After 16 years of designing for others, Hong Kong’s hottest designer, André Fu, is telling his own story.
André Fu remembers being eight years old and sat in a luxury hotel lobby in his home town of Hong Kong. As a child, he was fascinated with drawing mazes and was drawing one at the time.
He recalls his mother saying: “André, imagine if you were to become a designer or an architect; not only could you design an actual building you could even design the towels that go into the room.”
To this day, Fu has never designed a towel. But now, aged 44, he has created some of the most beautiful hotel and restaurant interiors in the world. Fu is the name behind luxury hotels such as The Upper House in Hong Kong; Villa La Coste in Provence; suites for the Berkeley Hotel London; as well as collaborations with luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton.
But 2019 has been his busiest year yet. Fu alludes to this when he arrives at our interview at the newly opened St. Regis Hong Kong, entirely envisioned by AFSO, the design studio he set up in London after graduating from Cambridge. He is a little bleary-eyed. “I’m a bit tired, but good tired,” he confesses. Fu waves away the suggestion of a coffee; he is a green-tea drinker.
His lack of sleep is certainly not reflected in his turn-out, which is as elegant as you would expect. Wearing a pair of polished Church’s shoes, a tailored suit and a crisp white shirt from high-street brand Cos, Fu speaks slowly and deliberately, thinking carefully about how to express himself.
This April saw the opening of the St. Regis Hong Kong, a landmark 27-storey luxury hotel in Wan Chai designed entirely by AFSO. The firm was initially commissioned just to design the restaurants. But the owner of the hotel, Dr Fu Yuning, chairman of China Resources Group, liked AFSO’s work so much he signed it up for the whole thing.
“[Designing] something in your hometown is hard, in some ways. You don’t want to be too literal or gimmicky,” Fu explains.
Walk into St. Regis and the feeling is one of refinement, a sense of the tasteful turn-of-the-century opulence of a private home, interwoven with nods to childhood memories of colonial Wan Chai: traditional pawnshops, the old police station and the Bauhaus-style market.
“With St. Regis it is more about telling the story of heritage and infusing it with elements of old Hong Kong; I call it silhouettes of Hong Kong. Design shouldn’t be something that I’m forcing you to see; everything must co-exist and harmonise.”
Shortly after the opening of the St. Regis came the launch of Hong Kong restaurant Louise, helmed by chef Julien Royer. Unlike St. Regis, Fu transformed this two-floor heritage property with no-holes-barred maximalism. Fu brought original Thonet chairs, authentic rattan furniture and bespoke triangular banquettes, set against antique lighting and tropical floral wallpaper. The colour combinations are gorgeously kitsch, holly green against salmon and mango hues; and quirky objets d’art are scattered around the property.
If you were to have breakfast at St. Regis and lunch at Louise, you would never guess they came from the same brain.
Then, at the end of June, came the opening of the residences at 53 West 53, New York: Jean Nouvel’s 1,050ft-high residential tower adjacent to The Museum of Modern (MoMA) with the 36th-floor residence designed by Fu. Striking, bold and modern, there are strong Art Deco lines and a muted palette of mineral blues, salmon and dusty burgundy. Also in June but back in Hong Kong, this time in conjunction with the new Rosewood Hotel, came the launch of K11 Artus, a development of 287 short- and long-stay luxury residences designed by AFSO. Again, a completely different vibe: chic, monochrome and urban.
I point out that part of what makes his work unique is that his projects all feel different. Although there are subtle commonalities (a hint of Art Deco here or Bauhaus geometry there; a sense of opulence and craftsmanship), there is no stamp of self on these properties, no ego imposed. Fu agrees that he does not like the idea of a signature style. He prefers to start with the context of the project and seek inspiration there.
But now Fu is, for the first time, speaking with his own voice. Following peers such as Tom Dixon and Kelly Hoppen, Fu this year (launching in April at Salone del Mobile in Milan) branched out into lifestyle interior design with André Fu Living, selling the objects that capture his own style under his own brand.
“In the past I’ve always worked under a brief for a client but over the last year I’ve really had time to think about my personal aesthetic,” he says. “I’ve been in this profession for 16 years so I feel that it’s a time where I can challenge myself with something related but different, that allows me to tell my own story for the first time.”
There are now some 150 pieces in his collection, including furniture, lighting, table accessories, throws and bed linen. Many of the pieces in Fu’s collection were first used as prototypes in his own home.
Fu lives in Hong Kong in a redbrick tower (perhaps nostalgic of his Cambridge days) in between Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay, with panoramic ocean views. “It reminds me of Portofino, one of my favourite holiday places,” he says.
After Fu bought the home, he completely gutted the inside to reconfigure it with open spaces, ivory walls and a wide plank timber floor. “Inside, it’s a bit gallery-like,” says Fu. There are elegant artworks such as a Helaine Blumenfeld sculpture and an Antony Gormley work, along with pieces picked up on travels around the world. And this has also been the starting point of many of the pieces within Fu’s lifestyle brand, such as the blue interlocked Chinese chairs and the study desk, among others. “I actually drew them for myself and then we made it part of the collection.”