When the founders of fledgling furniture brand Ziinlife visited the offices of fellow Shanghai-based architecture firm Atelier tao+c, they immediately liked what they saw. The minimalist, industrial-leaning space made from affordable materials perfectly reflected the creative design brand’s own mantra of “solving problems through design” — namely, by offering China’s more cash-conscious but style-forward consumers trendy furnishings. This chance meeting three years ago is how Ziinlife’s latest showroom and café, located in a repurposed Mao-era textile warehouse in the east of Beijing, came to be.
Lead architect Chunyan Cai’s “house within a house” concept for the space arose from a necessity to augment its slight 186 square metres into something more substantial — without impacting versatility. “By rotating two intersected square frames 45 degrees, a diagonal relation is created between them and the existing walls,” Cai explains. This oblique tension between the clean, wooden interior cannily expands the space’s illusory depth.
Meanwhile, a lone steel deck cleaves the second floor, tidily doubling the accessible floor space. You reach this area via a single U-shaped staircase partly obscured by laminate wood panelling on the building’s front side, which immaculately juts into the brick facade. The affected wall is replaced by a triangular window, forging a conversation between the delicate internal structure and its more pragmatic shell while also letting in light and tempting passersby.
Despite being predominantly made from exposed industrial materials — a skeleton of auburn steel I-beams and columns hoist the timber and transparent polycarbonate sheet casing, all buoyed by two sparing slabs of grey marble — the internal structure retains a playful nimbleness. The effect is enhanced by clever geometric touches and deft use of negative space, as seen in cut-outs to the intricate easel-like contours of the staircase, a swooping semicircular inlay above the first-floor showroom and pin-neat gatefold windows opening out from the second-floor pergolas.
“We tried to let the layers demonstrate that a structure can be as beautiful as its finishing material,” Cai says. The result is a clean, assured space that gives its occupants room to breathe while also allowing Ziinlife’s designs to speak to the customer unburdened by noisy detail.
Geometric frames twist and turn inside a former textile warehouse.