Name: Ashley Chu and Alex Acker
Location: Beixinqiao — Beijing, China
Size: 950 square feet
Years lived in: 3.5 years, renting
Beijing is famous for its centuries-old hutongs — the winding alleyways that once made up the main arteries of the city. They were filled with traditional courtyard homes until the spaces were divided or destroyed to make room for a swelling population. These days, what's left of the ancient hutongs are enticing China expats and a younger generation of locals with their charm. But moving in comes with risks: namely bugs, cold winters, bad plumbing, water damage, and lack of space. So when Ashley Chu and Alex Acker invited a Chinese friend and her mother to come visit their 100-year-old home in the heart of the hutongs, the mother was horrified.
"Everyone was saying, 'You're crazy, you're living in a hutong? Everything is terrible,'" Ashley said. She recalled her friend's encouraging words to her mother as she led her down the dusty path to an unassuming front door. "Just wait until you come inside!"
In Ashley and Alex's home, heated floors, dark wood, exposed brick, and tall ceilings punctured by skylights all transform a once-drab room stuffed with two bedrooms into a light and airy living room. To get to this point, Alex and Ashley had to have a creative vision. "There are a lot of agents that specialize in renovated hutong homes, but they're really tiny and the rent is kind of high for what you get," Alex said. "We got a deal on this place because we fixed it up. The thing is, if you can sort it out properly, I think it's the best place to live in Beijing."
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Classic hutong with comfortable, contemporary furnishings and Chinese accents.
Inspiration: Trying to stay true to the space, but make it as comfortable as possible for living. We use Pinterest for some ideas for materials and furniture.
Favorite Element: High ceilings and natural light, plus our little courtyard and herb garden, and our Italian-style country kitchen.
Biggest Challenge: While the renovation was taking place, it was living in the kitchen/dining space while simultaneously renovating it. In terms of living here, hutong living comes with its own unique challenges — being on the ground floor, it takes constant effort to keep bugs and critters at bay. Also, our foundation walls are not wrapped at the bottom so moisture creeps up, and we need to re-whitewash some parts every year or two. And finally, we have very limited storage space, so we have needed to be creative in creating this.
What Friends Say: That it's an oasis in the middle of our busy city! They're surprised by how large it feels for its size, probably because of the openness and high ceilings.
Biggest Embarrassment: None that we can think of!
Proudest DIY: Alex: I think our bathroom turned out well. We re-tiled it, added a new bassinette, and changed a wooden tub into a more modern shower space. We also added a water pump so we have much better water pressure now.
Ashley: Our storage/laundry space. Previously, the washing machine was outside in a shed in the courtyard. By moving it inside, we created extra storage space in the shed outside, as well as around the washing machine inside. This also happily makes it much more convenient to get a load in!
Biggest Indulgence: Our bed. It wasn't cheap and it takes up way too much space, but a good night's sleep is worth it.
Best Advice: Dreams don't work unless you do. Don't be afraid to chase the dream, but be prepared to put in some work to get to where you want to be.
Dream Sources: Ashley: Lily's Antiques in Shanghai.
Alex: Lily's Antiques has nice stuff, but my dream would be to learn to make really nice furniture and do it myself!
Two-Seat Sofa — IKEA
Green Wing Chair — IKEA
Rug — IKEA
Coffee Table — Pangjiayuan Antique Market, Beijing
Bookcase — Pangjiayuan
Table Lamp — Pangjiayuan
Beijing inspired art and accents — From our travels
Bed — Hongxing Meikailong, Beijing
Tibetan rug — Lily's Antiques
Tapestry — Vietnam
Custom Closet — Gaobeidian
Wall Spotlight — IKEA