A fairly new face on the design scene in Hong Kong, Eleanor McCallum brings a touch of almost scientific theory to interiors. The Scottish-trained interior designer and architect brings a quasi-scientific, anthropological to be precise, way of thinking to space and puts value in how we function within it and how the space makes us behave. Square Foot chats with McCallum.
Are you a designer by trade and how did you wind up doing interiors here in Hong Kong?
I studied both interior design and architecture at the Glasgow School of Art. Studying and working in Glasgow for 12 years gave me an excellent insight into an intimate, fast paced and vibrant design community. In 2009 as the financial crisis took hold my husband and I where looking at redundancy as well a cooling of interest and investment in the creative industries so we took the opportunity to come to Hong Kong and continue in our individual passions.
Would you say you had a particular style in your work or any particularly strong influences that seep into your work?
Now that I’m in Asia I really feel I notice my European style more. I enjoy straightforward functional designs that are fit for purpose and quite lacking in decoration. How people are influenced by their environments really interests me. My primary interest is in people and the anthropological aspects of design. Extensive communication with the end user really shapes each individual project.
Can you describe some of your past projects, and which were the most challenging/satisfying? Why?
While working in the UK my focus was on institutional works for universities and libraries. Though interactive field research we really got to know and understand our users needs. This is the most useful insight because sometimes the actual users needs or wants can differ from those perceived by the client. While those projects can sometimes become quite frustratingly long and protracted completing the most prefect solution for the end user is very satisfying. For example, while working with Bath University we did extensive work with the users of the university’s 24-hour library. Understanding the immense range of users — from the students that lived, worked and slept there to the visiting members of the public — enabled us to realise a truly useful multifunctional space.
Many designers are citing increasingly common requests for sustainable/ green design. What kind of trends have you been noticing over the last few years?
I feel like “sustainable” is an annoying buzz word. It’s something that has been rising and falling in fashion for some time now. So many projects and clients just pay lip service to green issues in order to just continue the same tired practice. It’s sad to see Hong Kong losing some of its heritage to this short-sightedness. Fortunately, with stronger restrictions and more innovative product choices, the industry is being encouraged to realise the bigger picture beyond the aesthetic.
Would you like to try branching out into residential or hospitality design some day? Do you think that would be a radical change?
Like most aspiring architects I would love to design a theoretical city. I am very interested in the city’s form and how it affects the people living with in it. Obviously residential and mixed-use buildings are an integral part of the urban fabric and I can easily imagine an opportunity for me to try my hand at residential or hospitality projects. And in the future I can see myself renovating old houses as personal projects.