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Dressed in light and space: Korea’s first boutique hotel
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승인 2011.08.27  17:15:43
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▲ Owner Kim Kyung Hee hopes the Baume Couture Boutique Hotel in Shin Jeju will be a place where great artistic minds can come together and discuss ideas and share their work. Also, due to its boutique status, it offers high-profile guests the utmost privacy with a small number of rooms per floor and restricted access. Photos by Sarah Delroy

Kim Kyung Hee knew something was missing from Korea. She felt that her background in fashion and business skills, twined with her husband’s passion for architecture, could fill the void.

Of the thousands of hotels in Korea, Kim was frustrated with not having a boutique hotel to stay at or recommend to her friends.

“As I have experienced, every hotel was the same, so I was fed up,” said Kim earlier this week in an interview with The Jeju Weekly at the Baume Couture Boutique Hotel in Shin Jeju.

A boutique hotel is usually lavish, uniquely situated, and set up so that its smaller number of guests can enjoy a high level of privacy. All this usually comes with a heavy price tag.

Kim’s start was not in hotels or business management, but in fashion. Her husband’s family wanted her to take over their silk business, but she became more involved with Western clothing as it gained popularity in Korea.

“I was a textile designer originally. I worked in the fabric industry so I traveled Europe a lot. In Europe I stayed at boutique hotels, because compared to national hotels, it was easier for me to work,” said Kim.

She sees clear parallels between the two industries: fashion and boutique hotels.

“[The] fashion industry is all about satisfying customers and being futuristic. I thought [all] hotel businesses are the same. And I also wished for this kind of hotel in Korea,” she added.

Kim continued poetically, “Clothing is the language of the body, but a house is who [we] are.”

This is why Kim chose the tagline “It’s yours!” for the hotel. She wants her customers to feel that they are staying at a home away from home.

Boutique hotels originated in 1984 through a unique property called Morgan’s on Madison Avenue in New York City.

The entrepreneurs behind the dance club Studio 54, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, decided to enter the hotel business after both had served stints in jail for tax evasion. They wanted to revolutionize the hotel experience and made their accommodation quirky and individualistic.

The term boutique compares hotels to a shopping experience — a small specialist shop as opposed to a department store.

The expression is often applied to hotels with a limited room capacity and a one-of-a-kind décor and ambiance.

Kim said the two motivating elements in her hotel’s unique décor are color and light.

“[We chose] achromatic colors — beige, black, brown and gray. My husband loves Armani. So for the lobby, he wanted it to be like Armani.”

The Kims hired Lighting Designer Yoon Byung Cheon to create different luminary environments in each area of the hotel.

The lobby declares itself with large golden-gun lamps designed by Phillip Stock.

Even often-unnoticed details, such as the overhead lighting, are encompassed by different shaped glass bottles.

The hotel boasts a lounge-style pool on the roof with views of Mt. Halla, a workout room, a Western-cuisine dining room that is open to the general public as well as guests, and a co-ed sauna. Kim said that newlyweds especially appreciate the rare opportunity to take a sauna with their loved one in Korea.

Privacy is the key in the hotel, making it perfect for high-profile guests. Each floor has a mere 10 rooms, and guests can only access their floor with an elevator keycard. Guests seeking a quiet holiday will find it here.

The journey to opening the hotel was not an easy one.

“It was very hard to get the government to understand what a boutique hotel really is,” Kim said. “[They] think a hotel means lots of space and customers — it was very hard to discuss and make agreements.”

The Kims hired their friend and well-known Korean architect, Seung Hyo Sang, to design the hotel. It capitalizes on open space and angular stairways funneling down the center of the hotel. According to Kim, the government did not understand why so much expense was going into a hotel that would accommodate fewer guests than another hotel of the same size.

“People in Jeju didn’t really understand what [a] boutique hotel is. When they think of high-quality hotels, they think ... big parking lots and many customers. So it was difficult for me to let them understand what this really is,” she said.

Another issue to date has been the relative newness of the boutique hotel. Its agenda is still not well-known in Korea, and given the opportunity again, Kim would have built her first hotel nearer to Seoul.

Despite the challenges though, there have also been many rewards.

The biggest for Kim has been meeting people like herself who want a boutique hotel experience in Korea.

“Lots of people have said ‘Thank you!’ and that [the hotel] feels like their own home, unlike bigger hotels,” Kim said.

Kim has many plans for the future. The Shin Jeju location was chosen because of its closeness to the airport, but she would like to have a sister hotel on the ocean so that clients could have package stays in the city and by the water.

She also hopes to make the hotel more of a place in Jeju where great minds come to discuss the cultural zeitgeist and share their artistic projects in events like fashion shows. Already, the Kims have put on private jazz piano concerts for their guests.

The boutique hotel idea is catching on. Boutique hotel chains have already appeared. They are spreading internationally, no longer confined to big cities. As their popularity rises, the boutique experience is becoming more economical.

Kim is confident that the future is bright.

For more information on The Baume Couture Boutique Hotel in Shin Jeju, please call 064-798-8000.

(Interpretation by Baek Hee Youn)


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