All Eyes on Menka

Residential owners aren’t the only people that need spacial creativity

As director of two-year-old Menka’s Eye for Design, the penta-lingual, Italian-trained — in Spain — Menka Purswaney brings a youthful, worldly attitude to Hong Kong’s commercial spaces. Square Foot talks with Purswaney about the disconnect between home and work.

Tell us about yourself.
I studied at an Italian design school in Spain. The great thing about living in Europe is that I could travel to all the other design centres, and everything is so different from one place to the next — the language, the culture, the people. There’s no better way to learn design than visually. Later I worked for a large architecture firm in Hong Kong that’s very big in hospitality and restaurant design, so I have a really strong background in restaurants, cafes and shops. As Menka’s Eye for Design I focus mainly on retail and commercial, shops and restaurants. I recently did a restaurant in Africa, shops in Hong Kong, and I do a lot of B2B, and offices as well.

Do you find your European experience influences your work here?
I would say because I’ve travelled so much I can orient more to what expats are looking for in terms of materials, layout of space, proportions and dimensions. You can go to a teahouse, for example, and you can tell it’s a local designer by the use of too much plastic, and the tables are tiny. And you wonder, “What were they thinking?” I understand that more [seating means] more business but I also understand that when you bang into something … You’d never see something like that anywhere in Europe.

You specialise in commercial space but you have done residential. Is there a big difference between them?
You just have to be more aware of the space. The dimensions will change between commercial and residential, and if it’s luxury the materials will change. What’s similar is how much I try to relate the design to personality in residential, or branding in commercial. For someone who’s very glamorous I might put a little more bling in there. For someone who’s lived in New York and London I might make it a little more loft-y looking. For commercial it’s the personality of the brand. What’s different is time, cost and the emotion involved. I know how much emotion comes into residential [projects] and it’s the reason I don’t really work in residential.

Do you agree with the idea that commercial design allows for more creativity than residential?
It’s constantly changing, especially in a place like Hong Kong where nothing is permanent … Every project is different depending on what they’re trying to sell. It has a lot to do with the need for businesses to change because of cutthroat competition. It gives me more opportunity to learn and “play”, and sometimes they’re willing to take bigger creative risks because they need that “wow” factor.

Are commercial spaces as poorly designed as residential ones?
Well, ceilings are too low. A lot of lighting can get compromised because of that. There are pipes everywhere, sprinklers everywhere and air conditioning and fire department rules. You will never find a three-metre ceiling here; everything’s 2.2 so shelves always have to be low so it looks more diaphanous. That’s a challenge.

What’s on your wish list?
I love books and enjoyed working with Bookazine, so I’d love to do more bookstores. Hairdressers. I think you could go crazy with that and really play with the floor and the mirrors, and incorporate the equipment into the design. I would love to do a spa. With all these Chinese and Thai massage places I would love to design one and take them away from the typical Caine Road or Wanchai [look]. Like a luxury foot massage place!