Whether it’s a home, a restaurant or an office, interior designer Ketty Shan understands that a serene environment can make all the difference to mood and motivation. She talks to us about composition, entrepreneurship and functionality.
Ketty Shan on Design and Functionality
When walking into a space, there’s sometimes a feeling that’s particularly charming, a little je ne sais quoi of pleasure sparked, perhaps, by a stylish blend and arrangement of architecture and furniture. It was exactly what our team experienced when entering the workplace of interior designer Ketty Shan.
“I wanted the space to feel homey, collaborative and inviting,” says Shan. “It’s all about mixing and matching. I’m always looking for vintage or hand-made items, such as rattan chairs or cushions, to complement the industrial style.”
With its sky-high ceilings and an open-plan concept, with lush greenery and birds chirping on the terrace, the Chai Wan space feels more like a gorgeous, rustic bungalow on some idyllic South Pacific island than a place of work. The corner office space, which boasts a paraphernalia of tiles and textures from previous design projects, feels alive and busy, tumultuous with memories of conception and creation from past projects.
“My parents often remind me that since I was young I was very much into creating and making my own ideal space, physically or even digitally. I always sketched with spontaneity and through basic intuition,” says the French-Tahitian designer. “Rather than boiling it down to having a ‘good eye’, I would say I’ve always cared a lot about the small details: materials, proportions, colours, texture, arrangements, and even sound and smell.
“I begin every project with a process of discovery: getting to know the client – or, if it’s a commercial project, the brand – and finding value in what already exists. Factors like the view, natural light, facade, building history and neighbourhood all play a part in my evaluation. I believe every space has great potential, and my role is to uncover it and bring the best aspects forward. From there, I visualise what materials would best suit, and think of how that space can create a sense of belonging.
“Placing the end-user at the centre of my designs is key. Interiors reach their highest level of beauty when people feel at home in them and sense that the design process has been respectful. No matter the programme of the project – commercial or residential – I feel accountable for delivering a functional, yet aesthetically powerful experience.”
If you’ve been to Soho House Hong Kong, Maison Kayser in Wong Chuk Hang or even Sauce Barbershop on Elgin, you’ve been looking at Shan’s work, even if you didn’t realise it. An engineering and architecture graduate of France’s l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture and l’Institute National des Sciences Appliquées, Shan first worked on large-scale architectural projects before shifting to interior design. She made a name as a design manager for a property developer in Kuala Lumpur and, more recently, as Soho House’s principal architect. In 2020, she founded her own design studio, Atelier Shan, to focus on interior projects in Hong Kong and private villas in Tahiti.
“I believe every space has great potential, and my role is to uncover it and bring the best aspects forward”Ketty Shan
“The origin of Atelier Shan was the realisation that the architectural industry needs a different approach. In the corporate field, there are so few opportunities for women to be promoted to high, leading positions. Creative people need to be inspired and have a rhythm that can’t be dictated by office hours. We need freedom, experience and breathing space. As a result, I decided to open my own practice.”
Unable to speak Cantonese or Mandarin, she initially found starting up challenging. It took her almost eight months to get a good flow and a solid core team. “The best part of what I do is the chance to meet inspiring people from all walks of life. People who either want to start or expand their own businesses or people who understand the importance of wellbeing and want a fresh start in their homes. I always feel absolutely honoured to be part of their journey and contribute in the best way possible. We take design decisions together from the large scale to the finest level of detail, and I always value the result of this collaboration.
“The flexibility and eventful nature of my day-to-day job makes every week interesting. I avoid repetition as much as possible and enjoy the fast design and construction pace required by Hong Kong real-estate costs. During my downtime, I’m then able to dedicate more time to getting inspiration from the city itself or attending cultural events, which is fundamental for a creative mind.”
As a passion project at the start of the pandemic, Shan founded Peerie Tea, a small-scale tea-distribution business importing produce from small cross-generational farms in Yunnan, Assam and Taiwan. Although she doesn’t describe herself as a serial entrepreneur, Shan certainly has the markings of one.
“My life motto is that if it brings you joy, do it; if it doesn’t, don’t do it. I live life the way I want and without regrets. More importantly, be patient and consistent – the entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster, stretched between the highest and lowest peaks you can imagine. Not everything is going to happen in one day, but if you do things right, people will remember your abilities for years to come and will reconnect as soon as there’s an opportunity.
“Lastly, surround yourself with good people. In life, and especially as an entrepreneur, you need real friends who will be supportive and genuinely care about you.” “I believe every space has great potential, and my role is to uncover it and bring the best aspects forward.”
PHOTOGRAPHY ALISON KWAN