One of the latest additions to the Sheung Wan end of Wellington Street is Living in Style, a furniture, lighting and home accessories shop with a focus on tropical wood. The store has a gallery-like interior of white walls and bright lights. Carver Lai, the founder, is an interior designer. Music, fast cars and design, he says, are his passions.
What inspires your furniture design? "I travel a lot in Asia. Being part-Thai, part-Chinese, I notice the differences in the way the two cultures live. Chinese homes are first and foremost functional, whereas in Thailand the homes are also about relaxation. I spend my time defining which parts of each culture can add a positive influence to my designs."
How did Living in Style come into being? "Four years ago I decided it was time to turn my passion into a business and opened our flagship store in Tuen Mun. We opened the branch [in Wellington Street] in June and intend to open other branches across Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland. I'm in charge of developing the collections and the design. I sometimes work with other designers; in which case I adapt pieces so they are suitable for Hong Kong."
Tell us about your designs "Our furniture is unique: my favourite piece is a large acacia wooden table [HK$86,000] made out of three very large slabs of tree that we simply bolted together to emphasise its natural beauty. We use the gifts of mother nature. Tropical wood [from Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia] is our prime material. Try and lift this sofa [below right, with Lai seated on it; HK$61,800]. It's made from teak. The seat is upholstered in leather. The bar table [below left; HK$38,800] is an introduction to our Cyber collection. This piece emphasises all the colours within the same type of wood. We also make lighting. I am particularly fond of the driftwood chandelier [HK$38,850]. The tripod lamp [above right; HK$16,800], made from ash wood and cast iron, comes from Spain. The ash wood cover is flexible and allows you to play with the light."
What's so special about wood? "I believe natural materials have an identity. There is much you can tell about our furniture from the timber growth lines, surfaces and aromas. [The pieces] are long lasting, age beautifully and can be passed on to the next generation. Wood is alive, changes colour and sometimes cracks. I embrace these signs of life and individuality. Sometimes people don't like this so I send them to Ikea."
What's coming up next? "I'm launching my Cyber collection, which boasts edgy patterns contrasted with natural materials. I'm also working on a range of lamps."
Living in Style (174 Wellington Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2815 5515) is open from noon to 8pm every day.