Modernity finds a home in Tadao Ando’s Shanmunzen

Modernity finds a home in Tadao Ando’s Shanmunzen

Kyoto has no shortage of quiet hotels within the city’s historic neighbourhoods, generally underscoring the city’s status as a capital of crafts, arts and design. When strolling down Kyoto’s historic Shinmunzen Street in the Gion Arts District, it’s easy to believe that time is passing by with a more relaxed walk here along the area’s beautifully preserved buildings. Shinmunzen It distinguishes itself from the many traditionally designed machiya houses and ryokan inns that line the gentle flow of the Shirakawa River. It’s not overtly so, as the hotel’s dark wood-fronted architecture and kwara tile roofline offer a distinct simplicity. But inside there is the architect’s signature Tadao Ando And interior designer Remy Tessieris sure to please design owners with its contrast.

Black Noren curtain decorated with a white letter “S” written on the right side. The entrance to Shinmonzen welcomes guests into what at first glance looks like an old traditional Japanese hotel.

This luxury boutique hotel takes its name from “Shinmunzen-dorior Street of Artists, Fine Arts and Antique Shops, is located on a picturesque section of Gion Shirakawa Street and Shinmunzen Street where weeping willows and cherry trees attract sakura lovers every spring to admire their blossoms against the backdrop of traditional merchants’ houses with narrow facades.

Details The Shinmonzen's balcony is lined and covered with wood on the outside.

A woman stands on a balcony overlooking a river in Kyoto.

Despite its dated exterior, Shinmonzen is a contemporary creation inside and out. The passion project of Irish hotelier Paddy McKellen was able to convince Ando to redesign the ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, into a harmonious balance between yesterday and today, Japanese and European, austerity and comfort. Thus, Ando’s exterior design blends into the surrounding architectural landscape in compelling detail, with its contemporary nature only apparent upon closer inspection, and even more clearly noticeable upon entry.

A long, narrow concrete corridor lined with wood and light panels, ending with a framed piece of art.

A rotating collection of contemporary artworks is displayed in a dramatic setting within the corridors and also decorates the guest rooms, reflecting Shinmunzen’s Bade-san’s love of contemporaneity and architecture.

Three tier rack of 9 contemporary and traditional style ceramic pieces illuminated by warm yellow light from above.

Each of the hotel’s nine suites is unique, each featuring different materials endemic to Japan, and furnished with a mix of elements drawn from the local vernacular combined with contemporary European designs.

One bathroom countertop is topped with green marble with double sinks, faucets and mirrors.  The backlit Shoji screen is illuminated with soft white light.

A square cypress bathtub corner with a bath faucet and overhead controls runs across the marble-topped walls and a small marble shelf holds soap and shampoo.

Tatami floors underfoot and spacious cypress bathtubs nod to traditional Japanese interiors, contrasted with expanses of marble counters and hand-woven European-style rugs.

A two-sink marble-topped bathroom vanity with dual faucets and mirrors, as well as a detail shot of hotel stationery with a pencil and pen near a notebook surrounded by a small bamboo tray.

Angle view of a modern Japanese hotel room with wooden and white furnishings.

Side view of a full-sized mattress with a narrow horizontal extending about 2/3 of a second from a carpeted floor.  Medium sized framed artwork hangs above the window on white walls.

The tranquility is further enhanced by the incorporation of “toko-no-ma” – literally “empty space”, a specific architectural feature of traditional Japanese sitting rooms.

Two light gray upholstered armchairs around a reclaimed wood side table overlook a balcony to the left with a king-sized mattress partially in view.

Room sizes range from the 430-square-foot WASHI Suite with king-size bed to the 860-square-foot KINU Suite furnished with side-by-side double-sized futon beds, a double marble vanity, and a walk-in closet.

A double sized futon combined with a large shared headboard, with two small bedside lamps on each side of both beds.  White bedding covers each futon with a single pillow in the middle.

A touch of peace and tranquility permeates each of the suite’s interiors, all occupied by softly curved Toan Nguyen armchairs and softened by hand-woven rugs by Japanese textile maker Kawashima Silicone.

A spacious wardrobe with a narrow cloakroom table in the middle and a bench with empty clothes hangers hanging on each side.

A two-chair table sits on a balcony overlooking the Shirakawa River in Kyoto.  Traditional Japanese houses appear in the background next to a small motorized bridge over the river.

Balconies overlooking the Shirakawa River give guests an intimate, semi-private place of their own to enjoy the sights and sounds of Gion’s bustling alleyways and cobblestone streets.

The curved orange walls of the Shinmonzen Hotel bar.

Farm-to-table French, American and Asian cuisine is served daily within the hotel’s restaurant, Jean Georges at the Shinmonzen, including a Japanese-style breakfast featuring Kyoto-sourced heirloom vegetables, and a vegetarian menu, along with 8 delicious dishes from both carnivores and vegetarians. . Meal list.

Jean-Georges in the Shinmunzen dining room inside the Shinmunzen Hotel.  Each seating area is covered with a white tablecloth and topped with wine glasses.  The interior is lined with wood and dark details.  There is an 8-seat sushi bar on the right and walls of rice paper covered windows on the left.

“Throughout our design process, the goal was to create a space that meets the desires of the modern traveler while respecting the traditions and heritage of Kyoto,” says Tadao Ando. “This hotel represents a delicate blend of past, present and future. I believe it will capture the essence of the Kyoto Protocol while still speaking to global sensibilities. I hope that everyone who visits will discover the new charm of the ancient city.”

What: Shinmunzen
where: 235 Nishino-cho, Shinmunzen-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605 0088
how much: Starting from $1,916 per night
Highlights: Tadao Ando’s light hand allows the architecture to quietly complement what the architect described as “the most beautiful body of water in all of Kyoto.” With each room allocated a private balcony, guests are invited to watch the flow of water and foot traffic in equal comfort.
Design drawing: The art collection at Shinmunzen includes ceramics by Takayuki Watanabe, and contemporary artworks by the likes of Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and Louise Bourgeois, with rooms curated by interior designer Remy Tessier. Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design, Kyocera Art Museum and National Museum of Modern Art are a 19-minute walk away.
Book it: Shinmunzen

You can actually go on vacation to more design destinations here.

Gregory Hahn is a senior editor at Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a deep love and curiosity for design, hiking, tidal pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at

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