AMJ Design mixes an East-West cocktail at the China Club, Berlin
Otto Pohl -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Less than 50 yards from the Brandenburg Gate—onetime symbol of the separation between East and West Berlin—the China Club unifies another kind of East and West. Call it Sino-opulence. "It's a calm place to escape," says Anna Maria Jagdfeld, reclining in a deep leather-covered armchair. But that doesn't mean giving up luxury, which Jagdfeld's AMJ Design provided right down to the China Club logo stamped on the silver matchbox holders. "If you do lavish," she adds, "you have to do it all the way."
To the well heeled members who frequent this club, that might mean savoring the dim sum prepared by celebrity chef Tam Kok Kong, hired away from a top restaurant in Singapore. Or appreciating the club's own porcelain and embroidered linen napkins.
Sumptuous furnishings and finishes set the tone for the 13,000-square-foot space. Spread over the top two floors of an annex to the rebuilt Hotel Adlon Kempinski, the club's restaurant, bar, library, conference rooms, and private dining rooms combine Chinese antiques and contemporary ' art with custom furniture informed by Asian motifs.
Building a European sensibility into a Chinese theme came naturally to Jagdfeld, who spends three months a year in the Far East. Besides, she says, the two aesthetics have blurred: "Asian culture is so interwoven with Western culture. Most people talk about globalization like it's still coming. But it's already happened." And was, in fact, thriving in colonial Hong Kong, home of the original China Club—where Jagdfeld likes to relax during her Asian travels. (Her trips to London and San Francisco may increase in frequency, too, if China Clubs proposed there go forward as planned.)
The Berlin club's entrance perfectly captures this intercultural outlook. A broad staircase curves gracefully upward, its intricate oiled-iron balustrade topped by an oak handrail. The floor is smoked oak, the walls white to emphasize the rich tones of contemporary Chinese paintings.
At the top of the stairs, Jagdfeld installed intricately hand-carved gilded wall paneling that she'd discovered in a temple in northern China. The golden panel surfaces shine against the smoked oak of the flooring, while their traditional depictions of elephants, dragons, and a phoenix contrast with the contemporary wit of a freestanding 5-foot-high Mao jacket in white fiberglass.
The entry's Warhol-esque oil of Mao Tse-tung casts the former Chinese leader as a relative of Batman's Joker, complete with pink hair, red lips, and green bow tie. Aesthetics can cross in a single piece of furniture, too. Note the bar's long row of rosewood stools, based on the design of a Chinese imperial throne.
Most straightforwardly "Chinese" are a private lounge and dining room that compose the Concubine Suite—taking its name from a painting of a rather brazen odalisque in precarious platform slippers and an outlandish floral headdress. She reclines against a square cushion, the fabric of which inspired Jagdfeld's choice of gold-and-red silk for the custom sofa directly below. Silk panels cover the walls, their densely layered colors and textures framed by black lacquered trim.
For balance, Jagdfeld made the library comparatively Western. It's here that the Hong Kong influence is most visible, with ' weathered leather-covered armchairs and a quietly neoclassical oak mantelpiece that looks more English manor house than Chinese teahouse. Even here, however, the Anglo ambience is accented by such distinctively Chinese touches as a blue-and-white porcelain lidded jar in the style of the Ming dynasty.
Of a much jazzier vintage are the entry's leaded-glass windows, once part of a Beijing palace and now installed next to the Joker Mao. And Jagdfeld paid equal attention to windows in the restaurant and bar. To lend intimacy to the anonymous expanses of double glazing, she designed latticelike elm screens that slide in front. Darkening the interior just a shade, they cast a distinctively Chinese perspective on Murphy/Jahn's towering Sony Center, visible to the south on Potsdamer Platz.