Steve Leung’s motto of “Enjoy Life, Enjoy Design” may be a simple one, but it is one that has won him global recognition. After his early beginnings vetting plans as a building surveyor under the Hong Kong government and then wearing multiple hats at a property developer’s firm, the Hong Kong-born architect went solo at age 30 in 1987, and soared.
Today, his Steve Leung Design (SLD) Group is listed on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and boasts 13 brands that span architecture, interiors and product design, and interior decorating and furnishing. It has been recognised as the World’s No.1 Residential Design Firm by Interior Design magazine in its Top 100 Giants ranking four times from 2016 to 2020, and won over 210 international design and corporate awards. While its dual headquarters are in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with branch offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, the group has completed projects across 100 cities worldwide, including Singapore’s The Orchard Residences.
Yet, the man who founded a corporation that employs over 500 and earned himself the “starchitect” namesake would only describe his signature style as “simple, elegant and functional”. Leung elaborates: “My design reflects my own way of living, which is simple yet refined, practical yet with an artistic sensibility. Many people would describe my style as minimalist, though I believe I employ the creativity to explore different styles and to design without constraints. A contemporary aesthetic and clean lines, with subtle Asian touches and details hinting to my Asian roots add sophistication to my work.”
In the following pages, the educator and industry advisor shares his inspirations, vision and trend forecasts.
Drawing on Chinese philosophy
“The essence of traditional Chinese philosophy and principles tie in with my design thinking and approach. I believe that good design is human-centred (以人为本) – it seeks a perfect balance between aesthetics and functionality to serve people in the best way possible. Harmony between human and nature (天人合一) is another key element that exemplifies my holistic approach through the generous employment of natural materials and full-length doors and windows to bring the natural landscape into the interiors. My designs are also characterised by what in ancient Chinese philosophy is described as ‘The Golden Mean’ (中庸之道), which can be roughly translated as ‘beauty of moderation between two spectrums’, imparting a refined quality to upscale projects, such as the Royal Pavilion in Shanghai, through the approach of understated luxury.”
The meaning of home
“Since the earliest days of my childhood, I have always been a true nature lover. I especially adore the sea and, whenever possible, I have always chosen to live in proximity of the ocean. My current home is a step away from the sea, allowing me to enjoy its stunning beauty every day. I believe natural landscapes have a healing power that relieves us from the stress of our hectic lives. For my former residence in Hong Kong’s Ocean Bay, I tried my best to embody all the design principles I abide by: The natural scenery has been infused within the space, complemented by soothing white shades and contemporary lines to convey a sense of brightness and serenity that is much-needed after a long day of work.”
“With work-from-home policies widely applied worldwide, and considered a default in many urban cities, design is already setting a new trend in creating dedicated work spaces within our homes. I foresee an even higher degree of customisation in our living space, unfolding new opportunities in how we conceive our usual working experience and habits at home. The past two years have also drawn interest for private and highly personalised lifestyle experiences. Following the current travel and social restrictions, the Asian market witnessed an unexpected demand in customising bespoke luxury yachts, which are seen as deluxe floating villas, especially to the younger generation of Asian owners.”
Back to nature
“In the coming years, the interior design industry will embrace the eco-friendly lifestyle through a more holistic approach. By gradually encouraging biophilic and sustainable practices, design will prompt a more widespread employment of natural materials and elements, reconnecting humans with nature within the built environments, especially for those living in today’s urban jungles.”
“Smart technologies will also become more universal, with IoT (Internet of Things) changing the way we conceive design by providing a higher degree of customisation. Recently, SLD partnered with Moorgen, a global leading manufacturer pioneering smart home systems, to launch the Moorgen Smart Home Experience Center in Guangzhou’s Louvre Furnishing Art Center. Inspired by the human touch and cutting-edge technology, its design integrates Moorgen smart home systems into the living environment. By adopting smart solutions for air conditioning and energy, adjustable lighting and home appliances (such as curtains, doors and audio equipment), the overall design approach is focused on long-term sustainability. It shapes an environmentally friendly, comfortable and personalised environment that perfectly exemplifies tomorrow’s living.”
Mastery of space
“The need for increased space flexibility will also set a new trend in the industry. For instance, in the post-Covid era, homes will definitely rely on a space designed to be extra flexible and multi-functional, blurring the lines of traditional dynamics between our homes and workplaces. Homes will also become the space to enjoy a new way of socialising, with dedicated areas to networking and entertaining. Another good example from the Moorgen Smart Home Experience Center could be its ultra-modern theatre and party room that integrate high-tech equipment and systems to offer an immersive entertainment experience that emulates the setting of professional venues.”
The new Asian home
“In the past, specifically for Asian homes, there was a general tendency to prefer a Western classical design approach, as clients believed this specific aesthetic would better portray their affluence. This perception has since changed a lot. In recent years, I have witnessed a subtle shift from a mere ‘materialistic’ luxury approach to a more holistic lifestyle at large, which treasures indicators of quality of life such as fresh air, abundant natural light and green scenery. The global pandemic has added a new focus to design principles, such that sustainability and well-being are now priorities.”
Debut in Malaysia
“YOO8 Residences Serviced by Kempinski was our debut project in Malaysia right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, overlooking the capital’s iconic Petronas Twin Towers. It was vital for me to bring a new and unexpected benchmark into the local market, and I believe that this project is evidence of how exceptional residences can blend the best of contemporary design, quality service and urban lifestyle, while also integrating local cultural flavours within the space. It definitely was a unique experience to work at 8 Conlay (a mixed-use development where YOO8 is located) and interact with our collaborators who, to our biggest surprise, also spoke Cantonese, as we do in Hong Kong! This language affinity sparked an instant connection that eased the communication and collaboration process.”
“In the last few years, in part also due to the strong impact of the pandemic, design principles such as sustainability and well-being have become essential, with green building standards like LEED and WELL increasingly requested and adopted. I hope to see Asia take on a more leading approach towards this green direction, truly implementing design as a powerful tool to tackle societal and environmental challenges for the greatest good of our communities and planet. At SLD, we are committed to spearheading wellness design in Asia by exploring a more humanised and holistic paradigm. For example, our headquarters in Hong Kong have been recognised as a WELL-certified Gold project in 2019, excelling in seven categories of building performance – Air, Water, Light, Nourishment, Fitness, Comfort and Mind, materialising what we regard as ‘good design’.”
Dreaming of Jakarta
“I have conceptualised many residential projects in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, exploring the local cultures and features of these countries. Now, I would be thrilled to embark on a new creative adventure in Indonesia. I have always been impressed and intrigued by the country’s rich heritage and diverse ethnicities, cultures, religions and even natural biodiversity. In the future, I hope to expand my design footprint to the country’s capital and most dynamic business hub – Jakarta. I would love to create a residential retreat in this rapidly evolving and multicultural city, bringing new heights of quality living to the world’s second most populous urban area.”
Most exciting Asian city
“I would have to say it is the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area which links thriving cities like Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Foshan into an integrated economic and business hub. It encompasses an area of about 56,000 sq km and a population of over 72 million. The Greater Bay Area’s surroundings also combine technology and infrastructural excellence, becoming a great source of inspiration for today’s contemporary design scene in Asia.
Steve Leung Design has already developed quite a number of projects there. Among our most signature projects, I would like to mention One Shenzhen Bay, which redefines the quality of urban living by introducing an understated luxury and contemporary residential design in collaboration with renowned foreign designers. Another exciting project is the FreeSky Observation Deck at Ping An Finance Centre, the tallest building and landmark in Shenzhen. Inspired by the moving clouds seen from the top of the skyscraper, the observation deck offers a cinematic and futuristic experience for visitors to the top floor. While in the coastal city Zhuhai, adjacent to the avant-garde structure of the Zhuhai Opera House, we designed a mesmerising club space, with interiors that have been conceptualised around futuristic elements and technicolour neon, immersing visitors in a multi-sensorial, illusory experience.”
(All images: Steve Leung Design)
This story first appeared in the July 2021 issue of Luxe Living/Prestige Singapore.