Ian Schrager’s New Hotel in China Is Inspired by the Summer Palace

In a Hainan Island resort town, the hotelier’s new Sanya Edition pays homage to Beijing’s iconic imperial garden.
The Edition brand has set the gold standard for clean-lined luxury by adhering to Schrager’s motto, a phrase widely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." The Sanya outpost is the first in the collection to open in Asia, and the influx of Eastern inspiration puts a spin on a tried-and-true formula. "This is a hotel that can only be in China; it wouldn’t be any place else," he says.
The property's Madison Cox-designed grounds—50 acres of indigenous landscaping, Madagascar almonds, and overwater pavilions, abutting a private beach—recall another Chinese landmark. "I stayed in Beijing and went to the emperor’s Summer Palace. I was blown away by the private park. It had willow trees and was so magical—I wanted the Sanya Edition to feel lush and almost overgrown," Schrager explains.
For Schrager, it was imperative to learn Chinese travel habits. While the Miami Edition’s ice skating rink and bowling alley are playful distractions geared toward the adult nightlife crowd, the bumper cars in Sanya are intended for kids—sort of. "Chinese people vacation with their kids differently than Americans do. If you go to a resort with your kids in the U.S., you’re more than likely going to drop them off. They don’t do it like that in China. So we made a playland, but it’s not only for kids; it’s for the kid in all of us," he says.
Wellness has been a central component of the brand's DNA. In addition to top-tier spa treatments, The Edition recently launched in-room yoga videos at all of its properties. But in Sanya, the program takes a nature-forward turn in the form of a carefully landscaped meditation garden.
The slatted wood walls and rows of leafy greenery at the restaurant is as complicated as the design scheme gets. "The process is one of elimination, not addition. We try to resist that urge to add things to a space. We’re always trying to take things out, not to make it minimal or have any particular look, but just to make it simple."
The 512 rooms and suites feature a familiar, near-monotone mix of taupe, beige, and white. As Schrager notes, "We like the neutral color palette and are constantly looking for the no-color colors. It feels calmer and bombards the brain with less information. It’s not feng-shui: It doesn’t overwhelm you with too much design. To me, good design is almost invisible."
In the food and drink areas, the team tried to meld traditional and modern elements. "There’s a traditional lotus pool, but we put a very exotic architectural bamboo grove around it. It was about trying to do something that really felt Chinese, but didn’t have red dragons and those things you see in every Chinese restaurant across America," Schrager says.
Candles seem to be around every corner, including the moody bar, yet Schrager wishes there were even more. "I always love candlelight. It can make something really special, sexy, and romantic."

Ultimately, Schrager notes, the project took an especially deft touch. "Doing something in China was a little bit like working with a Rubik’s Cube. It was even more complicated because it's changing so fast: The China of tomorrow is not going to be the China of today. It’s like trying to land a ship on a moving comet."

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Design Dispatch: Feb. 6, 2017
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