For five years, independent interior design studio hoo has been doing its best to put a fresh spin on interiors. The boutique firm headed up by Shanghai-born, Hong Kong-raised YC Chen takes pride in creating unique, haute couture homes in every style and mood possible. After a career in advertising and branding, working with the likes of One2Free and HSBC, Chen made a detour into his first passion. Squarefoot chats with hoo’s founder and artistic director.
How did you get into interiors?
This was my original interest when I was younger. But my parents obviously didn’t like that; they wanted me to study finance. So I studied business at the University of Michigan, which is useless, and I came back and went into advertising. I guess it’s a dream. I honestly feel Hong Kong interior design is a lot of the same. Everyone’s doing kind of the same thing. Our philosophy is that we can make a difference and offer tailor made [projects] and also incorporate home styling. It’s interior design, space planning plus interior styling. Which is not very common, or a very popular industry in Hong Kong.
Interior styling? Like decorating? Really?
Yeah. I was recently invited to do some hotel styling and they told me not many people are doing that; there are only a few. I guess not a lot of people are willing to pay for just that service. It’s part of our job anyway, so why not do it as a side service? I do like to see the whole package, but it can be done.
How do you describe your practice?
When you look at our projects we try to do different things for different projects. Everyone is different and your home should not be the same as another. It should be representative of who you are. Our company name, “hoo,” means “home of one.” We’re a small company and we hope we’re doing something unique. I think our work feels a little “un-Hong Kong.” We use a lot of loose pieces. Hongkongers always want a lot of storage, hidden cabinets and so on, and we try to honour that, but we try to give [spaces] some life too. I want a human touch in there — through colour, plants, materials.
Do you have as many beefs with spaces here, or other challenges? Poor layouts and outdated code are a common complaint among designers.
We just work with what we have. There’s nothing we can do about it; rules are rules. We just try and work around them. I’ll always try to test the rules, go right to the border without breaking them.
One issue is that the line between design and décor is not that clear here. People often lump interior design with contracting and decorating, which are three separate things. I get asked for a quotation on a renovation cost and I can’t do it because we have to a design first, source materials and confirm everything before the quotation.
Do any of your projects stand out for you?
I like the Evelyn, that’s one of my favourites. Because I added a lot of my personal favourite pieces — the lamps, the loose furniture and the use of colour. The other would be my home, which I just renovated. It will be called Jodi, a mid-century modern style.
So, why does each project have a girl’s name, like a ship?
That’s just part of hoo. I want to design each project differently so I name them after a person. I used girls’ names because it sounds sexier. [Laughs] Seriously, it could be the client’s name, maybe their daughter, or a twist on their name. It adds an individualised touch to each project. It’s the reason I don’t really have a favourite project. The next one should be the best one.