Causeway Bay’s Jia Hotel has been open for years, and products designed by Philippe Starck grace shelves in all types of stores across the city. However yoo, the design firm founded by Starck and real estate developer John Hitchcox, is arguably more recognisable than Starck’s glasses or chairs.
Soon be located at 33 Tung Lo Wan Road is Hong Kong’s first branded residence for sale: yoo Residence. Developed by Couture Homes, ITC Properties and yoo studio, the project will comprise 144 units and will be completed in 2015.
Yoo regularly works with high profile designers other than Starck — Kelly Hoppen, Jade Jagger, and Anouska Hempel among others — and the studio has completed projects in New York, London, Melbourne, Toronto, Miami, Buenos Aires, Singapore and about two dozen others. For the property in Hong Kong yoo is collaborating with Steve Leung, whose work includes the Hyatt Regency in Shatin, HarbourView Place, Central’s commercial connection at the Landmark as well as scores of private residences.
Branded residences have become all the rage almost everywhere in Asia over the course of the last five years or so. Ritz-Carlton launched residences in Bangkok and the Mandarin Oriental offers homes in Macau. But Hong Kong, despite its thriving serviced apartment market with its brands, has yet to offer buyers a branded product for sale. Odd in a brandsavvy city.
“Yeah, that’s true,” begins Chris Boulton, CEO of yoo. “I think in more sophisticated markets people don’t think they need brands. But often what happens is that there are so many competitive projects in one market we do add that vital ingredient. The brand raises it above the competition,” he theorises of the SAR’s late entry to the game. Until yoo, the Four Seasons was the only branded residence in Hong Kong, and it is used exclusively as a serviced apartment.
And it looks very much like a hotel. As Boulton sees it, charging in and duplicating a yoo development from some place else isn’t the way to go. “We have to create the right product for the market and we see this as a real collaboration between us, with a very international perspective, and taking in that local perspective too,” he says. “We get under the skin of local market and help focus the product. Causeway Bay is a very vibrant area and we believe we’re creating a living experience that will be exciting for the people who live there.” ITC and Leung thought they had great project that was well designed and in a great location and just wanted yoo to give it that extra boost.
What is yoo?
Yoo Residence will feature standard oneand two-bedroom units (yoo One and yoo Two) beginning at a shade over $22,000 per square foot for 458 to 761 square feet (334 to 539 saleable area), and the one-bedroom yoo Double, a 636-square foot duplex (434 saleable) running at just over $30,000 per square foot (as of early April). The upper levels — floors 30 to 33 — is where the jewels in the crown are located, 1,700 and 1,900-square foot (approximately, gross) duplexes and a 7,200-square foot penthouse duplex will be (release dates and sales information is forthcoming). The tower’s facilities and amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, function space, gym, sauna and roof garden. Interiors will boast premium kitchens by Italian designer Arclinea and bathrooms featuring amenities and fixtures by Dornbracht, Bauhaus, and Villeroy & Boch. So how will this be a yoo property? “We do the concept design, but we always work with a local designer. There are certain telltale things — the chandeliers, the marble — are a common theme that will be seen in the public areas. We need that balance between cosmopolitanism, the brand and the local sense of what people want,” says Boulton.
Boulton believes young professionals as well as investors will be the primary buyers, though not necessarily those looking purely for premium luxury but who are looking for something indescribable. As cool as Causeway Bay may be, it’s not a traditional luxury residential district. “If you look around the world lots of the projects we’re involved in are not in prime locations. Causeway Bay fits with what we do. Sure we could fit in in Mid-Levels or Central but [attitude] is a key factor,” argues Boulton. John Hitchcox, yoo co-founder, agrees.
“I’ve got an intellectual argument constructed in my head to describe a brand, which is about reputation, great design and, for us, attracting a group of like-mined people,” explains Hitchcox. For him, “luxury” and “brand” are sketchy words, and yoo is more about a way to live well and live socially rather than simply price — something that can be applied to chairs and yachts, social housing and exclusive penthouses. “What I loved about Jia is that it was real. This has a lot of similarities; it was a little bit out of the box. This also goes back to the ethos about style and urbanisation and so on … I don’t think anyone should be preserved for the lower end or the higher end of the market. To be labelled as one or the other is all wrong. We’re not denying luxury; we’re approaching a philosophy that is closer to humanity. We’re not all wedded to hard services and glass and steel.”