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Designer thrives on low-key decor

Award-winning interior designer Andre Fu does not believe in leaving his mark on his projects, preferring to let his understated style do the talking

While accolade-laden Hong Kong interior designer Andre Fu has become a go-to name for luxury hotel and restaurant projects, it is hard to pin down his style.

His interiors, whether they are for five-star hotels or high-end shops, bank on an unflashy blend of quality materials, pleasingly symmetrical compositions and flowing spaces.

For example, The Upper House hotel in Hong Kong, which he did in 2009 and became a calling card, showcases his understated aesthetic: Situated on the top 11 floors of one of the towers at the Pacific Place complex, the hotel's lobby, stairs and lift have clean lines and the use of bamboo and lacquered panels creates an oasis of calm in the heart of Hong Kong's central business district.

In Singapore, he designed The Clifford Pier restaurant in The Fullerton Bay Hotel and that same spirit of elegance is used to create an Old Singapore atmosphere.

To allow the space to breathe, he removed the columns so that the restaurant, with its high 11m ceiling with crisscrossing arches, could open out to a view of the Marina Bay.

  • Five projects by Andre Fu

  • 1 THE OPUS SUITE AT THE BERKELEY, LONDON

    Completed in 2013, Fu's first European project - the Opus Suite at the five-star luxury hotel in Knightsbridge - takes luxury to the next level. The 3,250 sq ft space was formerly divided into five hotel rooms and a suite. Now they are all combined into a single unit, with a living room, kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

    While the palette of beige, slate and honey is neutral, the materials and furniture are opulent. The dressing room is furnished with bamboo, while the 300 sq ft master bathroom is covered in solid marble.


    2 THE CLIFFORD PIER, SINGAPORE

    This restaurant in The Fullerton Bay Hotel used to be contemporary Chinese restaurant One On The Bund.

    When Fu was hired to turn the space into an eatery serving upmarket Singaporean fare, he decided to create an elegant, open-concept space with an Old Singapore setting.

    He removed the partitions to create a column-free zone. Coupled with the 11m-high ceiling, the restaurant feels spacious and opens out to a view of the Marina Bay.

    His design also pays homage to the area's history. Built in 1933, the pier was the entry point for immigrants before World War II. Later, it was used as a terminal for small boats that plied Singapore's Southern Islands until 2006.

    He looked for original maps and pictures of the pier and mounted them on silk wall panelling.


    3 THE UPPER HOUSE, HONG KONG

    Located on the top 11 floors of one of the towers in Pacific Place, a premier mixed-use development, Fu got the job to design this five-star hotel when he was just 30. He finished it in 2009 and it has become one of his famous creations.

    The 117 guest rooms, which begin on the 38th floor, have oak and ash floors and appear spacious, thanks to large windows that open out to stunning views of Hong Kong.

    Some of the furnishings are made of bamboo as well as limestone, shoji glass and lacquered paper.

    At Level 49, a cantilevered walkway links the Sky Lounge with the Cafe Grey Deluxe restaurant. Above it, the ceiling is lined with timber poles, inspired by the structure of wood-and-paper umbrellas.

    PHOTO: AFSO


    4 L'APPARTEMENT FOR LOUIS VUITTON, HONG KONG

    The French luxury atelier collaborated with Fu to turn a 3,500 sq ft private members' club into a pop-up apartment which the fashion house used to host VIP guests for six weeks in 2014.

    Dark woods and pristine white were the canvas for the hints of tangerine orange, mineral blue and olive green from the furniture, artworks and plants.

    All the furniture and accessories, such as the rug and lights, were bespoke.

    To evoke the brand's presence, there were two small, monogrammed trunks in the living room.


    5 ANDRE FU LIVING

    Fu has branched out into homeware accessories and scents.

    Last year, he launched Andre Fu Living with Fargesia, a unisex fragrance he created with Argentinian perfumer Julian Bedel. Fargesia is a genus of Asian bamboo in the grass family.

    At design trade fair Maison& Objet Asia, he launched Skyliner, a bathroom accessory line with two-year-old American luxury bath brand Cooper & Graham.

The 41-year-old bachelor has also worked with some of the biggest names in the hospitality business, such as the Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo, the Waldorf Astoria in Bangkok and The Berkeley in London. He has collaborated with retail stores such as Swedish brand Cos - the sister label of H&M - and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton.

For his low-key style, he has received many accolades. Last October, design and lifestyle magazine Wallpaper* called him one of 20 top interior designers who know how to create "sublime spaces".

Earlier this week, he was in Singapore as Designer of the Year at this year's Maison&Objet Asia, the regional edition of the Parisian design trade show. It was held over four days at the Sands Expo And Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands and ended yesterday.

His next project in Singapore is fitting out Andaz Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel that is part of the upcoming Duo mixed-used development near Bugis that is slated to be completed next year. He did not divulge details and would say only that the hotel would reflect "the essence of the neighbourhood".

In an interview with The Straits Times at Maison&Objet Asia, he says he does not think of leaving a personal stamp to his creations. His approach is simply to make the spaces he designs feel "like home".

Sounds easy, but the sense of calm is achieved with an extraordinary attention to detail.

Fu chooses his fixtures and furniture pieces carefully, often custom- making them. He is a fan of luxurious materials such as marble and oak wood, which are combined to project maximum calmness and comfort.

Like his interiors, the designer is very measured in person. He takes long pauses to choose his words and speaks in a clipped British accent, a remnant of his boarding- school days in Britain, where he studied since he was 14.

He says his style, in a way, reflects how the luxury market has changed. He compares the shift to "relaxed luxury" in decor with the evolution of fine-dining.

"Historically, people associate fine-dining with a formal setting, many courses and elaborate plating. But these days, they don't mind paying a premium for a well-cooked meal using good produce, but not necessarily in a posh setting."

Perhaps the greatest compliment he has received is that people who have stayed or dined at the places he has designed come looking to buy the furniture he has designed.

This is partly why he recently launched his homeware accessories range, Andre Fu Living, whose products range from scents to carpets and reflect his design ethos (see other story).

The third and youngest child of a lawyer and a housewife in Hong Kong, Fu first did a three-year bachelor of arts degree at Cambridge University, then took a year out to work. He returned to the university to do his master's in architecture. While studying, he was asked by a friend to work on a private residence.

It gave him the confidence to start his own design studio, Afso - short for Andre Fu StudiO - in 2000. He also graduated that year.

He returned to Asia in 2003 and worked in Shanghai for a year - a period he called "a fascinating time".

"That year was the beginning of Shanghai. It was the time Xintiandi was built and there was global interest in the city," he says, referring to the former old city area of Shanghai's French Quarter, which had been turned into a popular entertainment district.

A year later, he returned to Hong Kong and hired his first staff member. More than a decade on, the studio now has 20 people on the payroll.

In retrospect, Fu says his career's trajectory has been "organic".

"Perhaps, with the opportunities I've been given and the passion I've poured into these projects, one opportunity leads to another."

For example, he told the South China Morning Post in 2013 that he got the job to design the Opus Suite at The Berkeley in London, when its owner of the Maybourne Hotel Group came knocking at his office. The man was staying at The Upper House and loved the interiors.

"It's not that I've planned things to go a certain way or have a goal to achieve," Fu says.

"There are plenty of talented people who might not have the opportunities that I do.

"So I remind myself and my team that a lot of the things we work on are precious opportunities - we have to embrace them and make the most of them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Pier pleasure'. Print Edition | Subscribe