Design firms blur boundaries between professional spaces and private lives

Innovative design firms pride themselves on blurring the traditional boundaries between professional spaces and private lives

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 3:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 3:25am

At Roland and David's place, a custom-designed table in turquoise onyx and polished copper commands centre stage in the living zone. Italian artists were commissioned to create a long, flowing mural connecting the spaces. Vintage artwork hangs; curios are displayed.

It's a sophisticated space with an inviting, homey feeling. But this is not the home of either of the long-time colleagues - it is their place of business. It's also one of Hong Kong's newest examples of residential design influences crossing into corporate and commercial space.

Hairdressers Roland Boutin and David Gouygou had grand ideas when they teamed up to open their own salon: they didn't want it to look like a salon. They envisaged a setting that would feel like home to their clients, notwithstanding the highly demanding physical conditions that any hair and beauty establishment requires.

One Space design studio was up for the challenge, but the firm did more than just borrow ideas from residential design.

They wanted to recapture an era of cordiality and softness in the home environment. A sumptuous Parisian appartement setting, reminiscent of the grand salons of the 1930s and '40s, seemed perfect. This would be reinterpreted into a modern architectural language, as the backdrop for the owners' period-piece antiques, lamps, artworks and furniture. Thus was BruneBlonde at the Grand Hyatt born.

First impressions count, so as customers walk in they see not rows of product but a modern interpretation of traditional boiserie (crafted timber wall panelling) in anthracite and white, and an artisan-crafted feature wall of polished black Venetian plaster. The centrepiece is a table designed by the architects in turquoise onyx and polished copper. Says Greg Pearce, One Space's managing director: "It's the first thing you see when you walk in the door, so this one piece holds sway over all else in the room. We didn't want the entry to smack of retail, but to feel like a relaxing home living room."

In the women's styling area, that meant white leather chairs, custom-designed lighting and white Corian countertops.

The men's styling area was designed to suggest the nuances of a "gentleman's library". Here the owners' own artworks, collectibles and curios, all of a masculine theme, are displayed. These spaces are linked by an eight-metre-long wall of hand-crafted copper, sculpted in three dimensions to emphasise its mass, and on the opposite wall, a flowing, line-drawing-style mural by Italian artists Vittorio Locatelli and Carlo Ninchi.

Another One Space project, the Swiss private bank Julius Baer, also touched on this concept. "The chief executive wanted a bank that didn't look like a bank," Pearce says.

The result is a cosy space with wooden floors, warm lighting and custom-made furniture, including flexible sofas that can be moved around.

Workplace design specialist M Moser Associates has also noted a subtle trend away from the traditional home/work demarcation lines as the boundaries between professional and private lives blur. Says designer Ziggy Bautista: "Some clients are sophisticated enough to realise they need to do something different to attract clients."

Societe Generale Private Bank in Hong Kong is one. The design brief, to give clients a sense of ownership of the space, took on a life of its own.

M Moser's plan incorporated six private meeting rooms, each themed as a different wine region of France, to reflect the bank's historical origins and prestige. Clients soon "claimed" these Bordeaux, Loire and Champagne rooms and so on, each decorated like a home den with furnishings, rugs, ornamentation and even piped music reminiscent of the particular valley, as their personal place in the city.

"These rooms are hidden," says Bautista. "If you weren't invited, you wouldn't know they exist." It's a great opportunity for design crossover, he adds.

"The effect these rooms are designed to have is to give their users the impression of exclusivity and privilege. They're not in a space that everybody knows about and anybody can use - very much like one's own home. It's personal and private.

"From a design point of view, you're creating something more personal than the typical corporate setting. It means engaging more closely with the client and getting to know the company better so you can humanise it. You're giving it an approachable character through these warm, familiar design touches."

Another M Moser project, Hudson Rouge, a luxury-focused advertising and branding agency in New York, encapsulates a laid-back vibe inspired by the Friends TV series. Says Bautista: "The client wanted a very informal space - one that felt like the staff's own home. We chose designer furniture from lesser-known but evocative brands, and introduced a lot of details to the space, from selection of the picture frames to a throw on a chair. We included bicycle parking and a full meal preparation area. So the office becomes a kitchen away from home, a garage away from home, a living room away from home."

For the Singapore office of Vietnam holding company Masan Group, M Moser proposed a design reminiscent of a "modernistic gentleman's apartment" for its first international step-out. On entry, a shimmering water feature inset with floating stones magnifies the space, and beyond, transparent spaces finished in a palette of neutral wood, stone and glass are designed to alternate as either offices or a place to relax, or host an event.

"If you look at it one way, it has everything you would expect from a corporate office: a reception area, meeting room, desks, etc. But in detail - the furniture, the surface materials, and even the relatively cosy size of its individual spaces - it's a space that's more like a private club or a contemporary home," Bautista says.