When you think of “the art of Japanese living” – what comes to mind? Paper shoji screens? A centuries-old, artfully lit bonsai tree? A simple futon? Zen?
The shocking reality is that for today’s Japanese growing up in crowded cities, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In many apartments in Tokyo you can hardly get in the door. Clutter rules. No wonder the global phenomenon of “the magic of tidying up” came from Japan.
So when the first European hotel of the Japanese-fusion brand Nobu opened this summer, we went to see how they fit 150 guestrooms and suites into a small plot in Shoreditch.
First, they chose the young East London firm Studio Mica for the hotel’s interior design (in collaboration with Studio PCH, from Malibu, for the restaurant). The brief was “to balance the arrival of a high-profile brand to the neighbourhood”.
“A gentle sophistication is our interpretation of Japanese,” says director Carolynne Shenton, “crossing the threshold, being welcomed into somewhere and creating a calm environment – all of which works really well in an inner-city urban location.”
From the beginning, the team was acutely aware that the hotel stands in the heart of the Old Street triangle that gave birth to Brit Art, so the subject of “hotel art” had to be considered.
“We thought of art as craft, which is quite Japanese – the joy of making something,” Shenton explains pointing to the textural wall (right) of vintage tiles in reception. Rather than mimicking overtly Japanese motifs, the wall expresses the Japanese idea of taking a humble object, such as an old tile, and showing its beauty by drawing attention to its colour, texture and form.
In the guestrooms they avoided framed art on walls, and commissioned the Hackney-based Japanese artist Sichi to create paintings for each room’s sliding window screen – decorative panels that are both boldly artistic and practical.
“We thought of art as craft, which is quite Japanese – the joy of making something”
Each guestroom holds a Japanese-inspired surprise. “When you enter, everything is calm and folded away,” Shenton says. “But, once inside, you can move things around to how you want them to be – you can move the screens to have diffused light or blackout.” Then she shows me how each room’s custom-made wall/media unit folds out. It’s like a giant bento box.
“You open it up to how you want it. You’re either a TV person or you’re not,” she says, explaining that the prototype was made from origami paper. “We incorporated the room’s tea set into the design, framed it and lit it. It’s like the joy of opening a bento box, you have this wonderful array.”
Visit nobuhotelshoreditch.com, doubles start from £249 a night