Changing spaces

OCT 29, 2015
What is luxury in 2015? It’s a pertinent question for Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang. In five short years, she has shot to fame for imaginative interiors that are inspired by art, culture and film, and an antidote to the bland glossiness of so much high-end design. Rigorous and provocative, Wang’s hotel and restaurant spaces tell stories.  

Wang first made her mark in 2010 with a sexy, cinematic revamp of rooms at Los Angeles’ legendary Roosevelt Hotel – a nod to old Hollywood and the celebrities that have haunted it since the 1920s. Next to stand out was the interior of Hong Kong eatery Ammo – a glamorous take on classic sci-fi, with bespoke chandeliers inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film noir Alphaville.

Last year, Wang’s reputation was sealed when her design for Hong Kong’s Mott 32 restaurant was named World Interior of the Year. Its colonial narrative, with spaces inspired by traditional Chinese apothecaries and mahjong, brought her work onto an international stage. “I wanted people to notice something new every time they visit, and then talk about it,” says Wang from her London office. “It’s that discussion that makes an interior valuable because it gets people to think.”

It’s a particularly thoughtful approach for the luxury sector, and one that has wide appeal, judging by the flurry of projects Wang is working on with private clients and some of the world’s most exclusive brands.

Most recently she’s been asked to design 120 suites at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, which will roll out at the end of the year and finish in early 2016. Everything in the rooms – from the acrylic furniture inset with metal to the hand-painted silk wall panels and dramatic crystal vitrine for guest amenities – is bespoke. “This way of designing is unique for Hong Kong, and actually for the rest of the world, because rarely do you find a hotel room where even the light switch is custom-made, nothing is specified,” Wang says. “It gives people the sense that their needs have been anticipated, and it makes them feel special.”

Wang traces this attention to detail back to when she was an architecture student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and visited the architecture of one of her heroes, Frank Lloyd Wright. “It’s beautiful on the outside, but when you go inside, he’s paid a lot of attention,” Wang explains. “There is a kind of obsession with details or thinking about what a light fixture is – maybe it’s an extension of the ceiling or comes from a column.”

Wang’s other heroes, Austrian architect Adolf Loos and Victor Horta, known as the father of Art Nouveau, had similar sensibilities. Each created precisely detailed spaces that, says Wang, showed an element of madness. “I visited Horta’s home and studio in Brussels,” she says. “It was extremely ornate and expressive. Things were sculpted with metal inlays of marble and timber on the floors, and everything was handmade.”

Wang also cites Knize, a historic tailor’s shop in Vienna where Loos designed every detail. “There is a sense of surprise,” she says. “Other than everything being tailored for that space, you have this unveiling. There is the main room where suits are made, but Loos put in a balcony to overlook it. So it’s about creating drama and theatre.”

There are similarities in Wang’s approach to creating spaces where people can live out a fantasy. This plays into her use of film, and even when the designer isn’t referencing a specific movie in a project, as with Ammo, the techniques are not far away. “At The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, we’ve thought about the composition of each frame and sight lines,” Wang says. “When you turn the corner, before you go to bed, when you first arrive . . . We dissect the room into different frames, as you would in a film.”

Words by Elizabeth Choppin