How would you describe openUU’s aesthetic? Caroline Chou Chih-i: “From the beginning we’ve done an industrial-chic, minimal look. It’s what’s trendy right now – to be clean and modern.”
Is interdisciplinary design the new norm? Kevin Lim Chin-kwok: “For a brand to have a consistent identity, it becomes important to have one language from start to finish, whereas before it was standard practice to hire multiple consultants for different elements. Sometimes there’s a lack of communication between parties, so these elements might look nice individually but when you look at them as a whole they might not be coherent. We don’t believe in breaking these elements apart. At Mean Noodles [which specialises in Malaysian hawker dishes], you can see the different components come together.”
You designed Japanese handbag brand Ril Creed’s flagship store in Hong Kong. What was the brief? Chou: “Ril Creed wanted the space to be flexible. That’s why we have three kinds of display wall. The brand has all these ideas of doing collaborations with entrepreneurs, and events such as yoga, so all the display shelves are on wheels and light enough to be moved.”
Tell us about your lighting collection. Chou: “Lighting is always the last thing on people’s minds. When clients choose lighting, it’s always with only three weeks left for the project to finish.”
Lim: “It’s also the first thing clients tend to cut [to bring down costs]. Yes, lighting is often expensive, but it’s important because it really does set the mood of the whole space. You can get the best metal finish you can find but if you don’t have good lighting, the quality isn’t going to show. So we tried to bridge the gap with an affordable lighting solution that still has a nice design.”
What’s next for openUU? Lim: “OpenUU’s [the UU comes from an earlier name of the company, Umami Utilities] direction will be more of a restaurant consultancy because we understand a restaurant inside and out. Most restaurant consultants know the equipment well but don’t know how a kitchen works or how somebody would use the kitchen.
“An example is putting the fridge right next to the stove. It’s convenient but are you being efficient with the area if one piece of equipment is cold and the other is hot? Kitchen consultants make these mistakes, and if the client doesn’t understand how the kitchen operates either, they are just going to sign off on it.”