The renowned Hong Kong-based architect and designer shares his design philosophy and his plans for 8 Conlay in Kuala Lumpur.
Spend even a few minutes with architect and interior designer Steve Leung and it quickly becomes clear that he has one unbridled passion: to live life to the fullest. He loves the outdoors and being active in it, be it playing golf, skiing or yachting; he savours all sorts of cuisine, including curry fish head; and he enjoys travelling and even shopping.
And it is this zest for life that characterises the designer’s works.
“I think design is all about life and experience. In doing good design, we must try to enjoy life. If we don’t have the motive to enjoy life, we cannot do good design for the end user to enjoy our (work),” says Leung, 56, during a one-on-one interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Last year, the multiple award-winning Leung was invited to join Yoo (artistically trademarked in the lowercase as “yoo”), a residential and hotel design company founded by property entrepreneur John Hitchcox and acclaimed French designer Philippe Starck; he is now creative director of Steve Leung & Yoo.
Set up in 1999, Yoo’s stable of celebrity designers include Jade Jagger (daughter of Mick Jagger), Kelly Hoppen, and Marcel Wanders. (If you are wondering how the name came about, the company believes that at Yoo, “it’s all about you”.)
“I was very, very excited when they asked me to join them. I think it’s a very good synergy because although, technically, we work separately, we always exchange ideas among ourselves.
“It’s nice to have a family of designers from different background, cultures, expertise and styles. I am the only one from this part of the world, so they are very interested in Asian culture and, at the same time, Hong Kong is so good at designing small units that they are amazed to see my designs in that aspect,” he shares.
Hong Kong-born and based, Leung was in Kuala Lumpur last week at a KSK Group event announcing its partnership with Steve Leung & Yoo in the group’s development project, 8 Conlay, comprising branded residences, a 5-star hotel and a retail area, located at Jalan Conlay, KL.
Leung will be responsible for designing the interior and common areas for one of two residential towers. The other tower’s designer will be announced at a later date.
The maiden project for KSK Land (KSK Group’s property development arm), the development will feature two towers of serviced apartments (with 55 floors and 62 floors respectively) and one tower comprising hotel and serviced residences (62 floors). The targeted completion date is 2020.
This is Leung’s first branded residence project in Malaysia under Steve Leung & Yoo.
Leung says that he and his team are still in the very early stage of coming up with an interior design plan for the residential block assigned to them; however, Leung revealed that the design will be based on the five traditionally Asian elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth.
“I think it’s very appropriate for me to derive something from Asian philosophy, which are these elements, and which are all about nature, balance, and how people live.
“I want people to feel very calm, comfortable and serene when they come into 8 Conlay. It’s about designing a total experience, from the moment you drive into the car park, then proceed to the lobby, until you enter your own apartment, the whole experience will be taken into account,” says Leung, who is known for his attention to detail in his designs.
The first project Leung engaged in under Steve Leung & Yoo was the high-end Yoo Residence in Hong Kong, due for completion mid 2015. The apartments are touted as the first internationally branded residence on the island.
According to Yoo Asia Pacific managing director Andrew Pang, who was in KL with Leung, one unit of the one-bedroom duplex was sold at a record high price of HK$45,233 (RM19,000) per sq ft, one of the highest prices commanded for a one-bedroom unit in Hong Kong to date. When it was launched, 80% of the 144 units of the residence were sold within three months.
“The Yoo Residence was very different from other projects in Hong Kong because in many of those projects, designers are only appointed to design the interiors after the building is completed,” Leung says, explaining that by then, nothing much can be done.
“But with the Yoo Residence and also 8 Conlay, we are very happy to be appointed at such an early stage because it is very important to be a part of the whole family in coming up with a good design that provides a great experience.”
Born in Hong Kong in 1957, Leung knew he wanted to be an architect even before he was 10 years old. When he was young, his architect uncle stayed with his family and Leung would watch him sketch his work at home. Leung went on to study and receive his Bachelor of Architecture from Hong Kong University in 1981. He then obtained his Master of Science in Urban Planning from the same university in 1986.
He established his first architectural and urban planning consultancy in 1987, which was then restructured to Steve Leung Architects Ltd and Steve Leung Designers Ltd in 1997. Headquartered in Hong Kong, Steve Leung Designers currently has branch offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, and is one of the biggest interior design consultancies in Asia.
Although Leung was trained as an architect, he now takes on not more than five architectural projects a year, focusing more on interior design work and also product design. The non-architectural work gives him a more intimate feel and a chance to get into the details, Leung says in explaining why he changed his focus.
To date, he has led over 1,000 interior design projects in 50 major cities in China, while his overseas projects appear in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, India, London, Manila, Singapore and Taiwan.
Some of his most recent works include the Sing Yin restaurant at the W Hong Kong hotel; the Shangri-La Hotel in The Shard tower in London; The St Regis Lijiang Resort, China; the Mango Tree restaurant in Dubai; and the Ushna restaurant in Abu Dhabi.
Steve Leung Designers has also been credited with over 100 design and corporate awards.
The MX restaurant in Hong Kong won the 2008 IIDA (International Interior Design Association) Annual Interior Design Competition, while One LaSalle, also in Hong Kong, received the HKDA Global Design Awards (Gold & Hong Kong Best, residential category) in 2011.
The Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay hotel won Best Interior Design, highly commended, at the Asia Pacific Property Awards in 2010; and Leung’s The Orchard Residences in Singapore were the Best Residential Interior at the Perspective Awards in 2007.
Personally, Leung has been named one of the world’s top interior designers in the Andrew Martin International Interior Design Award (considered the Oscars of the interior design world) 11 times since 1999.
When asked about this, Leung acknowledges the fact with a somewhat embarrassed look, saying it is “too many times”.
In 2012 he was also named one of the top 10 hotel designers in the Asia Pacific region in the First Gold Phoenix + Golden Art Asia Pacific Hospitality Design Competition Awards. He received the IAI Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, while a year before that, he and his team received the Annual Most Influential Design Team Award at the 6th Modern Decoration International Media Prize event.
Leung has also won a string of product design awards and has been invited by a number of international brands to collaborate on projects; these include leading American textile company Hunter Douglas; one of Britain’s most innovative wallpaper companies, Graham & Brown; the Italian furniture manufacture with architectural sensibilities, Former; and noted Italian sanitary ware brand, Neutra.
Being a food lover, Leung also started his own restaurant group called 1957 & Co, which he founded in 2007 together with two partners. He currently owns six restaurants in Hong Kong.
The contemporary-style advocate describes himself as a very happy, easy-going person with a positive attitude who likes to keep things in life simple.
“To be very honest, you can say I am a ‘minimal’ person because I don’t want something too fancy or unnecessary or extravagant. Hence, my design formula is about having a minimalist attitude. I only create something that is necessary, which is appropriate only to that special project or occasion.
However, he balks at being called a minimalist designer.
“I don’t label myself as a minimalist. To me, minimalism is not a design style but an attitude in dealing with everyday life. I am contemporary with a minimal ‘attitude’,” he concludes.
How does he define good design?
“Big question,” he smiles, pausing thoughtfully.
“First of all, I always say interior design is not a pure art that satisfies the designer himself because it has to serve the client first of all. Of course, it has to be commercially successful too, and we can also always interact with the client to share our views.
“On the other hand, we also have to think about what this project can contribute to the community as a whole, we have to talk about the concept of sustainability, how to encourage people to enjoy their life, and also take into consideration overall cultural sensitivity as well.”
How does he keep his designs fresh and appealing?
“By keeping myself young, young at heart! I am very energetic. I like everything – eating, sports, travelling, discovering new things, meeting new friends. All that is my inspiration,” says Leung. “I don’t need to go onto the Internet or look at design magazines. I can get my inspiration from a movie or show window, anything.”
In recent years, Leung has also been invited to be a judge at several major design awards, including the Asia Pacific Interior Design Awards 2009, iF Design Award China 2010, Red Dot Award: Product Design 2012, and iF Communication Design Award 2014.
This is a sphere that Leung wishes to step into more.
“I am very interested in doing that because there is a lot of exchange between the judges and also participants. I have also been invited, as the executive director of the Chinese Interior Decoration Association, to promote an international exchange between China and the rest of the world. That is something I am very keen to do,” reveals Leung.
Similarly, he says, 8 Conlay is an international exchange between Hong Kong, Malaysia and also Britain (where Yoo is based).
“We want to bring new ideas, concepts and lifestyles into different parts of Asia and, at the same time, keep the local cultures alive,” says Leung, whose daughter, 28, is a lawyer in Hong Kong, while his son, aged 21, is studying economics in Los Angeles.