What inspired you to study menswear tailoring in New York after completing an architecture degree at Canada's University of Waterloo? "I'd always wanted to study fashion but my family, being Chinese, said that was something I could do after finishing my architecture [studies]. I enjoy fashion design, but soon realised I couldn't make a career of it - it took me four months to finish one jacket! But there are synergies: tailoring, as in architecture, is all about structure. Whatever you put in, is how it will turn out."
Do you have a favourite design sector? "I find food and beverage projects most interesting, as they involve everything from [creating] the physical design of the building to the cutlery and even the menu. You're not designing for a single person - like you are with a residence or yacht - but, in a sense, a space for the public. Working with partner factories, I can also custom-make one-of-a-kind furniture, even in small quantities, to create a holistic experience for the customers."
Tell us about your big break … "Even though I'd been designing beautiful restaurants such as Mrs Pound, in Sheung Wan, and Chateh, in Tsim Sha Tsui, I was a nobody, working from home. I was one of two designers invited to compete for the redesign of the McDonald's Shenzhen flagship outlet, and I won. This gave me the funds to run a small boutique business. We opened NC Design & Architecture in Sheung Wan in March last year, and have about seven staff now."
You've described winning the McDonald's commission to redesign its outlets in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa as life-changing - how so? "One-off projects are interesting, and they have helped to market our studio, but they are not profitable. The only thing that makes money is repeating a design, or charging $1 million for a one-off design. My relationship with McDonald's is year-by-year, though: if I do well, I'll be in; if I don't, I'll be out."
In 2009, you were involved in the Steelworks Lofts conversion in New York. Could Hong Kong's old factories and warehouses be used in a similar way? "I was living in New York, studying fashion design, when AvroKO, the famous New York interior design firm, asked me to work on the condominiums being created within a former 1930s steelworks in Brooklyn. Factory conversions are a nice way to add layers to the urban fabric: they form part of the neighbourhood, and keep people's memories alive.
"It's better to keep an old building than to build a new one - there is too much erasing of the past in Hong Kong. I would love to see [warehouse] conversions made legal here, and I would personally love to live in one: they have higher ceilings, more light, and it's less wasteful."
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