Q&A: Steve Leung on the Rise of Branded Residences and What’s Next in Design

Posted in Designers to Know, Interior Design

Steve Leung, the founder of interior design and architecture firm Steve Leung Design Group and one of Hong Kong’s most eminent creatives, has had his name attached to a number of prestigious projects over the years.

He most recently partnered with Kuala Lumpur’s latest skyline-transforming tower, 8 Conlay, now considered to be the world’s tallest twisted twin residential skyscraper powered by a branded residence. It’s home to Yoo8 serviced by Kempinski, featuring interiors designed by Leung and his South-African-born British contemporary, Kelly Hoppen.

8 Conlay in Kuala Lumpur.

In Hong Kong, Leung has also been dipping his feet in several exciting projects. An avid boat-lover, Leung partnered with Italian yacht builders Sanlorenzo last year to create custom interiors for the SX88 and SL106 models. In recent years, he was also behind Hong Kong’s first Yoo Residence, located in Causeway Bay, which sparked his ongoing collaboration with the brand.

As a pioneer of the worldwide branded residence model, Yoo Residences has plucked from some of the most powerful names in design as its creative directors, with collaborators including Philippe Starck, Jade Jagger, Marcel Wanders, Sussanne Khan, and of course, Steve Leung.

We recently caught up with Leung in Hong Kong to chat about the growing prominence of branded residences across the globe, and how residential design is expected to change in 2020.

Why is there a growing popularity of branded residences around the globe, and what sets this apart from traditional homes?

You’re correct, there are more and more branded residences in the world. At the moment Dubai has the largest number of branded residences, overtaking New York. People who are buying these residences or living in them are not just hoping to find a place to stay, it’s [become] part of their lifestyle.

The [location], surroundings and materials are not the only factors to consider when people buy or rent an apartment, they want something stylish. A branded residence can be connected to a hospitality group, like a hotel chain such as the Four Seasons, St. Regis or Marriott. To some people, it equates to luxury, but it’s also equated to service — they can ensure that the service provided is held to a certain international standard.

Branded residences are always part of a compound, so residents can enjoy the amenities of a hotel, such as the gym, health club, room service or housekeeping, or valet parking.

Steve Leung - 8 Conlay
Yoo co-founder John Hitchcox with Steve Leung.

[Another reason is] unrelated to hospitality: For example, as Yoo Residences is a design brand, it does not provide that same hospitality service, but why is it still so sought after? Because Yoo represents lifestyle — there are different creative directors [in the team]: we have people like Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders, Jade Jagger, and myself from Asia.

Buyers can claim, “my apartment was designed by Steve Leung or by Philippe Starck.” It offers something that’s different to the rest of the market. And when it comes to resale value, a branded residence offers a new benchmark, it’s something that traditional residences cannot offer. When the global community has higher expectations and standards, this [has become] the new global trend.

Are traditional, no-frills, no-clubhouse apartments outdated, then?

I don’t agree with that. You can’t exactly say that these apartments are outdated. Imagine I’m from Hong Kong, and I want to buy an apartment in San Francisco. If I look at the Four Seasons residences, I immediately know that the Four Seasons is an international brand of this standard, and I have the confidence in buying such a brand. Similarly, when foreigners come to Hong Kong, they don’t know local developers — they won’t know Sun Hung Kai Properties, for example, although maybe [the developer] can produce very high-end, high quality homes.

When people are trying to invest overseas, they have no clue which would be the best developer that can produce the best apartment. But when it’s a branded residence, they [can vouch for its quality]. They’ve heard of St. Regis; the Four Seasons, and so on. This is also one of the reasons why developers are doing more and more collaborations on branded residences.

For international investors going overseas to buy property, these branded residences can be attractive. On the other hand, locals who want to buy in Hong Kong may know Henderson, but they can also compare, for instance, Sun Hung Kai Properties and Four Seasons. As a local I would know better — I would have more choice.

Is the increasing interest in overseas investment affecting interior design? If so, how?

Design is not so simple. Design can be different for different people, for different projects at different times. Every project is unique — when I am asked to design something I need to understand the background so I can provide the best solution to answer all these problems. It depends on the agenda, the budget, the target customer and so on. 

This also explains why at Yoo8 we have different creative directors. For example, Philippe Starck has always designed very ‘wow’ interiors. But this ‘wow’ factor doesn’t work in, let’s say, some parts of China, especially as the elderly rich in China may not like that kind of expression by Philippe Starck. But on the other hand, they may like something from Steve Leung or something with an Asian perspective. That’s why at Yoo8, at 8 Conlay, they chose to complete two towers, one by me and one by Kelly Hoppen. The client chose us because they believed Steve Leung and Kelly Hoppen can deliver a product that both bear the DNA of Yoo, but at the same time it’s welcomed by the customers in KL, especially the target group.

How does Feng Shui factor into your more Asian-inspired design philosophy?

I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Hong Kong. A lot of people, like my clients, are concerned about Feng Shui. I’m not an expert, but I understand the basic principles. Feng Shui is actually dealing with the feeling that people get when they enter into the space, and I agree with most of these principles. When I do design, I try to avoid the ‘don’ts’: like opening onto a corner, or [having a door] face a toilet or face the kitchen or the stove. When I design, I subconsciously have all these things in mind. I’ve actually designed some private residences for my clients, who went to a Feng Shui master and gave me a set of principles to follow.

What are people looking for when it comes to new luxury residences in 2020?

If you’re talking about the luxury residence market, the number one thing I can say especially in China or Asia is that people are not so keen on Classical design anymore compared to 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

In the past, particularly in Mainland China or even in Hong Kong, people always labeled luxury with Western Classical design. But now, they are saying that it’s not the best, or not the only solution. People are more open-minded to accept more contemporary designs.

Number two is that you have to consider individual comfort. The home is regarded as a place for the family, not a place to show off. A family normally means you’re not living alone — you have your spouse, your kids, your parents. In your own home, you have to make everybody happy, not just yourself.

Number three, people are getting better off now, they don’t go for material luxury, they go for psychological luxury, meaning they want fresh air, sunshine; they want clean water. Ecological principles, sustainability, wellbeing — these things have moved to the top of the list.

Especially now we have the coronavirus, people are very concerned about health. Your money means nothing to you if you don’t have good health, right? 

What are some practical ways you’ve noticed that people are using to update design in the home, as a result of the pandemic?

There are a lot of small things that people are hoping to improve in the home. They want to clean their shoes before going into their apartment, so they’ll want a place [for that], somewhere to store their dirty shoes and then change into clean house slippers. Another example is that people would be very concerned about whether their flooring material is easy to clean or not — carpet would be more difficult to clean compared to a tiled or marbled floor, for example. 

In terms of design and living, I would say people are more concerned about overall wellness. They need to have ventilation. I have some friends — they never open the windows in the house, they use air conditioning 365 days a year. Of course, it’s very comfortable in terms of temperature and humidity control. But it’s not healthy: You need fresh air. Now people are realising that this is something they should not disregard. Ventilation, natural hygiene, cleaning practicalities, this has all changed the perception on what makes a perfect home.

Evelyn Lok
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. She covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.

The Iconic 1970 Etcetera Lounge Chair is Making a Comeback

Posted in Designers to Know, Interior Design

If we take a look back at some of the most iconic pieces of furniture throughout history, there are a few popular movements that defined interior design and changed living spaces forever – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona from the 20s, Eero Saarinen’s Tulip from the 50s, or Philippe Starck’s Ghost Chair of 2002. But when it comes to the 70s, the piece that is often used to represent the style of the decade was Swedish designer Jan Ekselius’ Etcetera Series. 

Originally created as a prototype for a school project while attending Royal College of Art in London, Ekselius’ creation earned him much recognition. The unmistakable wavy silhouette was an instant hit for its creative and fluid design paired with its incredible comfort that stood the test of time and kept its iconic status until today. The original pieces have been exhibited in Christie’s in London and Bukowskis in Stockholm. Fifty years since its inception, the design makes a revival to be reintroduced to the next generation. 

“Fifty years ago, I could never have had imagined that Etcetera would be this desired today.”

Jan Ekselius

In partnership with Swedish design boutique Artilleriet, Jan Ekselius will bring back the Etcetera into production once again. Originally crafted with simply bent steel and covered in padded fabric, the new redesign with the help of craftsmen J.O. Carlsson and Forsbergs in Småland gets an upgrade in quality, detail and sustainability. Almost identical in design, the spring wire mesh fabric which was first used in 1970 is replaced with car manufacturer Volvo’s adjustable Pullmaflex back support design system with resilient bands to enhance comfort, while the covers remain in its organic ecological cotton velour material.

The relaunched Etcetera series consists of the Etcetera Lounge Chair (US$2,380), Etcetera Easy Chair (US$2,295) and Etcetera Footstool (US$780) and comes in seven colourways: Chocolate Brown, Crème White, Grass Green, Klein Blue, Ruby Red, Sand Beige and Zinc Grey.

Made in Sweden
Etcetera Lounge Chair: W: 63cm; D 107cm; H: 77cm
Etcetera Easy Chair: W: 63cm; D: 76cm; H: 68cm
Etcetera Footstool: W: 63cm; D:50cm; H: 42cm

Dara Chau

10 Hong Kong-Based Interior Designers and Design Firms You Should Know

Posted in Designers to Know

You can buy the perfect urban penthouse or three-storey villa by the beach, but until you find the right interior designer to properly outfit your abode, it’s never going to feel like the home of your dreams. Fortunately, Hong Kong has no shortage of independent designers and firms who can turn your space into something spectacular, whether you’re looking to furnish a new property or give your current residence a much-needed contemporary refresh. We’ve surveyed the landscape to handpick 10 interior designers and design firms that deserve to be on your radar. With impressive portfolios and a wide range of creative talents, there’s an option for every type of homeowner on this list.

AB Concept

AB Concept

Founded in 1999 by the designer/architect duo of Ed Ng and Terence Ngan, AB Concept has spent two decades building an ever-expanding global portfolio of luxury design projects for residential and commercial properties, not to mention the worlds of hospitality, wellness and F&B. In Hong Kong, you’ll have seen their work at Central’s New World Tower, the new Victoria Dockside, and The Chinese Library at Tai Kwun. On the residential front, meanwhile, they’ve designed three-level penthouses dripping with understated luxury in both Kau To Shan and Homantin Hill, as well as a glittering private home in Repulse Bay.

AFSO

The name André Fu will be familiar to fans of high-end hotels in Asia: He’s the man responsible for the much-praised design at The Upper House, The St. Regis, and Kerry Hotel in Hong Kong; and the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok. Though he and his firm, AFSO, bear a strong association with the hospitality industry, their portfolio also includes art, retail, and restaurant projects. On the residential front, Fu and his team have brought contemporary elegance to a luxury condo in the Jean Nouvel-designed 52 W 53 tower in Manhattan, as well as 237 serviced residences at K11 Artus in Tsim Sha Shui.

Atelier Lane

After founding interior design firm Atelier Lane in Sydney in 2009, CEO and creative director Ellie Bradley spent two years in Singapore before relocating to Hong Kong in 2018. Since then, she’s been hired to oversee residential projects on Old Peak Road as well as in Jardine’s Lookout and Repulse Bay, where she’s consistently shown an affinity for neutral tones and natural light, creating calming, airy spaces that feel restrained and, ultimately, relaxing. Of particular note is her bold use of bathroom tiling, which wouldn’t look out of place in a hip boutique hotel in London.

Bean Buro

Lorène Faure and Kenny Kinugasa-Tsui met in Paris and worked together in London before creating the design studio Bean Buro in Hong Kong in 2013. Given their multicultural backgrounds—Faure is French, Kinugasa-Tsui is half-Chinese, half-Japanese—the notion of cultural exchange is a hallmark of their work. Though their aesthetic leans in a minimalistic direction, the designers aren’t afraid to employ sculptural centrepieces or curving walls for dramatic effect. Highlights from Bean Buro’s residential portfolio include the refurbishment of a 2,500-square-foot apartment at Piccadilly Mansion in Mid-Levels, and a 1,200-square-foot apartment overlooking the racecourse in Happy Valley dubbed “Urban Cocoon” for its calming nature.

Deborah Oppenheimer

South Africa-born designer Deborah Oppenheimer began her career as an art director in the advertising industry, later launched a fashion label, and then opened her interior design business in Hong Kong in 1993. Her residential projects span Asia, the US and the UK; in Hong Kong, her portfolio includes design for homes in Clearwater Bay, Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay. Though she has a professed love for clean lines, open space and symmetry, her designs are anything but boring. Rather, they’re often punctuated with bold artwork and eclectic statement pieces that give each home a unique sense of character.

Grande Design 

Bright, clean, and contemporary are the first words that come to mind when surveying the work of multi-award-winning firm Grande Design, whose services encompass offices, retail spaces, visual merchandising and, most notably, homes. With a focus on maximising space efficiency, increasing storage space and creating customised furniture, this design juggernaut’s expansive portfolio includes residences in just about every corner of Hong Kong, from Park Island to Sha Tin. Recent highlights from Grande Design’s work include a multi-level high-rise apartment with a sky garden in Fo Tan and an apartment filled with plants and pops of colour at the Mount Pavilia development in Clearwater Bay.

hoo

After spending 11 years working in the advertising industry, Hong Kong-raised YC Chen created his own interior design company, hoo, in 2009. As creative director, he operates with the goal of creating one-of-a-kind haute couture homes for clients, adhering to a guiding principle that each person is unique and therefore each home should be equally original. Accordingly, no two hoo projects look the same, with a focus on even the smallest details to define each project’s character. Amongst their recent projects, a stylish 2,600-square-foot flat in Jardine’s Lookout designed for a stylish grandmother stands out with its French-style cupboard doors inlaid with mirrors.

JAAK

A homophone for the Cantonese word for home, JAAK has specialised in minimalist apartment design since it was founded by Calvin Cheng and Chau Wing Chung in 2013. The firm’s clients include cafes and design shops, and that Instagram-friendly aesthetic fortunately bleeds over into their residential projects as well. Rejecting historical notions of luxury design, JAAK takes a less-is-more approach to home design, with an emphasis on geometric forms, plants and, most important of all, comfort. That’s incredibly important if space is a concern, but JAAK has worked on projects as small as 350 square feet and as big as 2,500 square feet, and everything in between.

NCDA

Raised in Hong Kong and Canada, award-winning interior designer Nelson Chow studied men’s tailoring and worked for internationally renowned design firm AvroKO in New York City before establishing NCDA in 2011. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that his aesthetic gravitates towards the masculine, though he’s not afraid of whimsical flourishes. NCDA’s best-known work has been the interiors at F&B outlets like Foxglove, PDT, Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour and Mak Mak, but the firm also garnered acclaim for its Treehouse project, which employed a split-level design to cleverly maximise the limited space (370 square feet) of an apartment in Ho Man Tin.

Peggy Bels Interior Design

While many of Hong Kong’s interior designers like to keep things looking light and bright, French expat Peggy Bels doesn’t shy away from the darker hues of the colour palette. Black, grey, charcoal and dark blue are commonly seen in her residential projects, as she believes in the ability of dark background to make light colours pop and the way that rough textures lend character to a space. Working in Hong Kong since 2008, many of her wonderfully moody projects tend to be in Central and Sheung Wan, though she has also worked for clients farther afield in Ap Lei Chau and Cheng Chau.

Michael Alan Connelly
A Chicagoan by birth and a New Yorker by habit, Michael has more than a decade of experience in digital publishing at leading titles in the U.S. and Asia. When he's not checking out Hong Kong's newest restaurants and bars or jet setting around the globe, you'll find him hanging out with his dog Buster and enjoying an Aperol Spritz.

5 Kuala Lumpur-Based Interior Design Firms You Should Know

Posted in Designers to Know

These interior designers in Kuala Lumpur offer only the best solutions and strategies to create spaces that combine function with artistic outcomes.

Metrics Global

Metrics Global is a one-stop design and build firm that focuses on achieving impeccable results for clients by tailoring designs that are skilfully integrated with urban graphic arts, charming landscapes, iconic sculptures, thoughtful environmental details, sensuous interior concepts and meticulous 3D modelling.

One Roof Design

One Roof Design is an established team of experienced and dynamic professionals specializing in interior design, building/renovation, residential-and-commercial-product sourcing as well as purchasing and creative marketing services. The company provides a full range of creative services under one roof for residential and commercial projects.

Palladio

Palladio is an award-winning design consultancy with visionary designers at its heart. With 25 years of interior architecture experience, Palladio services all sectors of the interior architecture design industry including residential, hospitality, retail, government, education and corporate clients.

SQFT Space Design Management

Whether it’s a property show unit, corporate office, retail establishment or private residence, SQFT Space Design Management offers outstanding design and incredible value.

Turn Design Interior

Incorporated in 1998, Turn Design Interior is an established Malaysian company specialising in interior design for homes, condos, offices and more. To date, the company has been awarded many contracts from the government as well as from private sectors.

Staff Writer