When Hong Kong fashion designer Vivienne Tam decided to turn her creative talents to interior design, the first collaboration she made was with Tsim Sha Tsui’s Hotel Icon, owned by Tam’s alma mater, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She’s become known on an international scale for her designs and we speak to her in a suite on Icon’s 27th floor, facing the harbour. We’re pleasantly surprised by Tam’s preferred palette of rich woods, textured marbles and the spaciousness and serenity of the room – so it perfectly sets the scene for the interview, particularly as we ask her about her design choices and what’s next in her illustrious career…
The inspiration for this hotel room comes from your own New York apartment. Why did you decide to go down this route?
I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve experienced a lot of hotels and I feel that a lot of the time, when you stay in a hotel, you just want to be at home. You don’t want to be touching things with lots of angles where you don’t feel comfortable and the materials are so unnatural. I wanted to have the feelings of home. And that’s the inspiration. No sharp angles in this room. Lots of nature. You feel like you’re in a garden. A lot of times when you stay in a hotel, you’re looking at a concrete forest. I live in a penthouse on the 23rd floor and what I’m looking at is a concrete floor. Even though what I’m looking at is a beautiful view, I just feel that I need to have a lot of trees and natural materials – like I’m touching nature.
You focus a lot on comfort. Do you think it loses a bit of functionality? Like this chair might not be the best for someone working next to a desk…
I think you can do your work here. I find a lot of hotel rooms are very corporate. It’s nice to have something more relaxed, you know? You can sit here and do work rather than on some conventional chairs. I also found that hotels have a lot of drawers and tables and sofas that you don’t use. Why don’t you give yourself more space?
It’ll help inspire a bit more. Give you a bit of creativity.
Exactly. Like the artworks are more personal. A lot of the artworks in hotels are so tacky. Of course, I know it’s very hard to please everybody because there are so many guests – but offering some nicer things to inspire them will see them come back.
A lot of times when you’re designing in Asia, feng shui comes into play. Did you have to work with that when you were designing this room?
I did ask the feng shui guy to come in. I had ideas already myself because I’ve worked with feng shui masters in the past. I know a lot about feng shui – where to have openings, where the bedroom should face, where the light should come in. And if you look at all the doors, they go all the way to the ceiling. And I particularly like sliding doors because they give so much space.
Did you have any specifically local or Chinese influences in this project?
Well you can see the influences. [Laughs]. I think there’s a feeling of a Chinese garden, the Yin and Yang of the materials I’m using. If you look at the backroom there, there is a Chinese art décor feeling – the art and the red. That’s going to be a wedding room, a honeymoon suite. There are also Chinese ceramic plates. And that looks like a lotus seed. How beautiful, with the red. I love to play with the characters. The colours here are similar to the colours in the garden.
Are all the furniture pieces sold in Hong Kong? Are they designer pieces?
All the pieces are from Hong Kong but it’s more about choosing what I love than famous names.
I know you’re mostly based in New York but when you do come to Hong Kong, where do you like to shop?
I think that Hollywood Road is great. I love the Jade market. Shum Shui Po, the fabric place. Temple Street in the daytime is good. Don’t go there at night though.
Will you be doing more interiors?
I’d love to. I want to do China chic hotels and furniture and interior. Everything. That’s my plan. I’m a lifestyle designer.
Do you have any future interior projects planned?
Yes – but I can’t say…
The room has so much of you, your loves and your inspiration attached to it. Can it be translated into a bigger project where you’re doing 100 rooms?
I think it depends on the hotel owner. It’s hard, sometimes, if you’re working with a big corporation. They have a way of thinking and they don’t want to take risks. They think being nonconventional is a huge risk. Like we went back and forth, back and forth discussing whether there should be blinds on these windows.
What challenges did you face with the blinds?
Some guests find it too bright, so they’d like to have the option to close the blinds. But then you destroy the beautiful [tap tap, pointing to the blinds]. It’s so beautiful. If you close the blinds you lose so much space. If you want to [have a dark room], you can just go into the other room.
Do you think it’s important to avoid trying to do the same thing that people are used to? Even when it comes to hotels?
Being a designer you always have to fight to do what you want to do. You have to be very strong in your statement. You have to really believe what you’re doing. You have to convince the people in the project. The only way to be innovative is to do something different.
What’s your interpretation of modern Chinese style?
For me, I think Ming. Ming styles are my favourite furniture. A lot of Western designers draw inspiration from Ming designs. It’s more clean and modern. Can you imagine something made 400 or 500 years ago and it’s still so modern? Classic. A lot of those things look like Ming.
I was kind of surprised when I heard a fashion designer was building a hotel room. I thought it would be chandeliers. But you’ve obviously wanted the hotel guest to be able to move around.
Personally, chandeliers are not my style.
It’s the same as when you design clothes right? Combining comfort with beauty.
I want the person wearing it to feel comfortable and great, and empowered and special. My clothes do not dictate the person. With some clothes you only see the clothes and you don’t see the person. With my clothes you see a combination. I don’t want the person to feel like they’re on display. I think this kind of design makes them feel at ease. A chandelier, for me, is just… no. I like mixing high-low. I’m not the kind of designer who only uses expensive materials. I don’t even remember the brands of these pieces. If you love it, buy it. Look at the product, not the designer’s name.