What led you to interior design? “I started because I moved away from home when I was really young and ended up in southern California. I had an apartment to furnish and no money. Back then, if you went to the Salvation Army, the junk shops, you could find some pretty cool things. And this was before anybody was into design at all, including me. I just thought it was kind of neat stuff, and cheap. And it grew into an interest in furniture.”

Tell us about the Copine table, which you took to the recent Singapore Indesign event. “Copine is inspired by my favourite typology of furniture – anonymously designed furniture for factory workers, hospitals, police stations, elementary schools; designed thoughtfully by somebody with direct personal knowledge of materials and means of construction, and a deep suspicion of applied decoration. It’s an approach to design that is largely forgotten.”

Designer Charles Allem on his VIP Hong Kong clients

How did the collaboration with Sheung Wan’s Yardbird restaurant come about? “Through a series of coincidences, Yardbird was the first restaurant we did here. They saw some furniture I designed and wanted to buy it and we got talking. Then they said, ‘Wait a minute, your office is right around the corner from this new restaurant we’re opening.’ So we agreed to meet and hit it off. The rest is history. We ended up doing more than just the furniture.”

Describe one of your favourite projects.“Asking about favourite projects is like asking about favourite children. Designing the public restrooms for the IFC was an interesting challenge. When we started the project, we thought we’d improve things by giving people more space, making it more comfortable. First thing they said to us was, ‘Are you out of your mind? We want those to be as small as possible, so we can get more in there, and people can use them more quickly.’

How Dutch designer Danny Fang moved to Hong Kong for adventure

“We misunderstood the market com­pletely. One cool thing we did with the rest­rooms was to have a big push plate that has light around it. So when the cubicle is free, it’s illuminated. You can immediately tell which ones are available. It’s very functional and it looks really cool.”

What’s the biggest challenge of working in Hong Kong? “Perhaps the uncontrolled rents and short leases. One can rarely safely invest in design for the long term or count on stability because in a couple of years the landlord will, almost without exception, jack the rent up to an unsustainable level. I predict that this is going to crush Hong Kong’s creativity if left unrestrained.”