The Skywells is an elegant, 300 year old mansion built in the Huizhou style - thick brick outer walls to keep out the heat, and ornate wooden interiors. A 'Skywell' is the tall, narrow courtyard typical of China's South, and our house has three of them. Heat is taken up out of the house, and water drains into channels in the centre, symbolising wealth being kept in the family and not being lost to the outside.
Being secluded up in the hills, Yancun village escaped the worst madnesses of the cultural revolution; the stories of merchant families who have lived here are preserved in hand carved friezes, painstakingly restored by Yuzong, our local artisan carpenter.
If the walls could talk...
Working with a local historian and interviewing the families who've lived here, we have uncovered a rich tapestry of stories: originally a business inn for a merchant 300 years ago, expanded around 150 years ago with a formal hall and animal yard. At one point the house was home to a wealthy spinster who took in orphans at the turn of the 20th Century. More recently, it acted as a work office for the commune in the village. Quotations from Chairman Mao's red book still adorn the walls, urging workers on.
We have preserved all the original early Qing dynasty architecture, wood, carving and stone. Knowing that no one is interested in Qing dynasty toilets, we have brought in a Western Architecture team to help us bring the house into the 21st Century. We are preserving the grandeur, elegance, beauty and stories of our house and the families who came before us; but bringing in soft beds, soundproofing, cold white wine, aircon, modern bathrooms and good Wifi.
As custodians of this house for our lifetime (its feels wrong to talk about ownership of something so old, which will also outlive us) we are preserving what has been left to us by generations past, and adding our own touches for generations to come. In this spirit, Ed couldn't handle the idea of a country garden without an English lawn and flowers. Where would we play croquet!?
Many of the ancient camphor trees from the village where felled to fuel Mao's revolution. These days, mass logging is illegal in Wuyuan. We are taking the long view by replanting saplings (to date: Maple, Camphor, Pomelo, Orange and Plum Blossom) symbolising our long standing commitment to the future of the house, village and community, in the hope that future generations may once again enjoy their balmy shade.
We have a welcoming bar with just a hint of English country pub, and a light airy restaurant to enjoy local and Western food. We keep a library on our third floor overlooking the village rooftops for feet up holiday reading and a tea room for tasting Wuyuan's most famous ware; wild teas collected on the mountains surrounding our village.
The first time we set foot in the house, Selina and I immediately knew this was the one. You will immediately understand why once you set foot inside. Our dream is to once again bring smiles, warmth, visitors and laughter to a house which has been a labour of love for many generations of Wuyuan village life.
We are thankful to our teachers YuYouHong (English video) and anySCALE design for turning our run down wreck of a house into a living, breathing home once again: the perfect balance of local artisan craftsmanship and some welcome 'German precision'.
For more about the house and the restoration, read our blog, Tales From The Village
We have 14 well apportioned bedrooms restored using traditional joinery and panelling. Every bedroom tells a story of people who've lived in our house over the past centuries through their documents, newspapers, household items and decorations we have recovered from within the house. Look out for the merchant bankers business notes from the 1900s, a revolutionary's original Mao era posters, and a musicians instruments and sheet music - all pieced together with local interviews.
All of our rooms face inwards, towards our skywell courtyards. Huizhou-style houses were designed to keep outsiders and heat out. We have remained loyal to the architecture and vision of our house.
Every room has its own modern, Kohler fitted bathroom, and King Koil mattresses. High grade, thick insulation keeps each room cool and quiet. All of these are essential in the countryside, but very rare to find! USB ports, safes and wildly fragrant toiletries keep you clean, safe and comfortable. You can expect a comfortable, enriching stay in one of China's oldest hotels as you explore a part of China modernity simply forgot about.