A taxi ride past a furniture store in Paris on a rainy day a few years ago changed the course of Mike Chu's business. He was in the French capital looking for furniture to decorate his home in Hong Kong when he spotted some sofas in the window of a shop. What he saw, he recalls, was 'exactly what I had been looking for, something that would fit in as well with a modern apartment as a Parisian home. 'I bought tonnes of it and had it shipped back to Hong Kong. 'It was a cumbersome process, but all my friends loved the furniture when it arrived,' he said. Since then, the former advertising man has become the agent in Hong Kong for the furniture line he fell in love with at first sight - the prestige French label, Hughes Chevalier. Mr Chu has also set up the territory's only major source of European designer-oriented furniture, with names that are to interiors what Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino are to high fashion. In Nu Concepts, his spacious and ultra-cool emporium in Ruttonjee Centre, design icons like Ron Arad, Michael Graves, Andree Putman, and Mario Bellini showcase their sleek, architectural wares. In a setting that is a synthesis of hi-tech minimalism and homely comfort, Mr Chu has combined the various disciplines of a 60-strong stable of internationally renowned designers into one, cohesive look. 'I didn't want anything pretentious or imposing. Just a place people could walk through, like a big modern home. But I guess it's a very niche market,' he said, casting his eye over pieces that included simply structured, cloth-covered dining chairs - given a twist with the addition of a steel handle on the back ('They add so much to the chair') or the long and low, wood-edged Hughes Chevalier sofa. 'There has always been a big gap between Ikea and those glitzy, over-the-top furniture shops. I wanted to fill it.' In so doing, Mr Chu is aware only a fraction of the Hong Kong population has either the budget or taste level to acquire his top designer-name furnishings. But not all of his stock, which he personally sources from the world's style hot-spots, is geared to just the impossibly rich and trendy: He sold 50 egg-shaped foot-rests, priced at $3,000 each, during the Easter holidays, and does equally well with the $700 Philippe Starck-designed molar-shaped plastic children's chairs. 'At least 80 per cent of our stock is bought to fit nicely into a 1,000-square-foot Hong Kong flat,' he said. Modern elements now underscore furniture as much as fashion; this is the way minimalist specialist Jil Sander would probably live. In some quarters of the local consumer landscape, however, the less-is-more principle has yet to take root. 'A lot of people still go for ornate, flamboyant pieces that look more expensive than they are.' But others are more interested 'in the intrinsic value of a piece of furniture'. Mr Chu has honed his own affinity with linear, sleek furniture throughout his 20-year career in advertising. In 1995 he left The Ball Partnership, at the time one of the territory's largest ad agencies, to dedicate himself full-time to his love of all things design-related. 'When I got my first decent pay cheque, I didn't buy clothes or a hi-fi. I bought a Corbusier armchair.' Mr Chu, who studied architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, said: 'I've always had a great affinity for nicely designed buildings and objects. I have more books on architecture than on advertising.' In 1994, he decided to properly indulge his love of design by setting up a furniture showroom in a moderately sized but nondescript office. Even then, he won over major Italian names like Cassina - one of the most prestigious furniture labels in the world - to grant Nu Concepts an agreement for exclusive distribution. 'We were shortlisted with another two companies. I was surprised they picked us because we were the youngest.' That coup provided what Mr Chu describes as 'the turning point' for his design business. Other brands began knocking on his door and before long, he had acquired the design world's most sought-after names. At that stage, he decided to open his 5,500-square-foot temple of modern interiors. 'Having this store is so much fun, even if it requires dealing with creative people and sensitive egos. 'I had years to think about what I would do if I eventually had a place like this, and I decided to stick to clean and modern. I basically go for the things I like because I realise I can't sell something I don't like,' he said. Quality and simple forms are important elements in a modern interior environment; one of Mr Chu's favourite design inspirations is the Hotel Montalembert on Paris' chic Left Bank, owned by former Hong Kong resident Grace Leo-Andrieu. The designer of that project, Christian Liaigre, is also a supplier to Mr Chu's store. 'I began noticing five years ago how people were spending more time at home. Until then, they only spent a fraction on their homes of what they spent on fashion.' His retail focus is also on furniture that is designed to last 20 years - like the Corbusier and Hughes Chevalier pieces that are sturdy without being bulky. And then there is the Ron Arad limited edition furniture that can sell for up to $190,000. 'But that is not furniture,' Mr Chu said. 'That is art.'