JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — None of the Chinese developers who built the vacation resort named Jackson Hole, in Hebei Province, had ever been to Wyoming.
Beijing Resplendency Great Exploit Real Estate Co. LTD hired Portland, Ore., interior designer Allison Smith about eight years ago to create a large tract of second homes, but the developers didn't have a concept, she said.
"They had a couple of oddly designed homes that were trying to be Americanized," Smith said, "but they were really off the mark. They asked me what my opinion was, and I was very diplomatic, but I said some things need to be changed."
Smith and the developers lined up at the drawing board, where she spent a week listing some successful, popular resort communities in the United States and sketching out the feel of each one: Martha's Vineyard, Vail, Jackson Hole.
"They absolutely fell in love with the idea of anything cowboy and Indian," Smith said. "It just took off."
The developers bought stock Western home plans from an architect in Oregon. Smith created an identity for each themed house within the 850-home development: Billy the Kid, Geronimo, Stagecoach Station, Betsy, Big Bear, etc.
Although Smith, 51, hadn't been to Jackson Hole since she was a child, she understood the American West, its pioneer towns and the continual homage to rustic decor. She went shopping in Oregon, following her vision. She gathered cowhide, antler chandeliers, saddle blankets, lodge pole chairs, wagon wheels, Navajo rugs, iron light fixtures, wildlife scene fireplace screens, wooden snowshoes, leather throw pillows, horseshoes, Charles Russell prints and plaid curtains, shipping them all to China. She drew pictures or brought photos of things she couldn't find, and the Chinese figured out how to make them.
"It was amazing how beautiful it all turned out," Smith said. "The developer had never visited America and really just trusted me. We created a great relationship."
The first model for the Jackson Hole resort was plopped in a city park in Beijing, and people went wild.
"That model became a gossip center for the Chinese," Smith said. "They were addicted to the idea. Nothing like this existed in China."
Prospective buyers took the two-hour bus rides north of Beijing to see the site before signing contracts.
Once the project took off, the Chinese developers were able to secure visas to visit the real Jackson Hole, Smith said, and "had the time of their lives" visiting the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Yellowstone National Park.
The homes in Jackson Hole, China, have sold out and nearly tripled in value since being built, Smith said.
The Chinese seem to equate the American West with freedom, Smith said.
"We as a culture have romanticized our American history." Smith said, "In the movies, John Wayne, there's a sense of emancipation. You're free to be your own man, your own thinker."
Chinese people welcome a break from the work-a-day life they're used to, she said.
"They're very serious people," Smith said. "They spend so much time processing how to be successful. This is whimsy, fun, they've seen it in movies. You should see them when they get a toy gun to play with."
Information from: Jackson Hole News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com