Design DaredevilAfter graduating from De Montfort University in the UK and a stint working for Manchester-based Company Designer Limited, Kinney Chan came home and eventually founded Kinney Chan and Associates in 1995. Nearly 20 years on, KCA’s crew works on dozens of projects each year and is one of the industry’s stars. Square Foot talks with industry heavyweight Kinney Chan.

You’re something of an industry veteran.
Yeah, it’s been 17 years already, so it’s been a while. When I came back to Hong Kong and started working for another company here it was a lot of hotels and with a lot of contractors, which taught me a great deal. Most of the people who own their own design firms have a distinct character and I believed I had it too when I started KCA. I wanted to make decisions. It was a good time to take the chance.
You thought you had something to offer the industry that didn’t exist.
At the time, yes. I thought I could accomplish something outside the box. I was young but I was convinced I had to try.

What’s your attitude towards design? How much of yourself is in your work?
You look at Philippe Starck and it’s obviously Starck. You can’t do that with my stuff. I’ve wondered if I should have characteristics that scream, “Kinney.” Right now, even with two decades of experience, I still like to play. I love to try new things. When you look back at Frank Gehry, his style was only established in recent years; same with Picasso. I see two design categories: one is residential design. That’s for users, with their own ideas, where I try to offer input that will make their hopes and end result fit together. The other is objective design, where the project has an objective to achieve. That’s most commercial design — how do you attract clients, how do you make the space work. There’s a goal. A hotel and a cha chan teng have very different design solutions. I think that’s why there’s no rigid pattern within my work.

Past Projects
Does this show in your past work?
Years ago I designed a restaurant — very cool. It won a gold award for design. But after four months, it just wasn’t working. It was the wrong location, the wrong time. So we decided to change it from a trendy, Buddha Bar-type place to an Irish pub. And it’s still there. I learnt a lot from that. Should I design for myself or help the client do business? If I can do both, that’s ideal.
Can you talk about this geometric flat? That’s pretty out there.
The developer was very creative so that made it easy. I thought, “Why don’t we do something interesting with the showflat?” More of an artwork. I wanted to demonstrate how you change your thinking when you enter a space. It was an interesting project to work on.

Do you think Hong Kong has a creativity shortage? You’ve been working for long enough to be able to get away more of it.
That’s an interesting point. When I did the geometric flat in 2006, I got the chance to do that because of my “status.” We would never have had that opportunity if it hadn’t be a request. It’s more common now, but back then no way. People are moving forward.
I met a guy at a trade event and we got to talking about a competition and I looked at his book. Everything felt similar. And I realised everyone is reading the same magazines, the same websites. It’s very globalised: we are affecting people and people are affecting us … All this information will help with creativity. This industry is very dependent on experience and exposure. Those are very important. That’s why I travel so much.

Wish List
Do you have a dream project?
Not really. I’m open to everything, and we’re quite lucky to have done so much.
How about something that’s got you excited?
Probably new technologies. I’m waiting for something really new. I’ve used the wood, the stone. I’m waiting for something I can’t even imagine. It doesn’t even exist yet.