Anyone who’s driven past Thonglor soi 12 within the past couple of months would have come across a rather iconic, almost landmark-esque sculpture — the sort that catches your eye, but you can’t quite put a name to, because it’s just that unique. Behind the absolutely mindblowing copper sculpture is of Khun by yoo inspired by Starck, a new high-flying luxury residence set to bring a whole new energy to Thonglor’s already buzzing scene.
The brainchild of Sansiri, yoo Studio, and globally-renowned designer Philippe Starck, not only is this the first condominium of its kind — as in, Yoo Studio’s first full-scale branded residence in Thailand — but is also one of the top 36 iconic projects in the world designed by Starck himself.
Designed following three core philosophies — refined taste, uncompromising quality, and curated services — the project is quite unlike any other, and that’s almost an understatement.Once inside, classic luxurious materials such as marble are juxtaposed against the bold, modern, and the raw.
Unabashedly playful furniture are offset by sculpture-like lampshades, while a chandelier — you read that right — hangs gracefully over the lobby. Brimming with taste, quality, and creative prowess, how exactly did this project come about, and what did the team want to achieve? We sat down with Mark Davison, yoo Studio’s Head of Design, to discuss his views on the ideal residence, losing your ego as a designer, and the luxury of being able to throw your phone out into sea.
There are many ways to be inspired by the surrounding environment.
As far as interview questions go, ‘How does the local environment influence your work?’ is a pretty classic one. Yet, when we ask Davison the same conversation-starter, his response — like almost everything else about yoo Studio — strikes us as rather different. “It depends on the client,” he tells us simply, “and whether they think elements of the local environment are important to the people who will live there. Some clients say they don’t want the local environment at all, that they want something new, and that they’ve employed us to make something completely different in the market.”
Is Khun by yoo such a project? Davison replies that a building’s surroundings can be perceived in many ways — much like the influences one draws from it. “What was interesting in this area was that there was this sort of industrial thing going on, which caught our eye because we liked the contrast between rough and tough, verus clean, modern, and smooth.” He directs our attention to the lobby area, where raw concrete is accentuated by beautifully finished picture frames. “You take a piece of cold concrete, and put a beautifully warm copper material next to it, and you get this lovely balance. That was inspired by the area — it’s not like a deep, cultural inspiration, but it was a kick-off point and quite a fun one too.”
Being different is cool, but don’t forget that people need to actually live in your space.
Khun by yoo is distinctively designed — and that’s putting it lightly. Davison, however, is quick to remind us that there’s an important difference between being unique, and forgetting one’s purpose. “You have to be a bit careful because it’s also a residential building,” he explains, “we can have fun and go crazy in a hotel because people stay there for a short time, but you don’t really want this everyday if you’re living in an apartment. When you walk past some crazy thing, it’s funny the first day, the second day it’s a bit okay, and by the third day it’s boring. After a week, it’s like ‘oh please, do we have to have this.’” He jokes.
“Because of this, balance is important. And there are some things that you’ll never be tired of, because they’re just timeless things.” The chandelier marks a good example — how do you tire of that? “That’s a big thing about what we do, which is to try and make sure that we aren’t just ‘fashionable’, but that we create something that lasts.”
More important than the design, is how people feel about it. Is your building loved?
But how exactly does a residence differ from a hotel? Davison replies that “the difference, is the longevity. With a hotel, people don’t feel ownership — they want to enjoy an experience. With a residence, we try to make it something that people feel belongs to them. And not just their apartment, but we want them to feel like they want to look after the whole building.
“We want to make sure that the building is loved. I hope this feeling will happen for more buildings in the future, and with this project — that people care for it. I’d rather have a building that’s user-friendly, than one that’s super well-known for its’ design.”
Leave your ego under the table.
“Architects and interior designers normally have this ego,” Davison explains, “this feeling of ‘I want to express myself to the world and be famous.’” He cites a philosophy Starck and the team have always gone by — “Starck always said, put your ego under the table. If we’re at the meeting table and talking about what the project could become, whoever makes a suggestion that is good is the one that wins. It has nothing to do with who the person speaking is. There have been some fantastic ideas that come from around the table, so it’s important to try and lose the ego. And it’s hard, sometimes, because with design you really need to project yourself a little bit. You need to have a vision, and it doesn’t feel great when someone comes up with a better idea and you see your little idea go to the floor, but to learn how to get away from that is very freeing.”
He raises the example of the yoo name. “Our company goes by ‘yoo’, because we didn’t want it to be about us, but about the people we’re doing this for. We make interiors that we think everyone will love and engage with. Of course, we can’t appeal to everybody, but I think a certain kind of person who really gets it will love it.”
Think about what kind of designer you want to be — one who intimidates, or one who empowers.
When asked what kind of experience he hopes to achieve with Khun by yoo, Davison tells us simply that he wants it to be like “a breath of fresh air.” One that offers freedom to create, and room to rethink. “Sometimes, when I walk into a really luxurious apartment, I feel like it’s kind of all set,” he says, “and it feels like somehow I just have to make myself fit into this space. What I hope with our projects is that you feel a little more relaxed and loose, and able to express yourself.”
He finds the same to be true of the design profession. “A lot of clients come to us and say, ‘we need you to do our interior design, we love your work’. We would then respond, ‘no, we don’t just do it for you, we will help you do it’. We’ll show you what great pieces of furniture there are, and make sure that the floor choices are fantastic stones, until you can feel confident that whatever you choose will be amazing — but make your own choice. Don’t just take it from an interior designer, and live in their mind. This philosophy was a big one for us — giving our clients the freedom from being told what they should have, and allowing people to feel confident is a really big part of what we try to achieve at yoo.”
Good group-work needs good partners.
Marking yoo Studio’s first full-scale branded residence in Thailand, Khun by Yoo is also the first of its kind to be added to the Sansiri Luxury Collection. Davison admits that the partnership has been pleasantly surprising.
“Normally, it’s a little bit of a battle,” Davison says with a laugh, “it’s hard to make a project come together, and it’s a struggle on every level because you have to think about finance, about time, and about people’s preferences and ideas and all that. With this project, it didn’t really feel like a struggle at all. Sansiri and the team really understand the market well, which was important for us. They knew their stuff, and we knew our stuff, and when we put the two together, it was like a match in heaven.”
“Sometimes we have a developer who wants to make a good project but doesn’t know what that means. Sansiri weren’t like that at all — they were willing to go the extra mile. For us, that’s always really important, because as concept designers, we aren’t here for the duration of the project. We rely hugely on how good the local team is, and how good the partner is. Sansiri had the ambition to do something that was different, so it’s been really good, and they’ve done 98% of the work as well. We came up with the big idea, but these guys were the ones that did all the heavy lifting and made the project happen.”
The goal is to be able to throw your phone in the sea and feel okay.
When asked for his views on luxury, Davison brings up a fun anecdote he shares with Stark. “I remember once, years back, we were on a boat and Philippe just picked up his phone and threw it into the sea. He had about a week before his office managed to get all the information back into a phone and give it to him, but it was a week of total freedom — so that’s probably luxury. Back in the day, luxury was more about having a Bentley, beautiful materials, or the best clothes, but I think luxury now has more to do with mental freedom. There’s a lot of talk now about how to find more space in your life for yourself, spending time with family and friends. To me, luxury is being able to not have your telephone on all day long.”
Stick to what you believe in, and what you know.
Coming from a purely architectural background — “my father wanted me to become an architect with a Capital A”, was how Davison put it — his path into the world of uninhibitedly creative interiors can be considered a far stray from the norm. While many would, in such a position, advocate for people to follow the same fiery approach to their dreams, Davison surprisingly encourages caution. “I’ve taken a different path, and I’m just lucky enough that that’s continued to work out well,” he says with an honestly we can’t help but admire.
“Even though I’ve had an amazing time, I wouldn’t say to everybody that this is what you should aim for, because it’s just really unusual. In general, I think the main thing is to really stick to what you really, really believe in, and do what you know well. That’s the most anybody can ask of you, and that’s what will give you the most satisfaction. As soon as you stop doing what you think other people want you to do, you’ll find happiness.”
To find out more about Khun by yoo, visit sansiri.com.