The Ziqoo hotel apartment is a Japanese concept that has been transplanted into a Dubai setting.
Takaaki Uesugi looked after every little detail when creating the interior for Ziqoo.
The Ziqoo hotel apartment is a Japanese concept that has been transplanted into a Dubai setting. Located in the Zen area of Discovery Gardens, a residential development nearing completion in new Dubai, the hotel apartment is owned and operated by Space Design, a Japanese development company.
Although from the outside the development looks more Miami than downtown Tokyo - pastel shades dominate the exterior of the buildings - this impression changes dramatically once inside Ziqoo.
Guests are greeted by dark, muted tones juxtaposed with flashes of light and colour as they enter the low-key lobby space. An uneven stone pathway - the Japanese name for it translates as 'jumping stones' - leads guests past the concierge desks to a lobby seating area, set against dark wood panels and a wall of layered slate.
The hotel apartment's designer, Takaaki Uesugi, thinks of it as a modern, but atypical take on Japanese style, something that makes sense in what is an atypical project. For starters, Uesugi says he is not really a designer.
"I studied interior design and also taught it," he said. "But our company didn't want designers, it wanted real estate people. But as projects developed the company started to change its mind, we needed a designer to do more beautiful projects.
As a development company Space Design very quickly created hotel apartments in 20 buildings around Tokyo.
Despite the fact that Uesugi is a project manager, he has designed almost all 20 fit outs, from changing a room's construction, right down to individual items of furniture and looking at how the concierge people are managed.
"I love to do the hard and soft design; creating the whole package is very interesting," said Uesugi.
The project in Discovery Gardens began two years ago, with the obvious challenge for the development team being how they could create a Japanese atmosphere in a building with no Japanese connection, beyond the development's Zen brand name.
"We asked ourselves how we can give guests a good impression," said Uesugi. "The outside looks one way, but when customers come in there is a big difference inside. We discussed how we could create an apartment in Dubai and how its style would give the guests a feeling for our taste
The general manager of the hotel apartment, Yuko Kawabata, explained it in terms of adapting design to suit the market.
"Our concept is always to look at our market and the habits of customers," she said. "We don't ever want to create a typical Japanese design; many Japanese designs in Europe and America are too typical. The customer who is living here is not looking for typical Japanese, they are looking for something original.
The design may not fit the traditional image of things Japanese - all shoji screens and bonsai trees - but there are still strong links to the country's cultural heritage. They have simply been given a modern translation. When asked to identify the most Japanese thing in the design Uesugi pointed to a carved wooden panel, known as 'ranma'.
"The design is from my grandmother's house," he said. "It tries to reflect the outside between one room and another, casting small shadows and shade. I put varied shapes within the pattern to create a stronger image.
Beneath the carving is a lowered ceiling panel, which covers the concierge area. It features a traditional Japanese ceiling style known as ajiro, a woven pattern created by layers of bamboo. Furnishings too are modern, but with Japanese references.
The custom made sofas and armchairs are decorated with a kimono-style pattern, which recurs on freestanding stools and chairs. In the case of the stools a mix of fabrics are used to top them off, reminiscent of the shape of a 'tamari', a children's ball.
"The stools also have the proportions of a Japanese teacup," said Uesugi. "Details like that can be recognised as distinctly Japanese.
The same style is carried over to the guest quarters, which are a mix of studio and one-bedroom spaces. Simple colour combinations and a widespread use of black and white come together to create a tranquil environment.
Major changes to the original apartment design were few, but additions to the common areas have given a more hotel-feel to the utilitarian structure.
Dark wood panels have been added to bring warmth to the corridors and lighting has been moved from the middle of the ceiling to the edges, so illumination washes down the walls.
"Making it more cool was a way for the people to feel that this is a hotel, not just an apartment building," said Uesugi.
A guest-focused approach is seen across the design but, as well as the usual considerations, had to account for the fact that guests aren't just staying for a few days, but several months.
"We are always thinking about long-term use," said Kawabata. "It is very difficult for us to design this way. In the apartments we have guests there for up to a year, so we have to maintain a cool design, but at the same time make it like home.
"We didn't fill the rooms up, we wanted to keep the space as space," she said. "Since people are living here, they may want to include their own things.
Kawabata is referring to the fact that the apartments are only lightly decorated, leaving room for a guest's personal pictures or objects. She also believes that the 'cool' factor of the design needs to be tempered.
"Designers always create their own thing, but customers do not always like a design that is too modern, so we have to start from the customer's side and then expand ideas from there," she said.
Distinctive features that recur in the rooms, whether in furnishings or accessories, include a floral graphic pattern inspired by designs seen on tea sets. It appears on the black wardrobes, as well as the tops of desks and in the white shades of the freestanding lamps.
Uesugi designed and oversaw the manufacture of all the furniture and other fittings. Using manufacturers in China, he spent six months dealing with every little detail in person.
"We designed every part of everything, deciding on colours and proportions," said Uesugi. "The wardrobes in the rooms are my favourite pieces, as well as the lamps above the concierge desks.
Challenges lay in getting the details right when it came time to install the custom made furnishings and fixtures. Uesugi's desire to achieve sharp clean edges and the perfect alignment of lines meant patience and persistence was needed. The result is an interior reflecting a modern Japanese taste that suits the Zen name of the location.