Posts in Interiors
A Live-Work Unit Inspired by European Art history

Bold colours reign supreme in CHI-TORCH’s new space in Taipei

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In Taiwan’s capital city, the founders of CHI-TORCH interior design have transformed a 40-year old, 40-square-metre apartment into their new office and living space. Chloe Kao and Ciro Liu took their design cues from the hotel room that they stayed in during their honeymoon in Europe, which coincided with Liu being awarded a design prize at a ceremony they attended on the same trip.

The idea was that the couple’s new working and living space should evoke the aesthetics, emotions and memories of that milestone trip. Overall, the design is inspired by the rich history of European classical art. At the centre of the communal area, a pop of fuchsia stands out among the bold blues that envelope the rest of the space, interspersed with mustard and gold accents. According to Kao, the colour combination was selected to reflect the rational, innovative, calm and passionate qualities that a designer should have.

The spatial layout caters to the dual need for privacy and interconnectedness, and demarcations between the studio and private areas come in the form of movable glass and mirror partitions. An abundance of natural light brightens the dark-hued space, creating a lively and bold atmosphere that befits a creative studio and its founders’ home.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / FineStudio

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A Bright and Light City Home

Inspired by Japanese spatial and aesthetic concepts, a refined material palette gives the Light Apartment a minimalist and luxurious character

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In their design of the Light apartment in the heart of cosmopolitan Singapore, local interior design firm Right Angle Studio adhered to the Japanese spatial concept of ma, which involves the principles of negative space and leaving room for intervals of quiet contemplation and reflection. Their response to the concept is a monochrome colour palette and a subtly luxurious melange of textures and materials. The space is planned in a rectilinear configuration that allows for open views to the living and dining areas, though a fluted glass screen at the entrance cordons off the dining area and provides some privacy, and access to the bedrooms and washrooms is discreetly hidden. Touches of greenery contrast with the muted scheme and add to the tranquility, echoing the Japanese aesthetic inspirations and rounding out the soothing city abode.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Jonathan Danker (Ansel Media)

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A Warehouse Conversion with an Edge

Pitch Architecture + Developments has transformed a remnant of Richmond’s industrial past into their bright and social new office space

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Located on a tranquil tree-lined thoroughfare among residential homes in Melbourne’s vibrant and multicultural Richmond, an old commercial kitchen warehouse has been converted into an open-plan and characterful office space by and for Pitch Architecture + Developments. ‘As architects, we spend a lot of our time in the office, creating, drawing and problem solving. It’s important that the staff work in a functional and relaxing environment so they can feel comfortable and relaxed enough to create, push boundaries and maximise their potential,’ says Alex Chan, business director of Pitch.

A large graffiti mural by local street artist SET IT OFF of Maddie, Jedy and Betty, the company directors Bo and Alex’s three dogs, adorns the building’s exterior. ‘Our approach to work is accurate but easy going at the same time, the journey in architecture and construction is often demanding, so why not enjoy ourselves in the meantime,’ Chan shares when asked about the mural.

Inside, the design team has created an open-plan layout with a large kitchen and a games room, with most of the first floor space reserved for a communal relaxation area, all of which reflects the studio’s character and philosophy of ‘relaxed, efficient and collaborative with a flat office structure’.

The bare concrete surfaces were replaced with organic design features such as a curving stairwell, a raised platform floor of raw birch plywood and a large cylindrical void that feeds natural light into the main office space.

The pared back and simple palette was chosen to highlight the site. ‘Being in an old commercial kitchen warehouse, we wanted to use natural materials to reflect the rawness of the existing fabric of the space, while using the natural tone and texture of the materials to add warmth and diversity to the space,’ Chan explains. ‘Birch plywood flooring, joinery and wall panelling pair with natural seagrass sisal flooring to create a strong contrast with the existing brick walls and give a warm and relaxed vibe.’


‘We love the rawness and natural changes of these materials over time. The unpredictable nature of marble patterns and plywood’s variations through colours and tones make us appreciate that no one piece is the same. In some way, this is also how we see every staff, client and job as different from one another; we appreciate and celebrate the differences,’ Chan concludes.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Ben Hosking

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Coastal Australian Vibes

Refurbished by Sydney-based Alexander &CO., the Burleigh Pavilion is a casual culinary venue with unobstructed ocean views and beach-chic decor

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Alexander &CO. believes in the spirit of place, and this is clearly reflected in the firm’s latest project. Located on one of Australia’s most spectacular coastlines, in Burleigh Heads — a suburb of Gold Coast — the Burleigh Pavilion occupies the upper floor and rooftop area of an iconic 80-year-old concrete structure. The historic site was once a meeting area for indigenous Australians, with fresh water and oyster catchments. It also hosted a holiday campsite and skating rink before becoming the Jack Evans Swimming Pool in 1953. The pavilion was built on the site in 1987, and was the subject of the studio’s recent work. 

‘We conceived it as a quintessential coastal beach structure possessing a narrative that slips between Miami Vice and Gold Coast shack: faded pastels, corbeled blockwork and exposed structures,’ says founder & principal Jeremy Bull. ‘The building envelope gently reveals itself from behind a fenestrated entry elevation under a great concrete canopy. Two palm trees and extruded metal letters announce its presence. You see a hint of its retro DNA in circular breeze blocks, while tropical gardens flank the entry doors.’

While the lower floor — whose facade was architecturally retouched — continues to be home to restaurant Rick Shores, Alexander &CO. worked on the upper level, which now comprises three food and beverage venues. These venues — the Tropic restaurant, the Pavilion restaurant and its beach bar — feature aesthetics that are a nod to the coastal pavilion structures from the past. 

The central open kitchen with two pizza ovens and a fire pit anchors the space and invites guests to discover the three areas that radiate from it, offering sweeping ocean views. Adorned with a rattan ceiling and paved flooring, the restaurant is decorated with mint-green chairs, terrazzo tables and plants, accentuating the fresh ambience. The colour scheme continues throughout the beach bar, where pink and pistachio tables combine with timber benches. From beneath white umbrellas, the bar opens up to a beautiful panorama. 

‘The Burleigh Pavilion is a coastal story: robust, sun drenched and faded, and filled with greenery and human energy,’ says Bull. ‘It’s the next genesis in the story of Burleigh Heads; still a meeting place with oysters and ample fresh water.’

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Anson Smart
Styling / Claire Delmar

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Space Copenhagen talks Nordic Design and Poetic Modernism

During Salone del Mobile earlier this month, we sat down with Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen, founders of the multi-disciplinary design studio, for an illuminating conversation about their influences, practice and philosophy

Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen. Image courtesy of Space Copenhagen.

Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen. Image courtesy of Space Copenhagen.

Suzy Annetta: Space Copenhagen seems to be going from strength to strength; has your studio and practice changed since you started in 2005?

Peter Bundgaard Rützou: The simple answer is yes, it’s changed a lot. It's probably a natural progression in a way – when we started it was just the two of us, and aside from the design we also handled all other aspects of the company. And now, there are about 20 of us, so naturally it means that the whole structure and method of working has needed to change. We’re very engaged in all the projects, but we also have the fortune of having an incredible crew and an amazing group of project managers who are assigned to each project. So Signe and I sort of drift between all the projects and develop the concepts, and then we very much depend on having a great staff to help us move through these sometimes very long processes of getting from A to B. Some of the hospitality projects especially can take anything from two to seven years to complete, and it takes a lot of effort and quite build-up of momentum to keep focus throughout such long projects.

Signe Bindslev Henriksen: Having said that, we also promised each other from the beginning that we really, sincerely wanted to go for the right projects, sharing a mutual energy and passion with our clients, rather than just focusing on growing the studio and becoming bigger. And that means that even though we’ve grown a lot, we’re also very aware that it's at a size that we can handle, and that still allows us to be fully engaged in every project. Even though our daily routines and structures are more organised, it actually still allows us to stay as intimately involved with the projects as we have been from the beginning.

Rützou: Signe touched on something quite essential: we have the fortune of being two designers working together, so very often you'll find us debating, or nurturing our curiosities, or trying to tackle real-life issues that we need to somehow get a grip on. And one of the things we realise is that as designers, the final product isn’t really ours. The projects we work on always belong to someone else, and part of our job is to make the end result flow smoothly into the hands of whoever commissioned it. In terms of a product, the purpose of it is that somebody other than us is going to use it or attach emotions to it.

We come from a long tradition of Scandinavian design, and I think one of its most successful approaches is this longevity. It results in objects that become like members of the family, that you attach emotions to and that are passed from one generation to the other. If even a few of our projects can achieve that, I think we'll consider it work well done.

That actually leads nicely into to my next question, which is about Danish design heritage. I wonder whether there is any pressure that comes from being from a country with such a long tradition and history of design, and whether that informs your work. Is it more of a burden or do you feel that it's a strength that you can draw from?

Henriksen: I think it's a little bit of all of that. I think it probably feels more natural for us because that's how it used to be – it’s sort of in our genes. It was a part of our childhood, even though we didn't know what we wanted to do professionally at that time, but it's also a part of our upbringing as designers. So, it kind of rests on your perception of life, and I think from a very early point we decided that it should be a strength rather than a burden. We feel very proud to come from such a respected tradition, but when you actually start analysing all of the old masters, you realise that they were very different, their expressions were very different, and they drew inspiration from all over the world. They were extremely curious. They wanted to travel and be inspired, be it by Japanese culture, or by African or American industrialism, and they would seek out that inspiration and then go back and somehow filter it into a Nordic design language. And I think more than anything we tried to copy that – copy that curiosity, and the urge to move constantly, which keeps us awake and open to the world – and not necessarily look back at a certain way of doing things but rather examine where those ideas came from, and then make our own story.

Rützou: I think you can definitely say, though, that there is an element of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ syndrome. I think our timing has something to do with it, because it was something of a dense impact period that was shaped in the 20th century and then for some reason, into the 70s and 80s that whole way of working, that sense of being unintimidated and on the contrary combining architecture and design in a natural way, got separated somehow. It sort of disappeared, the whole way of working with spatial aspects and the detail of the craft. But it was a very natural appetite for the both of us – without having any plan actually, we were just drawn to the approach of regarding architecture and design as one. And I think it has been our fortune – it’s natural that when something really amazing happens it takes time to digest. I think after leaving it for a couple of decades, perceptions of Scandinavian design have resurfaced or been reinvented, especially in the past 10 years – and that has certainly been in our favour.

I feel like there has certainly been a resurgence in that kind of aesthetic around the world. I don't know if you perceive it in the same ways as we do from the outside, but I feel like that fascination is definitely back again.

Henriksen: You know, we discuss what makes good design and what is beautiful, and we all have our own subjective ways of perceiving depending on where we come from. We often debate this, because our studio is filled with wonderful colleagues from all over the world. People come to Scandinavia not just because of the design tradition, but also because the design tradition relates so directly to the way we live. Our democracy and being a small country makes it easier to design a well-organised society, and we definitely have a reputation for having good work-life balance. All these things relate to the lives we live, our preferences, our needs, and how we’re engaged in both our social and work lives, and all these things come together somehow. I think people perceive Scandinavian design through these values.

Rützou: I mean, you could probably label design and aesthetics in general as a feedback system. It’s also a derivative of being exposed to cultures outside your home, and it's a sort of give-and-take process. You could certainly say, as Signe said a little bit earlier, that our design masters were influenced by different cultures, and the urge to travel is sort of the implicit consequence of being from a very small place. I think what we do when we go back home is use our travels well, nurture our curiosities and strip them from their origin to see if we can use them somehow in our part of the world – how we can use them to define the choices that we make, the value packages that we represent. And I think people can see that. I think they can see an honesty in that, there's a sort of resonance between an intuitive understanding of something and the choices that have been made by the design tradition that sort of embodies Scandinavia as such.

You've described your approach as ‘poetic modernism’. How would you explain what that means, and how do you interpret it as a philosophy or an approach?

Henriksen: We feel like our generation is somewhat detached from the previous generations, but at the same time we were also born and raised through the academy in a very theoretical manner. Very early on when we started working together, we also felt that at the end of the day it's also about the human being as a sensory organism. We would have these long conversations about what happens when you walk into a space and actually just feel embraced or at home, even though it might not be what you would normally choose aesthetics-wise; or what happens when you find a random stone that just has this amazing, beautiful shape that you can't define. There's something about the human species, across cultures, that holds us together, and it’s not linked to anything else but the intuitive perception of the world, and you know, things that have a more fluid nature and a more poetic nature. This is what we’re seeking. We're also seeking the answers, and being able to say that at the end of the day, it's just beautiful. And you don't have to put all these words into it and describe the entire design process, the function, all the detailing and dimensions and so on. The thing is, ultimately you perceive everything in a split second, whether you like it or not.

I think we’re very attracted to this weird condition, and that’s also what it's about. It's about understanding that there's something extremely ancient in our way of perceiving the world, and we find that fascinating.

Rützou: It’s a very intentional,  constructed package of words. And it's also a belief that some things are very difficult to explain. Through industry and geometry, modernism strove to put an honesty and explanation to things, allowing them to be without any middle equation, and almost stripped from decorative aspects. However, in literature the ability to be poetic actually enables you to understand concepts that are difficult to describe objectively. Yes, design is defined by function, which links us to modernism, and we grew up that way, there's no escape. But it also should be understood that it’s object as metaphor. It's object as something that transcends the cognitive approach to things, it's intuition. It's the curve of something that touches somewhere deep in your memory and reminds you of something, it's transcending nature. These qualities are what we aim to embody. A piece should fulfil its purpose as a design object, otherwise it wouldn't be design, but then it should transcend into something else – it should have sculptural values that define its attachment to space.

As told to / Suzy Annetta


Read the rest of this interview in the Design Anthology Fair Report: Milan Design Week 2019

From the editors of Design Anthology, this stitch-bound compendium captures the energy, events and encounters of the world’s most influential design event, combined with key insights and analysis unpacking the industry’s future

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Space Copenhagen designed the 11 Howard hotel in New York’s Soho neighbourhood, which combines Danish design with New York attitude. Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Space Copenhagen designed the 11 Howard hotel in New York’s Soho neighbourhood, which combines Danish design with New York attitude. Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Image courtesy of 11 Howard.

Having designed Rene Redzepi’s noma, the studio was called upon to design restaurant 108 in Copenhagen. Image courtesy of 108.

Having designed Rene Redzepi’s noma, the studio was called upon to design restaurant 108 in Copenhagen. Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

Image courtesy of 108.

A Japanese Apartment in Singapore

Inspired by the concept of shizukokoro (‘calm mind’), Goy Architects designed this ryokan-style apartment where natural materials and handcrafted touches abound

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In West Singapore, local design firm Goy Architects has transformed a build-to-order apartment into a tranquil retreat for a young couple with a passion for Japanese culture and simple, calm design aesthetics. ‘Shizukokoro, which means ‘calm mind’, was the inspiration for this home. We wanted to create an intimate and calm environment that soothes and at best serves as an escape from the daily hustle,’ says Goy Zhenru, principal architect of Goy Architects. ‘Japanese ryokan were also a key source of inspiration. Traditionally, a ryokan is not just a place for travellers to sleep – it serves as a retreat and rejuvenation destination. We wanted this same design philosophy for our clients,’ Zhenru continues.

The traditional ryokan influences are clear to see, from the living room’s intimate raised timber platform and lowered ceiling to the strategic placement of shoji-inspired windows. According to Zhenru, ‘the frosted windows filter harsh external light and create a soft ambient glow in the living room. The visual noise from the adjacent building is also shielded away by these sliding windows.’ A genkan-like space at the entrance encourages guests to remove their shoes and accessories before entering the main living area, while other spaces are obscured and framed within the apartment. ‘We used simple geometry, and a natural and consistent material palette to create a calm environment,’ Goy explains.

The Japanese aesthetic continues throughout the home, including the bathroom. ‘We had an interesting request from the owners for a simple tweak in the bathroom. Two shower holders allow the owners to sit on a stool while having a shower, a style of washing similar to onsen showering practices,’ Goy shares.

Serenity is echoed in a natural material palette combining stone, timber and pale white oak. Goy’s team were keen to showcase the natural texture of the handcrafted objects and furniture such as a fine-sanded, unlacquered timber table and the hemp rug. ‘The grains of the timber and stone remind us not only of the beauty that nature has given to us, but they are also a display of an accumulation of time and natural history,’ Goy explains. Most of the furniture was custom-made in collaboration with Javanese craftspeople, except for a small selection of furniture, ceramics and tableware. ‘One of my favourite designs is in the master bedroom. It has a simple, continuous geometry and design gesture; the desk, bedside table, bed frame and lamps are integrated in one simple unit. Another of my favourite details is behind the frame of the timber sofa. I love the timber slats that add a subtle texture into the overall living space,’ Goy says.

Evoking a sublime serenity, Shizukokoro is a calming abode where the homeowners can escape their daily hustle and embrace Japanese zen tranquility.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Fabian Ong

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Reiko Sudo updates the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

The renowned Japanese textile designer speaks with us about her design process and the evolution of the hotel’s design

Image by Kosuke Tamura

Image by Kosuke Tamura

Japanese textile designer Reiko Sudo of Nuno Corporation’s fresh take on traditional Japanese techniques, materials and patterns creates a multisensory experience that provides visual and tactile gratification as well as an insight into Japanese culture.

The designer’s love affair with textiles began at an early age when a Kyoto merchant would visit her family home in Ibaraki Prefecture to present her grandfather with a selection of exquisite fabrics for his daughter’s kimonos. 

After studying Japanese painting and earning a textiles degree from the Musashino Art University in Tokyo, she met renowned textile designer Junichi Arai.  In 1984, the pair founded NUNO (the name is Japanese for ‘fabric’), a small atelier in Tokyo that is widely considered the capital’s textile design destination. Today, the designer’s cutting-edge contemporary fabrics are all made in Japan.

Recently, Sudo helped renovate 179 guest rooms at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, reflecting a subtle evolution of her original ‘Woods and Water’ design concept with a fresh new palette of colours and patterns.

Catherine Shaw: The hotel’s design concept centres on a natural theme and Nuno textiles; how challenging was it to refurbish something that was such an integral part of its identity?

Reiko Sudo: We had created the original concept for the hotel when it opened in 2005 and, as part of my contract, I kept some of the textiles in case cushions or upholstery needed replacing. After 15 years I didn't need to keep them any longer, but I decided to make a bed throw by cutting some up into smaller squares and stitching them together to create a textile collage. I then dyed it gold, because that was the colour of the original interiors and I wanted it to remain a powerful symbol representing sunlight.

How do the new textiles fit within the original theme of Woods and Water?

A tree grows and its colours change, so I thought the Woods and Water theme should communicate this growth with warm and comforting berry shades that reflect the changing of the seasons. Some furniture and accessories have the same fabric pattern as the originals, but in a different colour. I like using subdued colours and then adding pops of purple and magenta.

Using one of my original drawings, we also made new rugs that evoke the way sunlight filters through the forest canopy and flowers, and the leaves that fall to the forest floor. It’s a very simple concept and easy to understand, but very difficult to execute.

You’ve also introduced new hand embroidered headboards over guest beds. What was the process from design to final product?

There are two patterns, cherry blossom and wisteria, all hand embroidered by one man over two years. He normally makes wedding gowns, so as you can imagine it was a big investment for both him and the hotel.

I drew the flowers, which he then traced before starting the embroidery using a special handheld machine. The wisteria pattern was more difficult than the cherry blossoms – the latter has a repetitive pattern so the hand remembers the movements. It is wonderful to see: it’s like a collaboration between the machine and the human hand – so quick, but with amazing control.

Your textiles are all made in Japan. How challenging is this when creating such a wide range for a project like this?

One of the original textile factories we first worked with had closed after the Tohoku earthquake, so I had to find another factory that could apply the same techniques and make similar fabrics. The biggest challenge, however, was making the new carpets that are also based on my own sketches. The suites have carpets with indigo patterns inspired by Sumi-e (ink wash painting), and we had to reproduce these, but it was difficult because each technician interpreted the drawing in a slightly different way, so I could only work with one person.

Text / Catherine Shaw
Images / Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

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A Bohemian Haven in Milan

Japan meets Europe in this eclectic apartment in the heart of the city

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On the third floor of a 1920s building in the heart of Milan is a haven of oriental eclecticism. The home is located between Porta Venezia and the Centrale district, both lively, authentic neighborhoods that are chic without being haughty, offer a buzzing mix of tradition and contemporary culture, and are becoming increasingly popular with young professionals and creatives who are lured in by the affordable prices.

‘That was our case! We finally found the right apartment after months of searching,’ say homeowners Francesca Pellicciari and Giacomo Donati say. Pellicciari is a Chinese-Italian graphic designer, who earned her architecture degree in Venice; Donati is a lawyer from Piacenza. Along with their friend Ayaki Itoh, they are the founders of Nanban, an emerging online retail platform that brings the best of Japanese design to the European market. ‘Nanban is an attempt to introduce everyday Japan – its timeless objects and ancient traditions – to Europe; something of a bridge between two worlds,’ Pellicciari and Donati explain. The Japanese use the word Nanban to refer to the Western traders who reached the coasts of the archipelago in the 1500s.

‘So far, very little of the beauty that can be discovered in Japan is found on the old continent,’ they say. ‘We noticed this during our travels, and we had the idea to share our favourite findings. Our products range from utensils to modern antiques, from classics designs to the latest productions.’ And many of these can be found within the minimalist interiors of their light-filled, 120-square-metre apartment. The duo left most of the original structure and materials intact: high plastered ceilings, hardwood floors, leaded glass window shades, cast iron radiators, and – surprise! – a stunning courtyard packed with vegetation like persimmons, medlars, palm trees and hortensiae.

The space was almost perfect when they found it. ‘The only thing we modified is the hallway. It was the least interesting part of the flat, and now it’s a protagonist. It’s a sort of spine of mirrored surfaces and blue linoleum connecting the two ends of the house and the various rooms,’ they explain. The corridor acts like a sharply contemporary sign, its reflections offering different perspectives depending on the viewpoint. ‘For instance, the Pirelli Tower seems to bounce from the last room directly into the entrance hall,’ they note. Magnified by the expansive mirrors, the light reaches the hallway and changes throughout the day. ‘It was a great idea from our friends at Baukuh,’ they share, giving credit to the Milan- and Genoa-based collective of young architects known for their design of Casa della Memoria (House of Memory) in Milan.

The rest was small touches: ‘We connected the spacious living area and the guest room via two openings in the wall, slightly modified the layout of the kitchen, and we split the only bathroom to create a room dedicated to the traditional hinoki ofuro bath,’ they say.

The measured decor reflects their personal taste, which they describe as ‘not really a style, but more of a collection of interests and family inheritance.’ Rustic and custom-made furniture sits alongside classic Nordic, Italian and Japanese designs by the likes of Hans Wegner, Ico Parisi, Gio Ponti and Sori Yanagi, who they call ‘a Japanese Castiglioni’. ‘His chairs were a true coup de coeur on one of our trips. We had them delivered by ship!’ Pellicciari adds. On the other hand, the dramatic Ingo Maurer rice paper and bamboo lamp, another timeless classic, was discovered online. Other more contemporary lighting pieces come from designer friends, like Servomuto’s Flag and Filo by Andrea Anastasio. Given the couple’s love of flea markets, travelling and new discoveries, this list is bound to keep growing…

Text, production and styling / Francesca Sironi
Images / Monica Spezia, Living Inside

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A Quiet Place

Yangdesign created the minimalist Chiou House for a young, fuss-free couple

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In Taoyuan, Taiwan, an 84-square-metre apartment has been transformed into a minimalist’s monochrome dream.

‘The clients wanted a spacious and relaxed living area,” explains Wesson Yang, director of interior design firm Yangdesign. ‘The apartment already had a good structure that created an airy ambience, so we just readjusted the walls to create a more spacious and comfortable shared area,’ Yang says. These new wall partitions not only increase the flow of natural light into the apartment but also help to delineate private and public spaces.

Throughout the apartment, a no-fuss, grey and white colour scheme has been used, punctuated by brightly coloured art and furniture. Most of the furniture pieces in the home were sourced from B&B Italia, and the striking pendant in the dining area is Aim by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Flos. Laminated wood creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and the design team chose a complementary material and colour palette to draw attention away from the large construction beam that runs along the living room ceiling.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Weimax Studio

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Creating Order

In this ClementiWoods apartment, JOW Architects has organised planes, material and form into a cosy composition

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Singapore’s small apartments often leave little room for creativity, but inventive minds can create poetry from limitations. In the case of the Clementiwoods apartment, JOW Architects has carved out an inviting, clutter-free haven from what used to be a standard layout with banal finishes.  

Timber tones characterise the new space and infuse it with warmth, while the existing teak parquet flooring in the bedroom, stained a dark walnut, generates an introspective ambience. In the common areas, white oak flooring is mirrored on the wall as timber panelling.

This gesture is intended to create visual order and reduce distraction, explains JOW Architects’ director Joseph Wong. The wall panelling lends texture to the space and subtly separates the private and public zones. Slide-and-fold doors open to reveal the corridor to the bedrooms and an open study that was created by removing a wall between the dining room and adjacent bedroom. Elegant construction means that when all doors are closed, a seamless, rhythmic backdrop is created.

‘The project is an attempt to refine the apartment spatially. The original function of each area is retained but we’ve further defined the individual spaces,’ Wong says. The timber panelling, for example, envelopes the space that the family defines as the heart of the home. At the entrance, the lowered ceiling creates a hierarchy between the foyer and living area, but the timber finish overhead integrates it into the overall design.

Soft illumination weaves the elements together, accentuating joinery or – as exemplified by the ‘floating’ dry kitchen counter with base lighting – creates points of interest. A singular Louis Poulsen PH5 lamp above the dining table is a graphic touch within the minimal foil. 

The meticulous way architectural components are composed in relation to one another and expressed with hardworking details is this apartment’s strength. There’s barely a need for further decoration when delight is found in such simple spatial gestures.

Text / Jingmei Luo
Photography / Marc Tan/Studio Periphery

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LA.Prime Kitchen

A conversation with the founders of Quarta & Armando Architecture Design Research about their latest project, a restaurant and cocktail bar in Shenyang

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Located on the ground floor of the Shenyang Kerry Center — a mixed-use development that includes a shopping mall, hotel and offices in the city’s financial district — newly opened LA.Prime is not your typical mall eatery. While the main access point is through the mall, two of its three sides face the sidewalks, giving a particularly urban quality to the space.

Here the studio’s founders Gianmaria Quarta and Michele Armando talk us through their process and design approach.

Design Anthology: How did the overarching themes of balance and contrast inform your approach to the design?

Gianmaria Quarta & Michele Armando: These two themes are always present in our projects. They’re a direct consequence of our design method, which is on one hand very meticulous, almost scientific, and on the other always playful. First, we define a very precise set of rules, then we start playing with them. We like using complexity and hybridisation as raw materials to be highlighted — it’s more honest than hiding behind a particular style.

Can you talk about some of the key materials in the palette and how they fit into the design language?

The material palette reflects a series of dualisms — natural/artificial, warm/cold, colourful/monochrome — that in turn describe different moods. Overhead, the steel screens with their printed gradients respond to the natural light coming in from outside, and represent the colours of the Northern lights. At eye-level the materials take on a far more tactile quality: striped concrete tiles on the walls, terrazzo flooring, coarse-grained stucco. Most of these familiar materials are used outdoors rather than inside, which also helps to establish a sense of being ‘out-of-place’ in the space.

What factors informed the spatial design, and what kind of experience does the floor plan engender?

Overall, the spatial planning is rather simple: the long bar divides the kitchen and bar from the general seating area, and circulation primarily happens along this central axis. The only elements that disrupt this simplicity are the slightly inclined outline of the bar itself and a more private planted aisle, treated with the same material of coarse-grained stucco. This sequence of elements allowed us to define the space without creating any physical enclosures.

 You designed the project from brand and visual identity through to the interiors. How did being involved from the very beginning influence the interior design?

We worked on the interior design and branding at the same time, and the two were developed in parallel. We’re comfortable working across disciplines to create a project that’s completely different from what one would expect from a simple addition of parts. Everything from the floor plan to the colour scheme, and from the material palette to the typeface, is designed as part of a bigger system.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Peter Dixie, LOTAN

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Calm & Collected

Architect Paul Conrad’s family home is an elegant and ordered take on a classic townhouse

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In Malvern, a leafy inner suburb of Melbourne filled with late Victorian and Edwardian houses, architect Paul Conrad – director of architecture and interior design firm Conrad Architects – took inspiration from classic townhouses ranging from the Georgian architecture of Bath to the Neo-classicism of London, to redesign his family home. The result is an understated, contemporary spin on a classic style.

‘The design approach is contemporary in style but influenced by a broad spectrum of historical references,’ Conrad explains. Being his family home, it also reflects the architect’s personal tastes. ‘Hornsby Residence is particularly special to me, and being both architect and client it was an amazing opportunity to deliver on my vision without too much compromise.’

Conrad’s vision for the house follows a highly controlled grid pattern defined by a colonnade, with distinctive axial paths of movement through the house and between internal to external areas. ‘The geometry of the floor plan, the orientation of the rooms, and the quality of natural light they received were the most critical elements to the design,’ he says. There are two primary zones: a formal area in the front and an informal area to the rear. Sets of French doors open out onto the external areas to create a flow between indoor and outdoor spaces, such as the front courtyard which acts as an extension of the formal living room and the rear courtyard used for entertaining.

Though all the rooms share a pared back aesthetic, according to Conrad, ‘there was a strong desire to create a different mood in each of them.’ This is perhaps most evident in the juxtaposition between the formal and informal living rooms, where Conrad used varying ceiling heights, floor levels, lighting fixtures and windows to effect. A more vertical proportion was created in the formal living room by tightening the plan dimensions and raising the ceiling height. The room was structured according to a symmetrical plan – the fireplace, furniture and even the trees in the adjacent courtyard, all sit on a central symmetrical axis. On the other hand, in the informal living room, he raised the floor to compress the ceiling height and brought in less formal furniture pieces to create a more intimate ambiance.

A neutral materials and colour palette runs throughout the home, reflecting what Conrad describes as ‘restraint and an attraction to natural materials that improve with age.’ Materials such as marble and natural oak were chosen for their sense of calm minimalism.

The home’s subdued ambiance is enhanced by the artworks that fill the space, such as a single-line drawing by Frederic Forest which hangs in the bathroom. ‘I love the way the work explores exactly the same ideas as the space in which it sits,’ Conrad shares. An artwork by Shannon McGrath and Marcus Piper that explores the interplay of light echoes the architect’s own characteristic use of light.

From its considered layout to the muted palette and well-curated design and art pieces, the Hornsby Residence melds a classical appreciation of beauty and detail with strong lines and a minimalist aesthetic. Conrad offers his own conclusion: ‘‘The aesthetic could be described as having a contemporary expression, a classical sense of rhythm, a Georgian sense of proportion, a minimalist expression of detail, with a European layering of texture and material.’

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Derek Swalwell

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Monochrome Minimalism

An architect’s dream space is transformed into a contemporary and sophisticated family home

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In Christchurch’s leafy suburb of Fendalton next to the peaceful Avon river, Lume Design artfully adapts a large, three-storey home to suit a fast-paced family of three.

The striking modern building was designed by O’Neil Architecture; the team was inspired by Palm Spring’s mid-century modern designs and wanted to create a manifestation of the architect’s dream home. Lume Design pays homage to this heritage, while transforming the space to suit their clients’ tastes. ‘We were empathetic to the architecture,’ explains Jeff Merrin, co-director of Lume Design. ‘The client wanted a place that was easy to maintain, contemporary, relaxed and minimal, yet sophisticated and timeless.’

The spacious home comprises five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a media room, an office and a yoga room that looks out onto the outdoor swimming pool. A lift connects the eight-car basement to the scullery, and the living room area can be expanded by stacking the large motorised doors. Large windows ensure plenty of natural light flows into the house.

A monochromatic colour palette offers a minimalist composition of soft greys and neutral shades. ‘We kept to a calming and timeless palette to ensure the longevity of the interiors,’ says Lume’s second co-director Melissa Merrin. The designers used natural stones in concrete hues, and a quarter cut American Oak staircase cantilevers out of the sleek Timaru Bluestone at the entrance, which acts as a visual anchor in the home.

Understated furniture pieces effortlessly complement the design aesthetic. In the entrance, Spokes lamps by Foscarini are an eye-catching highlight; in the the living and dining area are a soft Mags Sofa by Hay, a daybed by Carl Hansen & Son, a womb chair by Knoll and a Smithfield Pendant lighting fixture by Flos. About A Stool bar stools by Hay and Ultra S lights from Delta Light from complete the kitchen. The bedrooms comprise Laze beds by Rodolfo Dordoni for Poliform, an Isabella lounge chair from Simon James, a Pot™ chair by Fritz Hansen and a Non Random pendant by Moooi. The selection of lighting throughout the home includes Tom Dixon Fade Pendants and a MoM Pendant by Umberto Asnago for Penta.

A restrained colour and material palette highlight the home’s verdant exterior and the well-chosen finishings and pieces within, and the result is an architect’s dream home that has been transformed into a relaxed, contemporary and minimal family home.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Anna McLeod

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Nuance & Nostalgia

How historical motifs are driving Hong Kong’s unique design identity

Kasa. Image courtesy of Lim + Lu

Kasa. Image courtesy of Lim + Lu

Using nostalgic Hong Kong tropes in interior design and architecture is certainly not a new idea, but it seems like the trend has reached fever pitch of late. You can’t turn a corner without coming upon a project that uses buzzwords like ‘heritage’ or ‘revitalisation’ in its marketing speak, while employing nomenclature that relies on puns derived from transliteration. (Not to mention the rampant application of neon signage, a feature once so in danger of extinction that is now verging on ubiquitous.)

But it doesn’t all rest on gimmickry. When local restaurant group Black Sheep Restaurants debuted its grungy, hipster take on Chinese dining Ho Lee Fook five years ago, the city was just waking up to the idea that there was anything worth co-opting from its own history. ‘We wanted it to be almost the exact opposite experience of a typical Chinese banquet hall,’ says group co-founder Syed Asim Hussain. ‘We were tired of big brands and chefs coming here and trying to replicate the successes they had in New York of London. Why are we so dazzled by imports from other cities when we have so much going on in our backyard? Our goal was to build the kind of culinary institution that other cities would want to import.’ It took a so-called outsider to pull in the right influences – American and part-time Hongkonger Sean Dix brought in the wall of waving cats, which utilises the good luck charm often found in local restaurants, a divider wall inspired by local artist King of Kowloon and chairs that were originally commissioned for a project he was doing for Mao Zedong’s granddaughter. Five years on, Ho Lee Fook is living up to its founding objective, with an opening in Europe coming soon.

In that same half a decade, countless copycats have sprouted, but also several projects that take quintessential Hong Kong motifs and update them for contemporary times. ‘It’s important not to take the elements for their face value only,’ explains Vince Lim of Lim + Lu, the husband-and-wife duo responsible for the look of healthy Chinese eatery Kasa, whose baby pink and blue interiors wouldn’t have existed in bygone Hong Kong but whose design harks back to traditional local cha chaan teng diners, thanks to the use of pendant lights often found in wet markets and the old-style steel window at the mezzanine level. ‘The elements should act as a reference point to an earlier time period, while not losing its identity in today’s design. In Kasa, we deliberately used old Hong Kong-style mosaic tiles common in cha chaan tengs, but contrasted the nostalgic material with more contemporary marble and brass.’

As the movement continues to gain momentum, Hong Kong is proving a rich tapestry from which to leverage – while the local cha chaan tengs and bing sutts are common fodder, there are other devices just as iconic. For Katherine Lo, founder and president of Eaton Workshop, it was exactly that: ‘I tasked AvroKO with interpreting my vision and briefed them with my early inspirations: the cha chaan tengs that my father took us to and the 1990s films of Wong Kar-wai which were shot in the beautifully raw, gritty neighbourhood of Jordan,’ which is where the progressive hotel-cum-co-working-cum-wellness space is situated. Working with an international agency, it was important for Lo to immerse the design team in her references. ‘Many of the streetscapes in the neighbourhood that Eaton shares are living museums of old 50s and 60s Hong Kong, with decades-old neon signs, shopfronts and textures. The original Eaton building itself is a vestige from that time as well, so it was fitting to build off of the local vernacular,’ explains AvroKO founding partner William Harris. ‘We took inspiration from Wong Kar-wai’s films to drive the quality of lighting, colouring and dreamy nature of the processional journeys,’ he adds, proving that inspiration can be interpreted much less literally, spawning both tangible and intangible manifestations. ‘The furniture is tailored and even feels futuristic at times, while the density and maze-like feel of Kowloon has been reinterpreted in the lobbies and dining floors.’

Maxime Dautresme of A Work of Substance, which designed The Fleming hotel, agrees with this more cerebral approach to design. His thought process went beyond lifting from a dictionary of references. ‘Hong Kong has a culture of efficiency. We borrowed that in order to bring the hotel’s design forward. We generally don’t look into trends as we believe there is no sustainability in them – for us, site relevancy and usability are both key in design.’

‘Having connected people across the harbour for over a century, the Star Ferry is a piece of Hong Kong’s collective memory and identity,’ he explains. ‘This unique and elegant icon of Hong Kong’s past and present became the foundation for every design detail. Nostalgia is further evoked by colours and scents – hues seen on the hull of Hong Kong’s ferries, fishing boats, delivery trucks and temples, and apothecary-inspired toiletries and custom aromas of sandalwood and amber notes.’

Simple it may be, but therein lies the difference between a cut-and-paste job and something that is both a tribute to the past and an icon for the future: thought. ‘In today's social-media-driven society, gimmicks are commonly employed in design to create an Instagrammable moment. For us, that fine line is the context and surroundings. If we are truly paying homage to the city's history, there needs to be multiple ideas and points that contribute to that concept,’ says Lim.

Text / Christina Ko

The Fleming. Image by Dennis Lo

The Fleming. Image by Dennis Lo

The Fleming. Image by Dennis Lo

The Fleming. Image by Dennis Lo

The Fleming. Image by Dennis Lo

The Fleming. Image by Dennis Lo

Ho Lee Fook. Image courtesy of Black Sheep Restaurants

Ho Lee Fook. Image courtesy of Black Sheep Restaurants

Eaton House. Image by Lit Ma, Common Studio

Eaton House. Image by Lit Ma, Common Studio

Eaton House. Image by Lit Ma, Common Studio

Eaton House. Image by Lit Ma, Common Studio

Eaton House. Image by Lit Ma, Common Studio

Eaton House. Image by Lit Ma, Common Studio

Kasa. Image courtesy of Lim + Lu

Kasa. Image courtesy of Lim + Lu

An Urban Island

An abandoned property in a historic area is given a new lease on life

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In Hong Kong’s Quarry Bay, local multi-disciplinary design practice Lim + Lu have transformed an abandoned apartment into a sophisticated and modern home.

Housed in a 19th century tenement building, the expansive apartment (110 square metres, to be exact) is now a revamped urban escape, but its history is intriguing. The previous owner spent most of his life in the apartment until leaving the city and all of his possessions behind. For over 15 years the apartment lay completely undisturbed and untouched, becoming something of a time capsule and giving a glimpse into a former life.

The clients, a nature-loving couple with a love for antiques, embraced the nostalgic charm of the space. The original characteristics of the building are brought to the forefront and drove the choice of materials. “The idea that time could be used as part of the material palette was incredibly poetic,” Lim + Lu co-founder Vince Lim explains. Already a patina exists in the space that can’t be replicated with modern processes, and the designers left the chipped concrete beams untouched, creating a striking juxtaposition between the new bright white walls and the faded jade and orange beams.

The material palette also helped to create a peaceful haven away from the bustle of city life. Materials such as warm oak, woven wicker and volcanic slate feature often, and a series of oak and brass accents punctuates the apartment. As the apartment is in such a densely populated area with direct sight lines into offices and other apartments across the street, internal views instead became the apartment’s focal points. Framing devices on the walls are filled with sentimental relics from the couple’s travels, while at the entrance is a full-height oak-slatted shoe closet with a void carved out and finished in brass, and through which the open kitchen can be seen. Natural elements are brought into the home to create a tranquil ambiance, such as the vibrant row of succulents and other plants along the living room window that distracts from the outside view.

In this home, the man-made and natural, and the historical and contemporary, exist side by side and provide for the homeowners their own private island in the city.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Nirut Benjabenpot and Pak Chung

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Co-Op Chic

Art Deco, mid-century and 1970s influences come together in this spacious Manhattan family apartment

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A stone’s throw away from Central Park in Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side, architecture and interior design firm Frederick Tang Architecture have created an expansive and elegant apartment for a three-person family and their dogs.

For this project, the designers undertook a complete gut renovation, combining two units in a post-war co-op building to create an apartment imbued with Art Deco, mid-century and 1970s design inspirations. This distinctive style was directed by the female client who ‘loved anything in black and white, navy or purple, and a little sparkle and glamour. In contrast, she appreciated a clean aesthetic and modern lines. The result is a fusion of the 70s open-plan concept, Deco opulence and materiality, and mid-century iconography,’ explains Frederick Tang, Principal at Frederick Tang Architecture.

The apartment is characterised by large, open spaces which flow effortlessly into one another, and several curved walls and rounded bays. The home needed to suit the family’s varied lifestyle, so the designers introduced a series of subtle design elements that can be used to create multiple rooms or ambiances.

As the clients occasionally work from home, the study’s steel and glass framed doors fabricated by Habiterra offer privacy but continue the apartment’s extensive length. The family also needed an open space for entertaining, with areas that could be closed off for the children’s play dates. Midway through the project the client requested the inclusion of a television, which is cleverly hidden behind millwork and hinged swing doors above the stone fireplace.

The entrance boasts stunning Art Deco-style stonework. ‘The clients wanted an impressive foyer that diverted from the chevron oak throughout the apartment. Influenced by their affinity for black and white, we designed the compact entry in an Art Deco geometric pattern with stone tile from ANN SACKS. To do this, the stone was placed on a diagonal with a basket weave of brass inlay that created movement as it lay under and over one another,’ shares Barbara Reyes, Director of Design at Frederick Tang Architecture.

The design gene has clearly passed down to the clients’ daughter, who also had a clear vision of her ideal bedroom. ‘She was inspired by a vintage 60s image from Knoll, complete with Saarinen furniture and playful patterns,’ Reyes explains. A queen platform bed has surrounding seated areas perfect for sleepovers and hanging out. The room’s key motif is her favourite animal, the sloth, most obvious in a custom light fixture by Lite Brite Neon Studio, while custom Maharam leather and Paul Smith dot and plaid cushions offset the wallpaper and hidden storage.

One of the most endearing elements in the apartment is Chili and Waffles’ own doggie spa. The service bathroom has a tall but shallow shower and sink area, and the designers give a playful nod to classic New York City pre-war co-op bathrooms with a basket weave mosaic of Carrera and Nero Marquina.
A neutral colour palette with accents of ‘varying shades of ink’, including blues, black and purples, transforms the apartment and is complemented by a luxe materials palette. Several types of striking stone feature throughout the home, from the fireplace in quartzite by Antolini in Elegant Brown, with its dramatic caramel, charcoal and ivory veining, to the grey and white checkerboard floor in the master bedroom closet. White Oak flooring from MADERA is accompanied by a mix of polished nickel, chrome and brass lighting and furniture.

Vintage furniture was reimagined in new fabrics and colours, such as a 1970s ottoman and lounge chairs which were redesigned in two-tone Knoll velvet, a Vladimir Kagan Corkscrew chair that was covered in aubergine Knoll wool and the Saarinen Executive Chair, which received a luscious facelift with navy velvet and legs plated in 14-carat gold. This chic meeting of old and new also inspired the lighting throughout the home, including the 1970s J.T. Kalmar tiered chandelier with Venini smoked and clear glass, among designs by Kelly Wearstler, Roll & Hill, Gaetano Sciolari and Hans-Agne Jakobsson

Taken as a whole, the home is a masterful confluence of design inspirations that reflects unique and sophisticated sensibilities.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Gieves Anderson

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Sleek in the City

Function meets minimalism in a Hong Kong family apartment by Human w / Design

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In Hong Kong, locally based studio Human w / Design have created a highly minimalist and extremely functional space for a family of four.  

Working with only 45 square metres of living space, the designers effortlessly divided the apartment into a three-bedroom home to meet the client’s requirements. As co-founder of Human w / Design Kevin Wong explains, ‘they wanted us to redesign the 19-year-old apartment into a minimal, natural and practical space to fit their living habits.’

This melding of practical yet minimalist design runs throughout the apartment. ‘We tried to hide the things that are seldom used and avoided any unnecessary design elements,’ Wong shares. An elm wall panel in the living area conceals both the kitchen and bathroom doors, and as the family rarely use their dining table, a foldable version was chosen to maximise the living space. Several foldable dining chairs from Decor8 can be stored in a cabinet behind the sofa (also Decor8) and the majority of the furniture was custom designed by the studio.

As per the clients’ brief, traditional design elements punctuate the apartment and evoke feelings of childhood nostalgia, such as 1980’s style glass blocks and the use of bluegrass colours in one bedroom. The bunk bed design for the two children is refreshingly sleek, with only a black steel frame forming a ladder and the upper bed barrier. As the room offers the largest surface area sin the apartment, raised flooring is used to capitalise on storage space.

The designers expertly used spatial limitations to inspire their materials palette. ‘Due to the structural restrictions of the building, we believe adding the new bedroom at the window-side area of the original living room was the most appropriate approach,’ co-founder of Human w / Design Ricky Fu explains. ‘We decided to use reeded glass block as the partition to separate the new bedroom and living area to maximise natural daylight penetration while preserving a certain degree of privacy.’

This glass block wall is one of the home’s most striking features and creates a sense of spaciousness and orderliness. The glass material ensures plenty of light flows into the home, and a striking lighting effect happens between day and night time. The TV and TV cabinet are hung on a steel post detached from the glass wall, also maximising the daylight in the shared space.  

An eye-catching black frieze detailing in the living room is actually a design response to the materials’ height restrictions. The standard size of the glass blocks and the warm elm wood panels ensured a gap was created between the top of the materials and the ceiling soffits. So the designers decided to fill this gap with the detailing which also holds a slim LED strip inside, creating a warm and calm ambiance in the living room.

This Hong Kong family apartment embraces functionality at its core while effortlessly imbuing a sense of sleek minimalism.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Courtesy of Human w / Design

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Robert Cheng of Brewin Design Office was given carte blanche to design this family home in Indonesia for an aspiring art collector and his young family

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When Robert Cheng of Brewin Design Office was given the floor plan of this apartment in the prestigious Keraton Private Residences in Jakarta, there wasn’t a single internal wall. The designer had the authority to locate rooms anywhere he saw fit, including the kitchen and bathrooms that are typically fixed to ensure efficiency within the stacked construction of a tower.

The client, as aspiring art collector with a young family, came to Cheng with a typical Keraton apartment: an unfinished interior where columns line the perimeter housing plumbing lines. The floor slab is set 45 centimetres below the finished level to allow enough gradient for the drainage pipes to reach anywhere in the plan from the columns.

‘This had interesting potential for us because we approached it as an architecture project minus the roof or facade,’ says Cheng, who helms the Singapore-based design studio. The final plan considers both formal and informal aspects of residential design. The lift opens to a corridor-cum-art gallery where two portals reveal the common living, dining and kitchen spaces. At the other end of the gallery, a door leads into the family room before splitting further into three bedrooms. ‘From their bedroom, each person has to walk though this family nucleus that is part of the private space,’ says Cheng. It’s a simple but effective gesture to improve the social aspects of domestic design. 

The material palette is sophisticated and favours natural materials. Silvery off-white Venetian stucco gives the ceiling and walls a subtle pearlescent sheen. Charcoal-coloured slate flooring in the common spaces adds an industrial touch, while American Walnut flooring in the private areas injects warmth. In the master bathroom, the sinuous veins of Moon Beige honed marble are splashed across surfaces like paint on a canvas, paralleled by the curves of decorative Lefroy Brooks bath fixtures. Linen blinds soften the tropical light while custom-designed carpets soften footfall.

As in all his projects, Cheng approaches the interior design in a holistic manner, considering all aspects from finishing to furniture. Vintage and modern pieces mix, with art a particular focus. In the living room, for instance, Indonesian artist Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo’s resin artwork Volcanic Ash Series #4 is complemented by a bespoke carpet in similar shades of greyish-blue and a dark Orobico marble coffee table from the Brewin Collection. A sculpture of leftover resin layers punctuates the gateway into the dining room, where a custom-designed Orobico marble dining table continues the material conversation from the living room.

Where necessary, Cheng has bestowed gravitas. The living room ceiling is nearly a metre higher than the rest of the house (a result of keeping pipes and ducts to either side). An Anish Kapoor gold dish hangs across the main entrance, its gilt echoing the solid brass door handle. Key thresholds are accented with solid timber frames, as are niches containing artwork and the dining room banquette seat.

At another time and with another brief, Cheng would have liked to explore the country’s artisanal culture. But here, at the client’s request, the interior design is guided by a more international flavour. The construction necessary to attain the refined aesthetic meant workmanship and products were mostly imported: timberwork was milled in Australia and assembled on site by Australian craftsmen; stone was imported from Singapore, and furniture and fixtures were sourced globally. Polished and cosmopolitan, in this home Cheng has pushed boundaries by giving a twist to domestic spatial planning and creating a holistic environment for both artwork and occupants.

Text / Jingmei Luo
Images / Marc Tan (Studio Periphery)

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Q&A with One Plus Partnership

Ajax Law and Virginia Lung are known for creating innovative and original designs that transform typical spaces into intriguing experiences. They spoke with Design Anthology about their process and some of their most memorable projects to date

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Virginia Lung and Ajax Law

Virginia Lung and Ajax Law

Founders and design directors of One Plus Partnership in Hong Kong, Law and Lung were among a host of acclaimed international speakers at the 2018 Business of Design Week in Hong Kong. Since its establishment in 2004, and with projects spanning entertainment, retail and product design, the studio has won over 540 international interior design awards and has been invited to exhibit in renowned exhibitions around the world, including the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Design Anthology: You tend to work on big-scale projects in China as well as in Hong Kong. What are some of the key differences or similarities you encounter working between these two regions?  

One Plus Partnership: The most notable difference is space: there’s so much more of it in China, it’s incomparable to Hong Kong, where property is so expensive. Hong Kong can be difficult for interior designers, because we’ve found that clients tend to limit their briefs to ‘elegant’. But in China, the design briefs tend to be more in-depth and focus on the culture of the specific place. The vast history of China gives us many options for more culture-related design, and clients are more accepting of various design styles; they allow us a lot more creative freedom, and fewer boundaries.

Speaking about concepts, one of your principles is to base your projects around a specific theme and then extract design elements from there. Can you talk us through the process of finding that theme?

We consider the location of the project, the nature of the business, or perhaps the historical background of the brand or client. In China, another interesting thing is that there are many different historical contexts in each of the different cities. That’s also the case in Hong Kong, but it’s just too small we think. There’s so much in Chinese culture and Chinese history that we can draw on and develop from, and that’s helpful for designers. We enjoy it when clients are engaged and interested in the process and the story as opposed to just commercial concerns and the finished product.

Hong Kong tends to favour the Western style, while in China clients lean toward celebrating Chinese style, there may be Western influences, but they don’t make a point of veering away from the former. I think it may be because of the historical background that in Hong Kong we prefer more British or American styles.

You also spoke about the availability of space in China, and you've won several international awards for many of your large-scale projects there. What are some of the key factors that you take into consideration when you design such an expansive space?

First and foremost, the space must meet functional needs. Then we think about how to maximise the space and make it look expansive and impressive. As we said, we define a theme for the project and that means that even in a large space, everything is unified and the project is a cohesive whole.

And what projects stand out for you as representative of these principles and your practice in general?

When we established One Plus Partnership 15 years ago, it was because we couldn’t identify a company or studio where we could do the kind of work we wanted to do, especially in Hong Kong. Many of the studios weren’t doing work of the international standard we saw in foreign media. At that time, we were doing projects for developers, and that was even more difficult because they were show flats, or sales offices — projects that naturally came with a string of constraints.

There are three key projects that come to mind, since then. Twelve years ago, we designed the Shenzhen Mellon Town Bamboo Lobby in China. The brief was that it should be a contemporary take on Chinese traditions. There were twelve lobbies in total, and to link them together by one theme, we landed on bamboo as the concept. In Chinese culture, bamboo represent many things: wisdom, finesse and so on. So instead of inserting any actual bamboo into the space, we interpreted the colour, the feeling and the meaning. And the colours ended up being bright green and red. Some of our contemporaries thought it was a childish project and that we wouldn’t succeed – they didn’t see that we were trying to do something creative.

It made us doubt ourselves and doubt the feasibility of our work in the market. We decided to enter the project into an international competition, and it won. That really encouraged us and made us trust our vision and abilities. We continued to enter international competitions – overseas, they don’t know who we are or what our backgrounds are. We’re judged based on the project submitted and it’s really encouraging to see how our work is received internationally.

The second project that comes to mind is Pixel Box. After a couple of years, we began to do cinema provides (we’ve done about four or five). Here the client gave us a lot of creative freedom, and the project ended up being a breakthrough for us, people came to know our cinema design work after that one. From there we were given even more creative freedom by the client.

The last one is the established jewellery brand Chow Tai Fook. About a year ago they asked us to design their first experience store. Our design was a big change for the brand, and we didn’t know that they’d accept something so different, so contemporary. Even the store layout is different from anything they’ve done before. In fact, the open-plan style is different to any other Chinese jewellery shop, and the sales structure is different – the salesperson can engage directly with the customer, there’s no barrier. We’ve done several shops in Hong Kong, and we’re now busy with a number of stores in China. For each, they want to infuse the local elements specific to that city. We’ve decided on the concept of ‘gift boxes’ because jewellery is usually a gift, for yourself or for your friends, or to celebrate an occasion. The colour schemes and materials differ, but the structure is the same across the stores. We’ve also created another concept for them: Hong Kong’s Festival Walk store is based on a bank’s safe room, where there are many small, numbered boxes. We took that and created our own version, with fabric instead of metal, and embroidered numbers. The numbers are actually dates, and they all have special meaning; you could find your birth date on a box, or for example, in Chinese 1-3-1-4 means ‘I love you forever.’ When customers come in, they love to search for their birthday or numbers associated with love.

For another of their stores we drew inspiration from the structure of DNA, so we created what looks like a sushi belt, but instead of sushi there’s jewellery displayed under the glass dome. Right now, the first of these shops is in Shenzhen but we’re working on the second one in Xi’an. We’re trying to introduce new and innovative concepts for the brand.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of One Plus Partnership

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Xiangyang Fanyue Mall International Cinema. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Xiangyang Fanyue Mall International Cinema. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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Shenzhen Mellon Town Bamboo Lobby. Image by Ajax Law & Virginia Lung

Shenzhen Mellon Town Bamboo Lobby. Image by Ajax Law & Virginia Lung

Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

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Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

Hangzhou Kerry Centre Premiere Cinemas. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud & Ajax Law

Hangzhou Kerry Centre Premiere Cinemas. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud & Ajax Law

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Tropical Minimalism

In this sleek abode, Freight Architects appropriates the traditional shophouse typology by injecting ample light, breeze and views deep into its centre

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The Clifton Vale House, designed by Freight Architects, couldn’t be more  distinguishable from its semi-detached neighbour. Its neat, boxy shape, orderly screens and concise gestures stand in stark contrast to its conjoined twin whose pithed, grey terracotta-tiled roof, classical columns and ornamental window grilles present a confusing architectural potpourri.

The client, who lives here with his wife and two children, requested a ‘tropical minimalist’ house – a reflection of their love for good ventilation and natural light and aversion to clutter. They wanted it to feel spacious and akin to living outdoors where air-conditioning isn’t always essential.

‘We began by exploring ways of bringing in more airflow and natural light into a standard semi-detached typology where one side is always attached to a parti-wall,’ shares Kee Jing Zhi, one of the firm’s three design directors and co-founders. He looked to the traditional shophouse for inspiration, but here the results are a modern appropriation rather than a direct import of elements.

‘The front of the house faces east and the long side faces south, which is the prevailing wind direction for the Southwest monsoon season. We designed the main opening of the house facing the south prevailing wind and created a courtyard in the centre of the house for cross-ventilation,’ he explains.

The courtyard, which tunnels up into the attic, is capped with a skylight that allows the interiors to be well-lit and naturally ventilated. It closes automatically during rain and provides a view of the sky overhead. Located just beyond the front door in the centre of the house, the courtyard is anchored by a meditative body of water. It’s flanked by the living room, which, buffered by a garden on the other side, represents the kind of protected outdoor space the client so desired. The air well above the pond also becomes a central ‘breathing shaft’ for the bedrooms, which are arranged around the courtyard with apertures opening onto it.


Another technique Kee applied to mitigate the tropical weather are the screens that wrap the house’s facade and echo within, connecting the mezzanine family room to the courtyard. This bespoke detail combines the benefits of screen, glass and blackout blinds. As Kee describes, ‘The screen is a bi-fold door that can be opened up completely for unobstructed views. Within the single-door module, timber fins can be pivoted at varying angles to control the light, ventilation and amount of privacy. It can also be completely shut for a black-out effect.’

Brevity of material – mainly stone and Chengai timber – and abundant greenery aids in creating a feeling of restfulness and tropicality. Equally disciplined is the house’s formal composition, which came about from the thoughtful placement of ‘boxes’ to create interesting spatial experiences. One example of this is found in the entry sequence, where a black box movie room directly above the entrance creates a sense of compression, accentuating the loftiness of the courtyard that follows.

This house is tropical and minimal, but in no way is it staid.

Text / Jingmei Luo
Images / Darren Soh

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