Recently i had the opportunity to interview one of the greatest interior designers in Asia for Essential Macau magazine, Steve Leung: East meets West Approaching every project holistically, Steve Leung is a leading name in interior design in the Far East and around the world.
For Steve Leung, “design is a universal language and can break through all boundaries”. Born in Hong Kong in 1957, the architect and interior designer has been a leading figure in Asian design for more than 20 years and is known for the unique stamp he puts on his projects. The contemporary and welcoming style – an infusion of art and Asian and international influences – is the result of his rich personal experience.
“I was born and raised in Hong Kong and I have deep sentiment toward my home city. Having lived in a place where East meets West for more than 50 years, I am cultivated and influenced by both the Chinese and Western culture and lifestyles, and these experiences do shape my ideology and philosophy. I feel that my designs reflect an international sense, yet with an Oriental vibe. For me, it is a very subconscious Asian approach,” he explains.
With an interest in the arts from an early age, the renowned Chinese architect attributes his vocation to his two uncles: “One is an architect, while the other is an amateur painter. They are both very artistic and skilled at music, calligraphy, painting... I adore them very much and under their influence, I have been in love with arts and design ever since I was a child. I had made up my mind to become an architect when I was 13 years old. Finally I was admitted to the University of Hong Kong and studied Architecture. This marked the beginning of my career in this industry.” Having founded his architectural and urban planning consultancy in 1987, Steve Leung was a youngster in a business dominated by older men, where he had to fight to establish his position.
“I have been very lucky in terms of my career and I feel that having the opportunity to create my own firm at 30 was an incredible break. At a young age, I was able to lead talented designers under my own personal vision and of course by owning my own design consultancy, I made all the decisions. Breaking into the industry at 30 has enabled me to gain valuable industry and life experience which I believe are evident in my designs.”
Despite architecture being the initial focus of his career, Steve Leung gradually moved his attention towards interior design projects, finding them more interesting, fulfilling and lucrative. Currently taking up almost all of the studio's work, the interior design side covers projects as vast as hotels, restaurants, houses, offices and shopping centres, although the architect considers the first show flat, which he conceived in 1997 for the Symphony Bar development in Hong Kong, one of the most memorable. “At that time, more than 90% of the show flats were designed in Western classical style. However, I think that luxury can be demonstrated in different ways, so I used a contemporary approach with the adoption of natural elements for my first show flat project. It was new to the market, but it was unexpectedly well-received. Nowadays, Western classical design does not dominate the Hong Kong residential design scene,” he says. “I think this project had demonstrated the change of design trend from classical luxury to modern luxury in Hong Kong in the 1990s.”
This same idea of timeless elegance, attention to detail and the original interpretation of minimalism makes Steve Leung a specialist in creating the perfect environment for each client, featuring tangible and comfortable luxury. “To me, luxury means refined enjoyment, excellent quality, exclusiveness and exquisite details. Unlike many others, I don’t think that ‘luxury’ is achieved by spending an astronomical sum of money on materials, furniture or decors with no souls. In my projects, the luxurious and gracious ambiance is usually created by a harmonious match of colours, use of quality materials and clever use of space and proportion.”
As such, it's no surprise that Steve Leung is one of the most sought-after names in China and beyond to create the most exclusive projects, with the MX restaurant and the residential development 39 Conduit Road (both in Hong Kong), the Shangri-La hotel in London's emblematic The Shard, and the Mango Tree restaurant in Dubai, all excellent examples of his creativity and inspiration. “I usually get inspiration from everyday life, from travelling to merely a cup of tea. Taking my project, The Hampton, as an example, as I am a keen shopper and am interested in the fashion business, I took my cue for this project from the high-end fashion concept, haute couture. It is the spirit of exclusivity and made-to-measure philosophy of haute couture I incorporate into my design.”
A natural sequence of the interior projects, a number of prominent brands have asked Steve Leung to develop furniture and accessories. The Oriental-inspired wallpaper collection for Graham & Brown, the elegant Inkstone bathroom line for Italian brand Neutra and the furniture for the Chinese brand Maxxa showcase Leung's incessant pursuit of excellence and quality, regardless of the scale of the project.
Heading up a team of more than 350 employees, Steve Leung received the prize for best interior designer at the prestigious Andrew Martin International Awards on 10 occasions between 1999 and 2012, and he couldn't be more overjoyed about the future. “I will still focus on my own interior design business while seeking interesting projects or collaborations to work on. As for collaboration, I have just joined yoo, an international design company founded by property entrepreneur John Hitchcox and Philippe Starck in 1999, as Creative Director of Steve Leung & yoo,” says the architect, who will be creating the yoo residence in Hong Kong.