As Chinese design practice ONOAA Studio points out, business owners are increasingly recognizing the importance of curation in commercial spaces. It’s true – from the retail interiors that take notes from museums, to the hospitality interiors that take notes from retail, businesses today are benefitting from merging spatial functions and attempting to see spaces holistically; the end goal obviously being to create more enticing environments for consumers.

That ambition is reflected in Hashtag, a new 200-m2 café-meets-store-exhibition-venue-and-bar in Shanghai. Reconstructing a 1980s building, ONOAA Studio utilized contemporary strategies and minimalistic touches to develop the multifunctional ‘living space’, exploring ‘some of the experiences outside the image’. Despite what the space’s name might imply, ONOAA did want to avoid simply defaulting to tried-and-true Insta-favourite themes: ‘In this Internet era, it seems difficult for commercial spaces to avoid the tag of “Internet-famous site”,’ a spokesperson explains.

City regulations meant that signboards could not be hung outside the building, posing a marketing challenge. The designers envisioned a semi-open parlour-style room on the ground floor for the public to access the building and check out information about Hashtag via LCD screens, posters and signboards. Whether or not passersby make it inside the space, they get a hint at it from the exterior: the same natural textures appearing on the building’s exterior were mimicked throughout the interior. Beige-grey sand-textured walls, limestone flooring and sandstone tables on the ground floor are all such references.

While this material palette may be relatively monochromatic, the space is hardly so by night: ONOAA installed a circle of colour-adjustable RGBW light strips and luminous film on the walls, able to transform the subdued café interior into a vibrant cocktail bar. The colours shift with changes in music, and the lighting programme is different daily.

A staircase made of matte black volcanic rock and grey granite leads to the first floor, which is swathed in white paint and natural light thanks to newly added skylights. The second floor is designated as the exhibition area; surfaces are treated in low-maintenance materials that are easily restored after changing shows.