Southern comforts

Updated: 2014-02-16 08:37

By Rebecca Lo(China Daily)

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Goelia 225 is a haven that reveres a gentler, more laid-back way of life. Rebecca Lo drops by to smell the flowers.

On a recent trip to Guangzhou, I dined at Man Ho with Queenie Zhu, a Guangzhou native. Remarking on the changes in her hometown and the shift from shops along avenues to big air-conditioned shopping malls, I asked if people still go to Upper and Lower Ninth or Beijing Roads.

"Mostly tourists visit Ninth Road now, but locals still go to Beijing Road," Zhu says. "If you are planning to go, you should definitely visit Goelia 225. It's a very unusual place for Guangzhou. It's a shop but also a gallery and cafe in a historic building."

I took her advice, and went there a few days later, making my way over to the south end of Beijing Road via Haizhu Square and Gaodi Street. While the pedestrianized portion of Beijing Road extends as far as Da'nan Road, south of Da'nan is jammed with vehicular traffic and small shops selling mostly garments and snacks.

Goelia 225 is a pleasant surprise among all the commerce. It's on the southwest corner of Beijing and Da'nan roads, and its rust-colored brick facade stands out from its gray high-rise neighbors. The architecture is typical of southern Chinese post-war buildings: The building is cantilevered above a covered walkway that rounds the corner connecting the two main arteries. Its original staircase on the left side of the building is articulated on the exterior with a trio of tall windows.

Goelia itself is a Guangzhou fashion brand that manufactures retro-inspired womenswear for domestic distribution and export. While it has a large two-story shop further north along Beijing Road, Goelia 225 is a physical manifestation of a lifestyle devoted to the simple pleasures of travel, culture and art that the brand aspires to convey.

Everything about Goelia 225 is carefully detailed. Take the location: This particular spot in Guangzhou was previously where the southern gate to the city was situated during the Southern Dynasty (AD 420-589), when the city's boundaries were first extended. Known as the Zhenan Gate during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Da'nan Gate during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was an important passageway for travelers arriving and departing from the city.

The building itself was erected in 1948. Designed by architect Guan Yizhou, it originally housed Hengmei Gold Store on the first floor, Pon's Photography Studio on the second and Huang Wenjie Dental Clinic on the third. The owner surnamed Yu resided on the top two floors.

Southern comforts

When Goelia took over the premises some 60 years later, its designer Ben Lee painstakingly researched how the building used to look and restored it to its former glory.

Along with a reception that offers guided tours of the premises, the ground floor contains a Sunshine Garden inspired by Provence. A wooden pavilion invites contemplation, while koi swim happily in ponds and moss-covered stones meander through the thick growth. Details such as the stone hand railing and colorful Manchu stained glass windows showcase traditional southern Chinese craftsmanship.

A fresco by the illustrator Popil adorns the mezzanine overlooking the garden, and its subject was inspired by Alice in Wonderland's blurring of reality and fantasy. Another fresco named To Another Galaxy leads the way up the stairs from the first to second floor, courtesy of Shanghai artist Jiang Shan. "I wanted to express a feeling of flying," he explains, "of closing one's eyes and constructing a fantasy space."

The second floor is occupied by Goelia 225 Fleuriste, a flower shop where arrangements can be commissioned for special events. The third floor is 225 Spaces, a platform for a continuous series of exhibitions covering many different topics. Its current show exhibits vintage Chinese films, with posters and movie stills supported by novels, scripts and literature of a bygone era.

The fourth floor is Showtime, an exhibition that illustrates what Goelia 225 is all about through video clips, archival catalogues and corner nooks for curling up or flipping through materials.

The fifth floor features Lee's cafe, secondhand bookshop and boutique. Glass doors lead to a leafy outdoor terrace spread over two levels. Its wooden-planked floors and weather chairs set a nostalgic tone for enjoying a cappuccino with a slice of cake before re-entering the bustle of Beijing Road.

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 Southern comforts

The Goelia 225 Fleuriste on the second floor is a flower shop where arrangements can be commissioned for special events. Photos by Rebecca Lo / for China Daily

 Southern comforts

The rust-colored brick facade of Goelia 225 stands out from its gray high-rise neighbors.

(China Daily 02/16/2014 page9)