The City Inn in Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province is a good case study of what can be achieved on a relatively low budget if the creative impulses are calibrated just so. Located right next to Kuanzhai Alley – one of the city’s most popular sightseeing spots – the 130-room hotel opened in 2008, time enough for a spruce-up. 

Fresh off his stint working on Chengdu’s Fangsuo bookstore, the Taiwanese designer Chu Chih-Kang was tapped for the project. Inspired by the neighbourhood – much of it dating back to the Qing dynasty – Chu was keen to inject local flavour into the space, specifically as a modern art gallery.

This explains the extensive use of monotonic shades of grey wall panels and flat black furniture – most of which was customised for the refurbishment – and oversized sepia-tone photographs of local restaurants and street scenes. ‘If guests take photos in the rooms,’ Chu says, ‘they will discover that they are the only colourful object in what is basically a black and white photo.’

The in-house dining options are limited, but the greedy grab of nearby traditional tea-houses, street market and restaurants, including Zhuyuan which serves up beef sautéed with chilli oil, are tasty alternatives.