The interior of the design studio, Han Tang. [Photo provided to China Daily]
The design studio, Han Tang, has a name that sounds tightly linked to the two once flourishing dynasties of China.
But, instead of hanging poetry from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) on the wall, or adopting architectural features of the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220), it has introduced the aesthetics of Song Dynasty (960-1279) to a Chaozhou cuisine restaurant in Beijing.
The screens inside the studio form a huge Chinese ink landscape painting of continuous mountains. Inspired by the painting of lucky cranes by Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, hollowed-out cranes, which are made of white iron wire, fly around the interior greenery in various positions.
A gentle, white light emanates from grouped lamps that look like hanging, round fans. It shines through and makes them look even livelier. The floating clouds that frequently appear in poetry and paintings as the symbol of freedom are painted on the lamps with free and easy strokes of ink and the natural blooming effect form rich layers of shades.
Ao Han, 46, from Zhejiang province, is one of the founders of the studio. He served as the chief designer of the restaurant.
He claims that the round fan used to be a must-have item on hot days back in the not too distant past, before modern refrigeration. Nowadays, however, people bask in the effortless airflow of electric fans and A/C units, so the round fan has become more of a decorative feature.
Ao shows satisfaction with the design that injects new vitality to the ancient oriental cultural element. "Beautiful but useless things can be pale. The life of an object expands only when it's in demand and consumed."
The Song-style ceramic tableware - some in classic cyan and some are totally unvarnished - amaze people with its flowing curvature.
"I don't want to recreate history blindly, but to express the Song style of elegance with a modern tongue, and blend it with people's current lifestyle," says Ao.
Ao and his co-founder, Tang Yun, 45, also from Zhejiang, met in college in Hangzhou. Ao studied architecture in Zhejiang University of Technology and Tang studied interior design in Zhejiang Shuren University.
The studio was established after their graduation in 1995. Two years later, they entered the food service industry, when people started to pay more attention to the restaurant design. They started forming useful ties when they designed the Wahaha Food Plaza in the center of Hangzhou.
According to Ao, they didn't develop an in-depth understanding of the whole industry, including positioning, operation and aesthetics, until they opened up their own teppanyaki restaurant, named Shuimujintang, in Beijing in 2007.
"After 10 years of serving the food service industry, we discovered that we have to plan and design from the perspective of the consumer, no matter if it's as a restaurant owner or as a designer," says Tang.
"Different target consumers will lead to alternative development of the environment, because the aesthetic language must link with people's needs."
Ao adds, "Through space design, we pass on emotion and the aura, which should totally match the feeling that the food exudes."
Many design projects undertaken by the studio reveal an oriental charm.
For instance, the design of a Huaiyang cuisine restaurant named, Youyuanjingmeng, is inspired by a famous ancient Chinese Kunqu Opera repertoire named Peony Pavilion. Manda, a user of the Little Red Book, a Chinese online platform to share lifestyle tips, claimed that she felt like eating in a fairy-fog-filled bamboo forest.
Tang considers injecting the oriental charm into design as voting for her real passion, "The world is diversified, but people focus on what interests them most."
Ao shares similar opinion, "We unscramble the elegance of the ancient with a reserved tongue. The design meets my life attitude, and I believe it also fits in the overall vibe of the restaurant."
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