Senior exec says Chinese designers are shaking off the imitator image, creating change
He is in a black pinstripe cotton suit with a navy polka dot shirt and skate shoes. The glasses are turtle shell rimmed, the manner is easy and he doesn’t look at all sixty.His office is white, granite with pops of orange. Proportions are expansive and lines are clean, but it’s not showroom minimalist.」
Is Chinese design shaking off the imitator's image? The answer is yes, according to Steve Leung, the first ever Chinese president of the International Federation of Interior Designers (IFI) in its 54-year history.
At the 2015 IFI General Assembly, members elected Leung President-Elect for 2015-2017 and President for 2017-2019.
Along with running his world-renowned practice Steve Leung Designers (SLD), Leung and his team in the Asian-Pacific region and worldwide have received more than 130 design and company awards in the last 19 years.
He won the Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the Year Award in 2015 and has won the Andrew Martin International Interior Design Award 13 times since 1999.
CGTN's Cheng Lei (L) talks to Steve Leung (R) in Hong Kong, China. /CGTN Photo
What does the world’s most successful housing interior design firm look like?
Headquartered in Hong Kong, Leung’s firm Steve Leung Designers (SLD) also has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu and manages projects in more than 100 cities all over the world, including major cities such as London, Milan and Tokyo.
The headquarters is in Kowloon Bay, overlooking the old HK airport that used to have passengers waving to pedestrians as the plane lands. At its reception, you are greeted by a standing figure and a birdcage – the girl is fake, and the birds are real.
There is much to marvel in the way of texture, hand feel, purity of color. Leung’s office is white, granite with pops of orange. Proportions are expansive, and lines are clean, but it’s not showroom minimalist.
The beverage menu is a gleaming white oblong acrylic board. Even the tea lady is impeccably dressed in a white uniform like a Star-Trek nurse.
Art is used in disciplined dosages. Furniture has sweeping lines, perfect curves, and an absoluteness of presence. Down one corridor, Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline series shows. And at a juncture, there is a sculpture of two boys playing “bridge” with their backs.
The designers work in spaces piled with materials – swatches of fabrics and leathers, wallpapers, wood and metal. Large industrial printers line one wall.
What is the multi-award winning designer Steve Leung like in person?
Since when did we start to equate designers with eccentricity and arrogance? As if only marked behavioral differences point to creativity.
Leung is in a black pinstripe cotton suit with a navy polka dot shirt and skating shoes. The glasses are turtle shell rimmed, the manner is easy, and he doesn’t look at all sixty.
One can see why he is happy with where he is. With 450 designers and plenty of projects in 100 cities around the world, the company is now one of the biggest interior design consultancies in Asia.
As kids are grown up, and the company is mature, he can focus on creative pursuits and give back to the industry, as the first Chinese president of the IFI.
Steve Leung (L) and ASSA ABLOY Italy’s managing director Maddalena Marchesini (R) take a photo with his designed door handles in Milan, Italy, 2016. /VCG Photo
Leung proudly shows the “H377 Serie SL Duemilasedici” of door handles he designed for Fusital – the high-end sub-brand of the leading Italian manufacturer in handles production, Valli&Valli. And other designers who ever cooperated with Fusital include Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid.
Perhaps one trait common to designers is playfulness. He laughs like a kid when professing his penchant for shopping.
The latest obsession is tableware – some of it on the office table, cups that beg to be touched, and another series of avocado shapes and vivid hues.
What does Steve Leung say about design?
On Chinese elements in design – when I’m invited to do something for the first time, I might incorporate modern interpretations of Chinese elements, but the second design, I want it to be just contemporary, for the world.
Chinese students are very smart, very quick at going from zero to 80, but the rest – from 81-85, from then onwards, of course, you try to get close to 100, but that's not possible, getting close takes real persistence and dedication to your art.
You shouldn’t use smart home technology for the sake of it, a lot of the complex stuff – nobody uses.
Chinese designs have come a long way. They used to be kept out of the Milan Fair, but since last few years, the situation has changed a lot.
The IFI is the United Nations of Interior Design. When I have my IFI president hat on, I shouldn’t think about being Chinese or being headquartered in Hong Kong. Design should have no boundaries.