For a nation that prides itself in its skyscrapers and the miracle story of pulling itself out of the ruins of war and poverty, the remains of old days trigger mixed emotions. Some see those old houses as little more than dilapidated urban slums which can’t be redeveloped soon enough; others, and an increasing number of them, find them comforting pockets of history in the middle of an all-changing metropolis.
Ikseon-dong, a small district in central Seoul, presents unsuspecting visitors with something of a time warp experience. Surrounded by tall and shiny skyscrapers, the district itself is full of old, traditional houses that are huddled together in a quiet nod back to the old and difficult days of modern Korea. They might look all a bit worn out and positively shabby, but those narrow alleyways have an inexplicable charm about them.
Little wonder, then, that the place has inspired and attracted young artists and designers who had been gentrified out of their neighborhoods. Recently, a growing number of those aged houses and buildings have been picked up by newcomers who magically turn them into all kinds of hip venues.
Nagwonjang is one of the latest repurposing delights which have brought new life to a previously dying structure. Thanks to the imaginative touch of a young urban designer duo Ikseondada (nothing to do with the dada of the 1920s – more on this in a separate post) an old motel has been turned into a hip boutique hotel.
The exterior of the old red-brick building was mostly left untouched. The five-storey building, which stands like a church tower over this parish of low-lying houses, inspired its new proprietors to design a hotel which serves as an observatory for the neighbourhood. The view from your room is sure to make to let out a sigh of sheer delight – ‘this is Seoul.’
The interior of the hotel, of course, boasts an elegant touch of a team of designers and artists who submitted their proposals, from interior design and furniture to linen and even amenities. What’s remarkable is how all of that modern twist blends seamlessly with the original features of the building; the vintage tiled corridors are one such example.
Now, this is a thoroughly well-designed boutique hotel, for sure. But the reason Nagwonjang merits a visit beyond and above all equally well-designed hotels in Seoul (and to be fair, there are hundreds of them) is the fascinating story it holds – the tales of old Seoul as well as the dreams of Seoul chic.
EXPLORE with DARAMJI – Visit Nagwonjang and so many other wonderful places with DARAMJI. You’ll get a personal itinerary tailored to your interests and professional DARAMJI guide service with the option to arrange transport and other activities en-route. Prices start from USD 300 per person/8-hour day.