Andre Fu: Meet the man who designed your hotel room

Andre Fu: Meet the man who designed your hotel room

After The Upper House, Fu takes his unique aesthetics to hotels in Shanghai, Suzhou and beyond
Andre Fu
Andre Fu refuses to be defined, even as he redefines Asian design.

Andre Fu does not like to be asked about his signature style.

Unlike, say, Phillipe Starck -- with whom Fu collaborated to produce the JIA boutique hotel in Causeway Bay -- the Hong Kong-based interior designer prefers not to be defined by a particular vision.

“I imagine there is an underlying Asian sensitivity to my design vocabulary,” Fu relents, “However, I have always described myself as a designer who is approach-driven. The overall storyline of a project is derived from an in-depth discussion with my client, as well as research on local heritage.”

Fu was born in Hong Kong and educated in England from the age of 14. He graduated from Cambridge University in 2000 and established his firm, AFSO, the same year. Inspired by Hong Kong’s transient and cosmopolitan vibe, he moved back in 2004.

In the last decade, Fu’s client base has grown to include some of the most recognizable names in hospitality and retail, including the Four Seasons, W and Shangri-La hotel groups as well as Pure Fitness, Agnès b and Lane Crawford.

Actress Michelle Yeoh’s home on The Peak is one of the few private residences he has overseen.

AFSO’s website claims that Fu is the most sought-after young design talent in the Asia-Pacific region, which seems to be no empty boast.

Space = luxury

On his drawing board at the moment is a "Shoe Library" for Lane Crawford on Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, which is Fu’s debut collaboration with the high-end department store. Derived, no doubt, from the recently launched "Shoe Galleries" at Selfridge’s in London, the design ethos is nonetheless Fu’s own.

A great hotel ought to tell a story — Andre Fu

Based on natural wood, bronze and “an array of bespoke fixtures” it is inspired, he says, by the libraries of old-world aristocrats and infused with the clean, modern feel of an art gallery.

There is talk of “rigorous architectural platforms”, “visual balance” and “ergonomic experience”, but beyond the jargon Fu’s focus is on space, with Lane Crawford dedicating a brazen 2,300 square meters to the venue.

Fu is no stranger to challenging Hong Kong’s normally conservative use of space. The 36-year-old is best known for his work on Swire’s sleek The Upper House hotel in Admiralty, a project he won when he was just 30 and which fast earned Fu international acclaim from some of the biggest titles in the business.

British Vogue called him a “design wunderkind”, while Condé Nast Traveler followed with “Asian design sensation." In 2010, House & Garden named The Upper House one of the most beautifully designed hotels in the world.

Today, it remains the proudest moment of Fu’s career, as well as his greatest challenge. The project took four years from conception to opening. 

While designer Thomas Heatherwick, who built the lauded British Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, created the hotel’s impressive bedonia stone facade, Fu explains that this was the first hotel where he was “involved in all aspects of the design, literally from the moment the guests step out of the car.”

“In terms of vision, The Upper House is unique in that it has moved away from the traditional model of grand lobbies and multiple restaurants that we see in most Asian hotels," says Fu.

"Instead, the focus is on space in the guestrooms.”

Deluxe rooms at The Upper House start at 67 square meters, which is large by most standards. In a city perpetually preoccupied with space, however, it is a rare and cleverly thought-out luxury.

Surprisingly, given the polished environments in which he works, Fu most enjoys “the quaint side of the city.”

His favorite places include the old neighborhoods behind Hollywood Road and Bridges Street in Soho, as well as the South Side of Hong Kong Island.

Shek O village, he says, is “the ultimate escape from urban life.”

But there will be little rest for Hong Kong’s design star, whose upcoming projects include the IFC residences in Shanghai, Shangri-La’s latest ventures in London, Shanghai and Istanbul, a Four Seasons resort in Suzhou and another venue in Hangzhou.

“A great hotel ought to tell a story,” Fu says, “I think the market will demand more hotels that are intimate and personal in terms of both design and service. I am hoping that the [Hangzhou] project will define luxury for new China.”

For a man without a signature style, Fu is certainly making his mark.

Samantha Leese is a Hong Kong based writer and editor, focusing on travel, arts and culture. Her articles have been published internationally by titles such as Condé Nast Traveller, The Spectator, Artforum and Time.

Read more about Samantha Leese