LOFT gets a rare face-to-face chat with interiors guru, Steve Leung
Interior designer and architect Steve Leung has led the design pack in Hong Kong for over 20 years. And he is still going strong – in enough demand that he can pick and choose projects on a whim and with enough experience to power up original ventures of his own.
LOFT interviews the designer at his awe-inspiring head quarters in Kowloon Bay – where the vibe is more New York art gallery than office. Steve settles into a pristine white sofa in the huge harbour view boardroom looking cool and collected in his trademark round glasses and white jacket, and looks back on exactly how he ended up with this empire.
The story begins with architecture – which Steve trained in, graduating in 1981 in Hong Kong and starting his own practice in 1987. Ten years later, though, he restructured the company, splitting it into Steve Leung architecture and Steve Leung Designs. ‘Why? Because I wanted to practice both disciplines at same time. I was equally devoted to both – as opposed to doing one as a secondary firm as many architects do.’ Inevitably, though, one discipline took precedence. ‘When I first set up the firms, I was doing about 85% architecture and the rest interiors. Now it’s almost 100% interiors. That is my passion. Practicing architecture is not easy – I find interiors more interesting and promising in terms of job satisfaction and profitability.’
He obviously made the right decision. Steve Leung now employs more than 300 people with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. ‘70% of our turnover comes from China and despite the international crisis, we have enjoyed steady growth elsewhere in the world, too.’ So what exactly has he been working on lately? The company has a portfolio spanning residential projects to restaurants and hotels – and with no real niche, it’s always a pleasure to hear the latest. ‘The Conduit Road project (see right) is something I am really proud of. It’s a contemporary, Manhattan-style residential project which was a new style for us and turned out amazingly well. I also loved working on the Hyatt Hotel in Shatin and the Crowne Plaza in Causeway Bay.’ The future will also see the company doing a restaurant for the Four Seasons in Guangzhou, as well as the Renzo Piano-designed Shangri-La hotel in London, set to be the tallest building in Europe.
With such a broad spectrum of clients, what would Steve say is his signature style? ‘People tend to call me minimalist; which I both like and dislike. I would say rather than minimal, I am contemporary. But that can be applied in very different ways. I apply different styles according to my clients.’
More recently, Steve is learning to apply himself exactly as he likes; that is, without a client – with a new concept over in Happy Valley. The idea is that he will design and style entire properties before the client has moved in. ‘It’s a bit like high fashion; you don’t go to Armani to tailor make your suit, you go the fashion house to pick the style you want.’ As a compromise, Steve will make small alterations to the property on a client’s request – but the interiors are for the most part done and dusted before the client buys. ‘It’s like prêt-a-porter, these apartments are ready to buy!’
It’s ideas like this that show Steve as an innovator in his field. And his plans don’t stop there. Steve’s next foray is into the restaurant business. ‘I will be opening up two new restaurants before Christmas this year in Causeway Bay. One is Japanese and the other, an Italian – with a chef I am flying in all the way from Tuscany. I love food – and I sometimes feel that restaurants are run from a business perspective rather than a customer perspective. I want good service, good food, good music, art – the whole experience. Detail is so important and I want everything to be right, from the menu design to the staff uniforms.’
The hospitality brand will be called 1957 – Steve’s year of birth – and there are plans to venture into boutique apartments and hotels after the restaurants. ‘I can combine everything I know into these projects, which is exciting.’ And he’s right. So watch this space.
Steve’s Property History
- 1983 – Buys his first apartment in Aberdeen. Priority was a good harbour view and close to water for Steve to practice water sports.
- 1991 – Buys a 1400 square foot apartment in South Bay Tower for HK$4 million. ‘I couldn’t really afford it but I realised I had potential to make more money so I took out a mortgage and went for it.’
- 1995 – Designed a project in Stanley called Stanford villa and ended up buying two units for his wife, two children and parents.
- 2004 – Bought a townhouse in Stanley called Stanley Court where all his family are currently based.
- 2010 – Buys a holiday home in Niseko, Japan from Capella properties. Designed famed Japanese architect, Ando.