Architect Andre Fu and his 'new language of hospitality interior design'

Andre Fu is trying to avoid being typecast in East-meets-West mould as he makes a name for himself around the world

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 5:29am

In his office, tucked away on Central's Duddell Street, Hong Kong-based architect André Fu is presenting drawings of his latest project, a "super-suite" to be opened soon in one of London's landmark hotels, The Berkeley.

When The Opus suite starts accepting guests, it will be one of the largest and most luxurious in the capital. Five hotel rooms and a suite overlooking Hyde Park were removed to make way for the new, 260 square metre, two-bedroom suite.

Size aside, it is being referred to in design circles as the new language of hospitality interior design.

"The project came out of nowhere," Fu said. "About two years ago I was about to leave the office when a man appeared at the door asking to see me. It transpired he was the owner of the Maybourne Hotel Group, who was visiting Hong Kong and staying at The Upper House in Admiralty. He liked what he saw of my interiors work there."

Despite his relatively young age (he is in his mid-30s), the softly spoken designer - who set up his own business, AFSO (Andre Fu StudiO) after graduating with a Masters in Architecture from Cambridge University in 2000 - has become the go-to person for modern hospitality design.

It helps that despite efforts to define him as one sort of a designer or another, he continues to deliver fresh new designs balanced with a reliably elegant sensibility.

"I don't know why people try to tie designers down to a particular style," said Fu, who employs about 20 staff.

"Some describe Upper House as an 'Asian' aesthetic, but for me it is just a space that is architecturally done, embellished with simple but lush details.

"They label the sense of balance and symmetry that perpetuates a sense of calm and comfort with my work, but to me this isn't a typology. I have tried especially to resist any attempts to typecast it as 'East-meets-West'."

"Maybourne were particularly interested in how my hospitality approach worked in the context of Asia and wanted me to translate the essence of such consideration and thoughtfulness to their London property.

"It was an intriguing proposition as the project was also a certain reflection of my own upbringing in England."

Those who have worked with Fu say his approach to design relies on a fascination with how people perceive and use spaces.

If there is to be a trademark "Fu style" it is a space that takes textures, lighting and movement as seriously as creating a perfectly composed collection of contemporary art.

"Hotels tend to go with art that aligns with the spaces in a room, but as my work evolves I'm looking for something that pushes the boundaries," said Fu.

It is never easy to reinvent a classic, but Fu says his newest designs seek to develop beyond what is currently on offer.

"Hotel suites in Europe usually fall within two umbrellas - a decadent and opulent classical style that is more about the space and not the person who stays in it, and an über-modern hi-tech style that is not very warm or personal in context. My intention visually is to keep things honest and unfussy, being neither overly fashionable nor too minimal."

He is, however, unafraid of a theatrical touch where appropriate - the suite features a large professional kitchen with a statement bespoke onyx countertop, while bathrooms have free-standing marble-clad island baths with lavish, sculptured, solid- stone headrests.

Fu says it is the creative freedom to consider the end experience in a holistic way that attracts him to a project.

"It is about creating the subtle details that read like a multilayered story, like hand-beaten brushed brass to give it a rustic quality or treating Turkish marble with a flame finish to give it a slight texture. Sometimes the results are subliminal, but they are an important contribution to the overall sensibility."

Although hotel designs feature strongly on his projects list, AFSO's work spans a wide range, including in Hong Kong leading art galleries Galerie Perrotin and Ben Brown, Lane Crawford Shoe Library, a bespoke design rug collection with Tai Ping Carpets and the private home on The Peak of actress Michelle Yeoh.

On the international stage, he was responsible for Singapore's Fullerton Bay Hotel, Piacere Italian restaurant and Nadaman Japanese restaurant at the Shangri-la Tokyo, and Capella Singapore's Cassia Restaurant.

More recently the designer completed the IST TOO restaurant at the Shangri-La Bosphorus in Istanbul - a dramatic 230-seat space inspired by steam-age glamour, and I by Inagiku Japanese restaurant at the W Hotel in Guangzhou, which he describes as "a dreamscape of the mythical Kabuki memoire".

Fu is especially excited about another project to open this year in London - the Gong Bar on the 52nd floor of the Shangri-La in The Shard, with jaw-dropping views.

"In many ways it is the complete reverse of my suite design at The Berkeley. We've introduced stronger Chinese elements but with a very modern sensibility like cinnabar red lacquer panels with a wall of Chinese cabinets made of galvanised steel.

"Unlike a hotel room, which should be more about the guest, a bar can be more of a showpiece and challenge the norms in a different direction."