing.
You must have faced some hurdles along the way with The Orchid. What have been the biggest challenges on your journey so far?
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been profound. Everything here was in stasis for half a year and it took a lot to navigate; we had to totally change our mindset and rejuvenate the building and the brand after the business reopened. Yet the experience has made people cherish this place even more, and our outlook on life is, in some ways, much more relaxed than before.
Here at WildChina we are huge fans of everything you guys do, can you tell us whether you have any new projects in the works?
We have actually just upgraded two of our rooms, so that guests can see the clouds by day and stars at night. The rooms have great lighting and have become really popular.
We’ve also begun a monthly apartment rental service with several independently designed and re-modelled apartments located deep in the hutong by the Drum Tower. We think this is an exciting chance for visitors to experience Beijing life and the charm of the hutongs in an even more intimate way.
Lastly, our Furongji restaurant (福荣记餐厅) is staying open later so that people can eat and drink until midnight. The restaurant is a great place for those who want to keep talking late into the night!
Visit Beijing with Us
Immerse with us in Beijing’s palaces, discover hidden courtyard homes alongside modern architectural wonders, get to grips with contemporary art, and dine on divine duck.