Interior Designer Joseph Chang Is As Frank As He Is Focused

From his Central studio space, Hong Kong native Joseph Chang and his small crew at JC Vision — which includes Bluebell, a furry SPCA rescue — have designed, decorated and planned space for residences all over the SAR for seven years. A former fashion design student (who got hooked on interiors while studying fashion) and a 10-year resident of New York, Chang brings versatility and a blissfully honest attitude to his projects. Square Foot chats with the founder and director of JC Vision.

As a student of fashion do you think it connects to interior design?
I think it’s absolutely important; it helps a lot. The connection is aesthetic and you need to be sensitive not only to the structure of the space. That’s the more scientific side of the work. True design — how do you coordinate with light sources, what are your textiles, what are your colours? — is more the art side. It’s a mix of both and you can’t focus on just numbers. I think fashion helps me play around with the decoration … I can do just décor, but I do more of both. It really depends on time and in most cases I pick projects that go from zero to ten. It’s ultimately more consistent.

Do you think people underestimate the relationship with their designer?
I think so. I’m most pleased with what comes after [a project]. I like getting emails from clients that say ‘I’m excited to be moving in, but I’m sad I won’t see you anymore.’ That kind of thing. It’s very satisfying. And it’s more important in many ways. As a designer you need to understand your clients’ preferences. You need to be sensitive and listen when someone can’t articulate what they want.

Are the spaces you work with here as bad as we think they are?
I guarantee everyone is desperate for space, no matter where the home is. Everyone finds a reason to need space. I work in small flats too, and we always need to play around with space arrangements. It’s not that bad and there’s always a way to make it work.

So the complaints are a matter of using the space we have poorly?
It’s a matter of lifestyle and you’re right. It’s easier and faster to buy new things than to dump old stuff. When you buy outfits you buy something that is easy to coordinate, that mixes and matches. We rarely buy one unique piece. That’s how you play around with limited space too. We collect all these bottles for skin or hair care and buy another before one is finished. They eventually turn bad and never get used. Buy a product, use it, and if you don’t like it, dump it. And then there are the samples we get all the time. It’s also about organisation and a systematic way of keeping stuff.

What are the biggest challenges in working in Hong Kong?
Space, obviously. [Laughs] Also how people need to respect the environment and the space around them. I find a lot of people care about their interiors and never connect with the larger environment. I finished a project in Stanley that had beautiful concrete structures outside. It was very ’70s but we connected the interiors to the outside. The cornices and ceiling mouldings we real, for example, no fake fibreglass was stuck on, and we worked from there. That’s something that needs to be taken into account.

Design loves and hates?
I love fashion, and I love having the choice of changing it up everyday, but I don’t like changing in terms of interior design. For my projects I always start with a neutral palette and leave room for my clients. I like to stress that it’s not my home and I don’t want to finish everything. I don’t like the word “grand.” A home is a home. If you insist I’ll try and give options that are sophisticated, or graceful, but not “grand.” This is not the White House or Buckingham Palace. I also don’t like feature walls. Put a piece of art there, sculpture, whatever … If not art then books. That’s the most sophisticated decoration you can have. You can’t change a feature wall either; what’s there is there. I do, however, like mirrors. Sometimes a wall mirror can be really tasteful — but not like something from cha chaan teng.