|Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the hanok provide excellent views of the courtyard and zen garden outside and a bright and airy atmosphere inside. Courtesy of Grace Jun|
By Celeste Kriel
In the middle of the city, just a stone's throw away from Dongdaemun Market and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), The J. Hidden House sits like a quiet sanctuary, transporting visitors away from the hustle and bustle of the modern concrete jungle that is downtown Seoul to an urban oasis and a trip back in time to a slower pace of life.
Tucked tightly away in an alleyway right off the main road, blink and you might miss it. The newly restored destination cafe, very accessible despite its hidden location, is a quintessential hidden gem and Seoul's best-kept secret ― for now.
The J. Hidden House, a contemporary new cafe built into the hereditary 100-year-old foundations of a grand traditional Korean courtyard house, or "hanok," opened its doors on the edge of Seoul's fashion and shopping mecca in November 2018. It has already been enjoying popularity with local and international visitors, including a number of well-informed, high-profile guests.
|The J. Hidden House proprietor Grace Jun sits in the zen garden.|
"It was registered in 1915, but as we know registration wasn't very specific back then so we actually believe it may have been built before that and was only registered that year," she explained. "Most importantly, this house actually survived the 1950-53 Korean War. It has stood in this central part of our capital city and witnessed to all the enormous developments and changes Seoul has gone through."
Steeped in so much history, Jun strives to marry such rich tradition with the best of modern Korea. The 300-square-meter secluded enclave houses a zen bamboo garden and is a beautiful blend of traditional and modern design, handcrafted and curated in intentionally understated, contemporary minimalism, showcasing Jun's tastefully modest aesthetic. She says it is one of the largest hanok open to the public today within the four great gates that mark the traditional boundaries of Seoul, the former capital of the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom.
|The entrance to The J. Hidden House is in an alley near Dongdaemun Station exit 10.|
"Thankfully, my ancestors kept the house till now for nostalgic purposes and had been renting it out as a garment warehouse to supplement the main industry of the neighborhood. Now however with Korea and the world beginning to realize the value of our local heritage, we wanted to develop and cultivate a publicly accessible special space for people to come and enjoy the aesthetic beauty of authentic Korean architecture and culture," Jun said.
While most of the hanok in Seoul have been restored or even newly built within this century, The J. Hidden House is one of the few hanok in Seoul that has stood the test of time for over 100 years. Every wooden beam is old and authentic, including the window frames and the intricate latticework, which has been layered with glass on both the outside and inside to frame it, turning it into a piece of art.
For the renovation, Jun partnered with Design Mori, a local boutique design shop credited for helping the meteoric emergence of Ikseon Hanok Village, an area that has become immensely popular among global tourists and young locals for its hip shops and unique cafes built into small renovated traditional Korean houses.
"I wanted every corner of The J. Hidden House to be intentional and have intricate details that people wouldn't notice at first but would appreciate once they recognize it," Jun said.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, visitors to Korea in the first half of 2018 increased by 6.9 percent year-on-year to 7.22 million tourists. When excluding Chinese visitors, the number of tourists increased 12.2 percent year-on-year to 5.05 million people, the largest-ever recorded number of inbound tourists to date.
"Seoul has become a destination for the world to visit and Korea's rich culture has so much to offer. This establishment is a fusion of our country's traditional heritage and dynamic modernization by coupling a cutting-edge modernity within the protected, mindful walls of a hidden hanok that was built before the Korean War and has stood the test of time," Jun said.
|The hanok courtyard allows visitors to dine or relax outside in warmer weather.|
"I wanted locals and visitors alike to be able to experience the beauty and tranquility of Korean culture in a traditional setting that incorporates all the modern conveniences of today and use it as a base to explore dynamic Dongdaemun, a historic and special location that has so much to offer everyone. Literally everything is available here for 24 hours. I know of nowhere else like this in the world."
Jun believes in providing visitors the best of the best. From a bespoke bar, the cafe offers world-class curated coffees, teas, and refreshments, as well as a tailored menu of baked goods and spirits cultivated by Korea's leading and most cutting-edge food and beverage companies.
"Our aim is to provide locals and tourists from around the world with a location and curated food and beverage offerings on caliber with any destination cafe in the world while offering what is uniquely and proudly Korean."
As a purpose-driven business, Jun has a mission to showcase Korea in the best possible light, to serve society and to grow with local businesses. For this reason The J. Hidden House also partners with local food and beverage business owners in the Dongdaemun area.
"We searched the whole of this massive neighborhood, which basically has all the food you could ever really want in Korea, and picked the best pizza and chicken to be prepared in our own unique style. There are a number of special places throughout the market that the world's palates would love to meet, but their presentation, styling and ambience don't yet meet what global consumers are accustomed to and comfortable with. We plan to help and grow with them," she said.
"Our business has been established with the purpose of doing good for the local neighborhood, society and Korea. As we grow we aim to showcase and highlight the best of what this historic neighborhood, and Korea, has to offer. We want those businesses who partner with us to grow with us and further strengthen the commercial livelihood of Dongdaemun together. We have been lucky in that people have already begun recognizing this. Together we are looking to create a greater value that serves not just oneself, but one that can be shared with others. Our hope is many like-minded people will join and want to help. We are all stronger and happier when we flourish together."
The J. Hidden House is located near exit 10 of Dongdaemun Station on Seoul Metro lines 1 and 4.