Wuyuan Skywells: Rural Qing Mansion Antidote to Overtime Culture

By Sophie Steiner, October 26, 2020

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Wuyuan Skywells is a family inn and passion project of Englishman Edward Gawne, his Jiangxi-born wife Selina Liao. The 300-year old refurbished mansion from the Qing Dynasty is their antidote to the mile-high skyscrapers, always-online, ruthless overtime culture and relentless pace of life in modern China. 

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Image courtesy of Marc Goodwin

After working in market research in Shanghai for years, Ed quit the corporate life to pursue his passions just three months before his 30th birthday. While living in Nanchang, his wife’s hometown, he studied Chinese for a year and spent his weekends exploring the Jiangxi countryside, where old houses, farms and forests are in no short supply.

Selina, a passionate entrepreneur, was equally intrigued by the untapped village tourism of her home province, and together they decided to venture into this nearly untouched market. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

After building a dream team of global architects, design agencies and carpenters, the project got underway in 2016 and came to fruition in 2017. By 2018, the unique balance between preservation and state-of-the-art architecture afforded them universal acclaim from the design world in the form a 2018 Red Dot Award, 2018 LEAF Award, 2018 Travel Hospitality Award and many more. 

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Image courtesy of Marc Goodwin

The Skywells name comes from the signature architectural feature of Wuyuan houses, a wide-open “window” in the structure’s roof that keeps both the heat and unwanted people out, while still allowing fresh air and light to reach inside. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Ed and Selina honor the home’s history by maintaining as much of the original structure as possible, while still making it a comfortable oasis for guests (and themselves – they got married in and still live in Skywells today with their two children).

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The true experience at Skywells comes in the form of each family member’s individual contribution to create its authentic culture. Ed is personable, goofy, a riveting storyteller and beyond passionate. He truly loves what he does, from fixing bikes to planting flowers to serving guests funky cocktails into the wee hours of the night. 

Selina is also a force to be reckoned with; she is an expert charmer of national-level government officials and the true boss when it comes to running any construction refurbishments, yet you can still find her squabbling with the local ladies about cabbage patches. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Selina’s gregarious mother, who also spends most of her time at Skywells, previously ran a dumpling shop, which heavily influences the elevated Chinese menu. Composed of seasonal produce and traditional dishes, they come with a modern twist to appeal to both Western and multi-cultural Chinese palettes.


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In addition to the Chinese mains, the restaurant offers vegetarian and Western options for pickier eaters, and a robust, rotating selection of cakes, tarts and meringues, best enjoyed with rocket fuel-level Yunnan coffee beverages.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Ed and Selina take pride in tailor-making itineraries to fit each person’s individual wants, caring about everyone’s overall experience both in and out of the inn. Since they live at Skywells about 80-90% of the time, it’s not uncommon for them to enjoy a dinner with guests, pouring over maps, pulling up photos and sending WeChat pins of obscurely famous tofu makers and mooncake bakers located in off the beaten path villages. 

READ MORE: Wuyuan: Authentic Getaway of Villages and Vistas is Within Reach

“If it’s on Dianping or Google, we generally won’t send our guests there. We prefer to find our own trails and unique trip highlights to make each person’s stay that much more memorable,” says Ed, while picking Jerusalem artichokes off the tree in the garden and preparing them to be pickled as a breakfast side dish. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The couple have designed a set of hiking, biking and of-interest village maps for their guests to use. From grueling 10-kilometer treks through forests, across tea fields and into tiny villages, to relaxing bike rides passing by farms and corn fields, they pride themselves on finding something special and appealing, no matter what their guests seeks out of a vacation. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

“A hotel is only as good as its guests,” is the motto Ed and Selina live by, but we are pretty sure that in this case, it rings especially true if you swap out the word “guests” with “owners.”

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Stay tuned for the family’s newest project: an English Country Manor, located just 5-kilometers away from Skywells and surrounded by lush tea fields on one side and a picturesque calm lake on the other. This 30-room venue is aimed at families, with two acres of garden, kayaks, a large library and Victorian-style fireplaces in each building. We look forward to seeing it open to the public around early this winter.  


To book a room at Wuyuan Skywells, call +86 136 1194 6697 or email frontdesk@wuyuanskywells.com

To read a travel guide to Wuyuan, click here.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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