Four Seasons Kyoto

The Hirsch Bedner Associates design for Four Seasons Kyoto balances modern and traditional details that honor Japanese heritage. Photograph by Will Pryce

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One of the most historic and beautiful cities in Japan, Kyoto retains many of its older buildings and scenic gardens. This architectural heritage became the inspiration for the design of the new Four Seasons Hotel in Kyoto, recently opened with interiors by global firm Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA).

Located near a picturesque 800-year-old Ikeniwa (a pond within gardens), the hotel design balances clean modernist forms with details that draw on traditional Japanese motifs, evoking the aesthetic history of the country. Geared toward a variety of visitors, including business people, tourists, or local residents looking for a contemporary venue that honors their heritage, the hotel includes a ballroom, teahouse, spa, and wedding chapel, as well as 57 condominiums.

Local details with a modern twist
Arriving in a soaring, double-height lobby that features a floor-to-ceiling window wall that frames dramatic views of the grounds, visitors can relax in an intimate lounge area with couches and armchairs in front of a fireplace. The Japanese design aesthetic is enhanced in the public spaces with wood beams and wall panels, locally sourced shoji paper screens, and floors paved with wood and natural Aji stepping stones.

“Our research and understanding of Kyoto’s history and culture are translated in different interpretations throughout Four Seasons Kyoto,” says Agnes Ng, a partner in HBA’s Singapore office who oversaw the interior design. “The quiet and elegant lines of the wooden fretwork, which forms the basis of the welcome experience in Four Seasons Kyoto, takes references from Japanese pavilions and screens, and the natural edge carved oak wood flooring enhances the Japanese imperial villa experience.”

In the third-floor ballroom, the ceiling is a complex, layered illuminated plane of patterned surfaces with intricate historic Japanese motifs. Dark wood paneled walls contrast with soft lavender carpets, and a lavender botanical print adorns one wall. A grand staircase that wraps a monumental glass chandelier leads from the opulent ballroom and other public area to the serene wedding chapel on the fourth floor. The chapel features an undulating wood-slat structure along the upper portion of its walls, and a glazed wall beyond the altar captures views of the gardens.

“What sets the chapel apart from the rest of the hotel are the emotions brought about by design—the purity of spaces and the intimate connection with nature and seasons,” Ng says. “The undulating structure; minimalist undertones and soaring, sunlit spaces—framed and coupled with the backdrop of Kyoto’s changing seasons— direct one’s attention to being mindful, contemplative, and in harmony with the cycles of nature.”

Rusticated and smooth stones clad the walls of the hotel’s indoor pool. Semi-enclosed cabanas with glass pendant lights and daybeds line the periphery along with more open areas furnished with chaise lounges. In the spa, lounge areas have white leather sofas and wooden armchairs that evoke the midcentury modern furnishings of George Nakashima, the Japanese- American designer.

Luxurious and serene guestrooms
The hotel features 110 standard guestrooms, 12 suites, and one presidential suite. Guestrooms, which have dark wood screens and lantern-like lighting, feel more like residences than hotel rooms. Some rooms have views of a historic temple, while others overlook the gardens and the pond. “The guestrooms embody the characteristics of a traditional Japanese house,” Ng says.

With a pitched ceiling that adds a sense of heightened space, the presidential suite has pale wood paneled walls as well as intricate screens that serve as room dividers between living and sleeping areas. A canopy over the bed creates a room within a room, while overscaled furnishings lend warmth to the living space.

Even with the richness of materials and details used throughout the project, the overall feeling is one of serenity, which the designers and hotelier feel embodies contemporary luxury.

At ease and in tune with nature
“Four Seasons and HBA had a mutual understanding in wanting to achieve new heights in design and experience while staying true to the branding of the hotel. We approached it with a new direction in hospitality where luxury is experienced in discreet, subtle, contemplative ways, and through meaningful relationships with spaces,” Ng says. “This project represents a renewed focus on being at ease and in tune with nature, seasons, and time— apt for the 21st-century Four Seasons guest.”

who Interior designer: Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA). HBA project team: Agnes Ng; Connie Puar; Cristian Rubio Pinedo; Kenneth Lai. Architect: Kume Sekkei. Restaurant designers: Strickland; (sushi restaurant); Kokai Studios (all-day restaurant). Exterior designer: Landscape Design.
what Wallcoverings: Tapetex; Teruki Ishigani Sangetsu; Goodrich Global. Carpet/carpet tile: Brintons Carpet; Couristan Carpets. Lighting: Ricardo Lighting; Lighting Planners Associates; dpa lighting consultants. Upholstery: Hosoo; Manas; Garrett Leather; Dedar; Veranda; Tiger Leather. Furniture: Armani Casa; Ritzwell; Sakura Seisakusho; Gervasoni. Other: Shoji paper; Eriko Horiki; Precious Piece; Yamauchi Urushi. Stone: Antolini Luigi & C. S.p.a; GA; Henge. Timber: Tabu Spa; Maruhon.