The Year of the Dragon: A Ming Dynasty-Inspired Primary Suite

In the heart of Minneapolis, a custom condo fuses Asian culture with artistry and functionality

Photos courtesy of James McNeal Architecture & Design  

Architect James McNeal of James McNeal Architecture & Design (JMAD) collaborated with local woodcarver Erik Wyckoff, builder Boyer Building Corp., and interior designer Jean Drum to design a primary suite that exudes the essence of the Ming Dynasty—an imperial dynasty of China (1368-1644) known for its literature, drama, and world-famous porcelain.

To create an inviting and authentic atmosphere while accommodating his client’s extensive collection of materialistic Asian pieces, McNeal focused first on redesigning the stair railing. This element serves as a transition point, guiding visitors from the upper floor to the suite below while maintaining harmony with the differing aesthetics of the two levels. McNeal says, “We had to redesign the stair railing so it brought you into the right atmosphere right away. But at the same time, [we needed to be] sympathetic to the upper floor, which was a different style. The art carving above the foyer entry was bought by the client, so we also designed a space to incorporate that.”

The suite itself was tight on space, necessitating a focus on maximizing the available area without sacrificing functionality. McNeal opted for a dematerialized wall design to achieve this goal. The innovative solution not only opened the space but also allowed for the integration of Asian-inspired panels that served as room dividers, adding elegance and authenticity to the design.

The dematerialized wall effectively separates the sleeping quarters from the bathroom. McNeal explains, “Since the bathroom was going to be behind the wall and the tub takes up so much space, we decided to make the tub an art feature that would be entertaining to look at every day.” To do this, he designed a hand-carved dragon head fountain that now serves as the tub’s focal point. “All the detailing was custom done,” he adds. “We designed a floor with granite, two onyxes, and a pebbled tile flooring underneath the tub.”

Every detail in the suite was carefully curated to reflect the client’s love of Asian culture. From the Chinese gate at the entrance to the rice paper details and artwork that adorn the suite, each element creates a cohesive, functional, and visually stunning masterpiece that pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the Ming Dynasty.

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