Hong Kong interior design

Hong Kong architect launches city's first international furniture fair

Winnie Yue hopes three-day event will give the public a greater appreciation of good design

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 August, 2015, 12:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 August, 2015, 10:53am

Architect Winnie Yue understands better than most what Steve Jobs meant by the phrase "Stay hungry, stay foolish." Having single-handedly organised Hong Kong's first international furniture fair, starting next week, she is fully aware that persistence pays.

Wanting to bring to Hong Kong many of the brands that exhibit at Salone del Mobile, the world's premier design fair, Yue thought she could just turn up in Milan and deliver her pitch to furniture companies. Because she hadn't followed the protocol of making appointments well ahead, no one had time for her. Only after winning over the brands' agents in Hong Kong was she able to reach key people in the Italian city.

"I had to sell Hong Kong to them and explain how International Design Furniture Fair Hong Kong would be better than the fairs in Singapore and Shanghai," she says, adding that neither is up to standard. "Singapore doesn't have many big names, while Shanghai doesn't have the software in place yet; nor does it have big brands."

The three-day event, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, will showcase the latest designs of more than 40 top brands. It promises to be special for another reason, she says. Unlike fairs such as France's Maison & Objet, which now has a chapter in Singapore, and Italy's Casa Moderna, the Hong Kong event will be geared towards consumers.

Anyone with an interest in design will be able to view the latest offerings from the likes of Baccarat, Lalique and Zaha Hadid Collections, as well as home-grown brands such as Tang Tang Tang Tang. The "Silkroad" furniture line from design veteran Alan Chan Yau-kin will also make its Asian debut at the fair.

Tickets for the fair cost HK$190 per day.

"I've had the idea of doing a furniture show for decades," Yue says. "When I went to my first Maison d'Objet 20 years ago I knew people in Hong Kong would love to be immersed in the experience of seeing good design."

Travel and the internet, she adds, have afforded the general public a greater awareness of international design. She hopes the fair will grow in the same way ArtHK has evolved into Art Basel, reflecting Hongkongers' increased appreciation for art.

At the most recent edition of the art fair here, in March, Yue remembers being struck by the number of visitors who turned out simply to enjoy the works on display and to soak up the atmosphere - not necessarily to add to their collections.

Hong Kong-born and raised, Yue graduated in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley, and practised in the US for two years before returning to Hong Kong.

In the early 1990s, she opened a furniture shop in Lan Kwai Fong, selling handcrafted pieces from New York. Rising rents, however, forced her to decamp to a less pricey location: she was one of the first retailers to find a base in Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau; the industrial feel of the space appealed to her. "[The building] had high ceilings and I would put furniture on raw concrete, which was very new at the time," she says. "The contrast gave people a surprise."

Architecture, however, pulled her back: she closed her shop in Horizon Plaza and focused on private projects, including The Hamptons, a luxury residential development in Kowloon Tong completed in 2006.

But the dream of bringing a furniture and accessories fair to Hong Kong never left her; similarly, she hoped to raise the city's level of appreciation of design.

While the designs of many of the world's biggest names will be at the fair, Yue hopes visitors will not judge pieces solely by their prices, but understand the backstory of how they were designed and made, what challenges were overcome, and how decisions were made on proportions and materials.

"I hope the fair changes the way people see things, and so the onus is on the exhibitors to share more information with the public," she says.

Visitors will also have the chance to hear from several designers.

As part of the speakers series, Andre Fu, founder of design studio AFSO, will explain his ideas on "relaxed luxury"; Fred Clarke, founder and principal of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, will discuss "art and architecture at city scale"; and former Porsche chief designer Pinky Lai Ping will recount his experiences working for the German sports car company.

Getting the designers to step up and speak was easy, she says. "They were only a phone call or email away."

These speakers will bring something else to the fair. With special guests, they will be touring the floor and voting on the best-looking booths, which will be awarded prizes during the opening ceremony. Not surprisingly, Yue says, exhibitors are investing time and money to decorate their booths.

She adds that the fair is an excellent opportunity for local architects and designers to see what their peers are doing.

"Only top designers will have the opportunity to go to trade fairs in places like Milan and Paris," she says. "Many don't have the money or time to go, but it's important to be in touch with what is out there."

Key exhibitors to watch for are Poltrona Frau, best known for its handcrafted leather furniture, including Bottega Veneta's lines; and Cassina, which will present a Le Corbusier collection, including his famous LC4 chaise longue and LC2 armchairs.

Baccarat and Lalique have both expanded their lines with products for everyday use, with the latter having recently collaborated with artist Damien Hirst to create a butterfly-themed home collection. "Luxury is not about its monetary value but the quality of design - it could be something inexpensive," Yue says. "When people realise [something is] a luxury then they free themselves from the price; they see beyond the price and look at the aesthetic value."

Yue hopes the fair puts Hong Kong on the world's design map. "We are an international metropolis," she says. "I told the exhibitors that they had to make it here first, and then China."

IDFFHK, Aug 21-23, HKCEC.