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원서동 풍경

Wonseo-dong in a whisper

Is it really Seoul?

Written by
Hahna Yoon
Ten o’clock on a windless summer morning and the sun was beating down.” It’s a line from Murakami’s short story “Town of Cats,” but it perfectly captures the stillness of a summer day in Wonseo-dong. This small respite from the vigorous city is pressed between the Bukchon Hanok Village and Changdeokgung. Although not far from Anguk Station, Wonseodong seems to have been salvaged from the tourist boom of a past decade. “Wonseo-dong? Where’s that?” even old-time Seoulites will ask. Here, grandmas are still bringing their laundry racks to dry their bed sheets outside the palace and lazy neighborhood cats prowl like queens of their territory. Cafés and gift stores are nestled amongst empty real estate agencies. A lone French tourist with a map looks out of place next to uniformed high school boys playing with their smartphones and drinking banana milk outside a residential stoop. Every time we ask the business owners about each spot’s busiest time we’re met with knowing smiles to business owners’ faces. There are no busy times here. Is this really Seoul? We almost want to write this article so quietly you might not discover it. And even as we write, we hope that this slice of slowness can remain just as still as it is. 
Arario Museum in Space
  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Jongno-gu

Taking an office building constructed by architect Kim Swoo-geun in 1971, the space went under a transformation in 2014 to become the Contemporary Art Museum that it is today. As it was built by such respected architect, the original structure was left almost untouched—the building itself was preserved and treated as a piece of art. Although the building did take on an extension in 1977, it has low ceilings, narrow staircases, and windows of all shapes and sizes, as it was modeled after traditional building conventions. Inside the maze-like lair lies the well curated collection owned by domestic artist "Ci Kim" or Kim Chang-il, one of Seoul's most well-known art collectors. As the gallery is also equipped with a bakery, café, and restaurant completely incased in glass, you'll find plenty to occupy yourself with at Arario in Space, even if you are not very fond of fine art.

  • Things to do
  • Jongno-gu

Take off your shoes and slip into a pair of comfortable slippers when entering designer In Oh’s studio. During your hanbok consultation, you’re served a cup of tea while Bach’s Cello Suites fill the air. Custom design is In Oh’s specialty and she can draw you into a conversation about which styles and shapes will best fit your desired look. Perhaps unremarkable to the unknowing eye, her dresses are noted for their meticulous needlework and fashion-forward style. With hanboks here ranging from 1.2 million won to 8 million won, these babies are not cheap but perfect for that once in a lifetime purchase. 

Moksu Books
  • Shopping
  • Jongno-gu

Disguised as a bookstore, this sweetshop of words is actually home to a small publishing company called Moksu Books. As indicated by the pressed leaves and wooden sticks detailing the space, the publishers focus on books themed around the environment, plants and organics. While it’s neither a library nor a bookstore, nearby office workers taking a stroll during their lunch break come in for quick reads and there are books available for purchase. While most everything’s in Korean, we did discover an English copy of Trina Paulus’ Hope for the Flowers for an afternoon picker-upper. 

An insider's take


Inhye Kim, Designer at Maison de Ines


Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I am the chief designer at Maison de Ines, a women’s clothing brand launched in 2012. I lived in Paris for 10 years until I started this line. The brand has seven seasons’ collections so far, and I am busy preparing for the upcoming F/W 2015 collection at the moment. 

What is “Maison de Ines”?

There’s an old saying in Korea that “fine feathers make fine birds.” I took inspiration from this and started making clothes that are not just beautiful to the eyes, but that can make the people who wear them beautiful. So I keep the designs simple and natural, using comfortable and environment-friendly materials like cotton, linen and wool. “Ines” is actually my French name and to reflect my trivial, ordinary, but happy life, I make casual clothes that can be fine feathers for all the ordinary girls out there.

Why Wonseo-dong?

I looked into every nook and cranny in Seoul to open up a showroom after our brand’s launch back in 2012. That autumn, I randomly stumbled upon this spot by chance and decided that this is where Maison de Ines’ first showroom should be. The surroundings are quiet and peaceful, with tile-roofed traditional houses 

What symbolizes Wonseo-dong?

One special thing about Wonseo-dong is the Changdeokgung Palace Stonewall, leading from the very beginning to the end of the neighborhood. Amidst the skyscrapers of the city, the low, solid but smooth lines of the Stonewall make this place stand out.

When is the best season to visit Wonseo-dong?

Wonseo-dong in all four seasons is unique in its own way, but my favorite is winter. I come back here from the cruel city life and look at the tile roofs covered in thick blankets of snow, and it’s like my heart is going pit-a-pat all over again. 

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