Belgium's best interior designers coming to Hong Kong

Pioneer in use of recycled materials, a designer of the year and a well-known Italian innovator will be among the featured speakers at event

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 3:43am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 3:43am

The work of Belgium's best interior designers and architects will be on display in Hong Kong next month as part of the Business of Design Week, an annual industry event organised by the Hong Kong Design Centre.

Designers who will speak at the forum include Charles Kaisin, a pioneer in the use of recycled materials; Xavier Lust, a furniture designer; and Alain Gilles, Belgium's 2012 Designer of the Year.

Italian designer Stefano Giovannoni will be among the non-Belgian designers speaking.

Belgium is well-known for its avant-garde fashion - a style once considered edgy, now globally influential. In recent years, though, the buzz on Belgium has centred on interior design.

"Belgian design is sweeping the nation", announced one American design blog this year. From the United Kingdom: "There is something about Belgian interiors that is just right - it takes the best of modern style, including minimalism and pared-back lines, and mixes it with down-to-earth linen textures and soft-coloured décor."

While recycled materials might be well-embraced in design now, in the beginning, says Kaisin, they were considered "more like a piece of art - surprising, astonishing" - but having no relevance to everyday life.

Now, 15 years after Kaisin began experimenting with his recycling concept, the green message is no longer a hard sell. Recycling "fits" in a home interior, he says, because it adds both beauty and feel-good factors.

"Money spent on something sustainable or recycled reduces the guilt of spending too much or adding too much stuff to what people already have," Kaisin says.

Xavier Lust has perfected a technique enabling steel to be folded and curved without using a mould.

His work is clearly identifiable through the visible tension he gives to his objects, and the curves inspired by his innovative (de)formation of metallic surfaces.

Lust says the industrial world should have a more responsible attitude and promote materials that are good for our planet "instead of being fixed on the lure of gain".

Alain Gilles came to design after leaving the world of international finance. Since establishing his own studio in 2007, Gilles has won numerous awards.

His designs, according to the jury for the designer of the year award, are "solid and relevant", while at the same time, "they show a poetic side".

The designer explains: "I always try to find a way to make a product a good product - for example, if I design a table, it will be architectural and artistic, but still work as a table and is not a gallery piece."

The welded table Gilles designed for Bonaldo was the winner of the Red Dot Award's Best of the Best 2013. The legs, which distinguish the table and give it an almost architectural appeal, are made of laser-cut sheet steel, welded together.

The rectangular top can be either in wood, glass or matt-white Carrara marble.

Stefano Giovannoni has designed for many of the world's best-known brands, Alessi, Fiat, Toto, Samsung and 3M among them. He is now focusing on China and has partnerships in Beijing and Shenzhen. He plans to open branch studios in Shosan and Shanghai.

Design is all about communication, he says.

Designers, he says, "need to have long antennas", to be able to understand people's needs and desires, then add imagination.

Giovannoni "refuses any ideological approach to the job", putting himself in the end user's shoes and considering what the person would think.

During his talkin Hong Kong, he will aim to explain how his approach to design has changed according to developments in society in the past 25 years.

Asked to pinpoint his favourite designs, Giovannoni cites his home, describing it as a manifesown to of his way of thinking about the interior and furniture.

"My house is a hybrid of products coming from different historical periods and cultures," he says.

"I have objects from India, from China and a big table from the Philippines - a piece weighing 500kg, made from one piece of wood. I have a 500-year-old painting and objects from the '60s.

"All these elements create a context that communicates a positive feeling."

Giovannoni feels that the choice of an interior scheme tells much about one's identity. There is no formula for "getting it right", he says. "It is like a recipe for a chef: you wouldn't say this ingredient is better than another, because it depends on the dishes you want to prepare."


Emotion, sustainability make for award-winning design

Business of Design Week guest speaker Christine Conix, a Belgian architect and CEO, CONIX RDBM Architects, is a frequent jury member for architectural competitions. We asked what elements make for an award-winning design.

Says Conix: "I like to look at design as if it were something I would design myself. All of our (firm's) architectural concepts have the ambition to provide an added value, which I call 'emotion'." How design affects society and know-how, and whether it is sustainable and in context, are important factors.

"If a design concept provides an answer to those parameters and succeeds in evoking some sort of emotion, I may say that type of design 'works'."

Why is design so important? On the one hand, says Conix, it can make life better. "Design has to contribute to a sustainable life, ensuring an optimal living environment for current and future generations. The aesthetic aspect, on the other hand, brings joy … it evokes feelings of happiness."

Interior design can enrich lifestyle in the same way iconic architecture does, Conix adds. "I believe that the outward appearance of the design has to reflect not only its surroundings, but also its content. One can't separate interior and exterior spaces.

"Functionality is essential, but it should simultaneously evoke feelings of surprise and tranquillity."