Spotlight on a star

One singular sensation

Hong Kong-born architect, interior and product designer Steve Leung has notched up more than 40 years of experience — inspired by Asian culture and arts, he has achieved international acclaim for his unique, contemporary style

Words: Suzanne Miao
Photography: Courtesy of Steve Leung Design

November 2, 2022
Steve Leung Lead image 1 - One singular sensation

Steve Leung has had much to celebrate in 2022 — the 25th anniversary of his company, Steve Leung Design; the recent honour of being awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong Government; and his 65th birthday, to name just a few highlights.

True to form, however, Leung shows little sign of slowing down: “I find it quite challenging to take a break,” he explains. There are definite plans ahead, he assures us — as well as a redefining of his focus, as we found out.

Earlier this year, you were honoured as a Fellow of the International Federation of Interior Architects / Designers (IFI), following your tenure as President (2017-2020) and Past President (2020-2022). Named as the first-ever Chinese President of the IFI, what was the significance of that role to you, on both a personal and a professional level? 

Becoming President of the IFI was definitely a huge accomplishment in my professional life and I still feel extremely honoured and grateful for the trust given by my fellow design peers. However, despite being the first-ever Chinese President, I always envisioned my role on a global remit — quoting from my inaugural speech at the IFI General Assembly held in Lagos, Nigeria, in November 2017: “As the IFI belongs to no single person, no single country, and no single region, I can promise you, in my role of new President of the IFI, that I will do my very best with my fellow board members to make the IFI a truly global representation of all of us.”

This vision is what, ultimately, inspired and prompted me to launch the IFI Global Awards Program (IFI GAP), the highest honour celebrating exceptional designers and projects globally. Now in its second edition, IFI GAP recognises and awards design excellence at the world level through the engagement of a stellar line-up of jurors featuring some of the most inspiring practicing interior architects, designers, and thinkers of today.
Teaming up with IFI member and expert networks, it is my intention to continue to build together a world-class repository of the profession’s individual luminaries and the best-of-the-best of built environments.

Looking to the future, what will your role be in continuing to guide and shape the role of Asian design via your continued relationship with the IFI as a Fellow?

Over the upcoming years, in my roles of Fellow of IFI and Program Chairman and Jury Chair of the IFI GAP, I am truly committed to keep supporting the IFI’s community at large by contributing my regional expertise to strengthen the IFI and IFI GAP’s outreach here in Asia.

I see this strategy as mutually beneficial for both IFI but, also, for all those Asian design practices and young creatives who aspire to build their presence on the global landscape, or who are simply keen to be part of a wider dialogue on a more international level.

Steve Leung image 2 - One singular sensation

Architect, interior and product designer Steve Leung lives by his motto, “enjoy life, enjoy design”

Speaking of the big picture, the ‘new’, post-pandemic world has placed unprecedented pressure on, and posed new challenges to, the worlds of design and architecture. What are your thoughts on how best to adapt to this fluid, shifting landscape?

From my personal observation, I would say that the key trends to consider when approaching post-pandemic design would definitely be a much-increased awareness of sustainability, commonly accepted work-from-home practices, and a strong desire to have exclusive, highly personalised, and flexible environments enhanced with smart technology features that enhance the quality of day-to-day lifestyles.

Sustainability is without any doubt one of the big design trends in our industry at the moment. Green design had actually been an on-going hit way before the pandemic, but it has been dramatically pushed forward by the global outbreak. Design is playing a more defined role in tackling environmental challenges, and more awareness is given towards green design principles.

For example, LEED and WELL are increasingly considered and adopted across a variety of design outcomes, as well as a more pervasive employment of natural, eco-friendly, and upcycled materials.

I am also very curious to witness how the post-pandemic era will redefine our traditional approach to design. With work-from-home (WFH) practice remaining the status quo in the majority of urban contexts, people are considering creating dedicated working spaces within their homes and even replacing traditional office environs.

The spatial layout of pandemic-proof houses will definitely rely on extra-flexible and multi-functional spaces, with smart technologies providing a higher degree of customisation that deeply connects interior design and technology to create more personalised environments.

The workspace will dramatically change as well: multi-faceted workplaces will be designed in a way to ensure proactive and resilient work-life balance to become the norm, and people will feel encouraged to work through different paradigms: on site, from home, and perhaps even from the fascinating Metaverse universe.

I am excited to see how design will take into consideration all these new needs and expectations.

Lastly, I have also noticed a drawn interest and increased demand for private and highly personalised lifestyle experiences, prompted by the halting of global travel, and social restrictions. In particular, I have been witnessing a renewed interest in deluxe yachts — seen as coveted ‘floating villas’ replacing the traditional concept of holiday homes — and the private club culture, with post-pandemic clubs embracing a more informal and laid-back flair that focuses on creating dedicated experiences for the specific needs of particular HNWI (high net worth individual) segments.

I understand you will be launching your monograph later this year, covering key highlights from your long career. If you had to, could you pick out just one life-changing event or achievement that helped set you on your path?

This is quite a difficult question to address, as I feel like all my works helped set me on and further grow my path. However, if I would really need to pick one, I would probably say my first-ever show flat designed for Symphony Bay (Hong Kong) in 1997.
At that time, more than 90 per cent of deluxe show flats were designed in the western classical style. Nonetheless, I thought luxury could have been expressed through different ways too. When designing for Symphony Bay, I decided to take a risk and break from traditional convention by employing a more contemporary design approach and a generous use of natural elements.

It definitely was a gamble for both the client and my own reputation, but it was incredibly well received in Hong Kong’s highly competitive residential market.

2022 is proving to be a hugely significant year, being the company’s 25th anniversary and your 65th birthday! You launched SL2.0 in mainland China, and were recently awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong Government … There are people who might say, “Come on Steve, you’ve worked so hard for so long, achieved so much success personally and so much progress for the industry — isn’t it time you took a break?” What would you say to those people?

I would reply by quoting my personal motto: “enjoy life, enjoy design”!

Honestly, I find it quite challenging to take a break: design has always been a crucial component of my life and of my own happiness. Jokes aside, regarding my future plans, I am already stepping down from a full-force regime at SLD by delegating more freedom (and responsibilities!) to my talented design teams. This allows me to spend more quality time with my family and, also, to allocate more of my energy in giving back to society.

My desire is to share my own experience, knowledge, and passion with the rest of the design community, especially with the younger creatives. I hope to make a positive impact on the next generation of designers, passing on the spirit and inspiring them to make our industry flourish.


Designer or architect you most admire?
Le Corbusier.

Greatest design influence or inspiration?
Design influence: Le Corbusier and Aldo Rossi.
Design inspiration: everyday life — what I see, what I hear, whom I meet, my travel experiences.

Favourite place to visit on holiday?
Italy: I am in love with ancient Roman architecture and Italian food! And also Niseko, Japan, where I built my dream holiday home.

Most significant award or accolade received?
The 19th Andrew Martin International Interior Design Awards — Interior Designer of the Year Award in 2015.

Your approach to life?
“Enjoy life, enjoy design”.

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Describing Club C+ as his “personal design interpretation of a comfortable home-from-home, a one-stop lifestyle destination where culture elites can savour the finest things in life”, Leung debuted his first-ever exclusive social lounge in Hong Kong’s vibrant Central district in late 2021.

Subtly recalling the hidden meaning of ‘private home’ in Chinese, Leung translated his signature aesthetics into a members-only lifestyle space that blends Chinese contemporary design and British accents into a speakeasy-inspired club, where connoisseurs can indulge in delicious gastronomic adventures, fine wines, premium cigars, and exceptional art pieces.

A handpicked selection of B&B Italia furniture and decorative lighting further endow the setting with a vivid personality, transforming Club C+ into an immersive escape from hectic urban life.

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Following successful collaborations with McDonald’s for the launch of its CUBE flagship restaurants in Chengdu and Shenzhen in 2020, SLD partnered again with the brand to unveil McDonald’s third CUBE flagship restaurant in Shanghai in 2021.

Located at the new headquarters of McDonald’s China, the location is also home to the McDonald’s China Food Innovation Center. Spanning the ground and first floors of the building, the 700 sq-m flagship restaurant can accommodate more than 200 diners, making it the largest McDonald’s restaurant in Shanghai and the first to employ the CUBE scheme in Eastern China.

Leung’s CUBE design scheme realises cheerful urban settings and taps into shared nostalgia and memories, integrating three main concepts throughout — ‘cube’, warm colours and the ‘Hidden Smile’. Inspired by childhood memories of eagerly unpacking an iconic Happy Meal, the modular cubic shape of the Happy Meal box reveals the endless possibilities of this playful setting.

Additionally, with a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, the flagship is also set to become the first McDonald’s restaurant in mainland China to receive LEED platinum certification.

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Launched at Salon del Mobile 2022, the Nature’s Jewel Box 2022 furniture range for Visionnaire is Leung’s fifth collaboration with the brand since the first collection was launched in 2015 for its 10th anniversary.

Inspired by Visionnaire’s core values of the celebration of nature and holistic sustainability, along with the blueprint of the first collection, Leung investigates a different aspect of the beauty of nature: the resilience of trees. The final creative outcome celebrates the compelling adaptability of trees to thrive and grow in the face of multiple weather conditions and hostile environments.

The collection is made of ash wood, chosen for its sturdiness without compromising softness and flexibility. A contemporary, sleek design language is carved through organic lines; the design subtly emulating shapes seen in nature to express a delicate balance between luxury living and the harmony of nature.

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With its name literally meaning ‘one of a kind’, this private holiday home is located in Lamma Island’s Luk Chau, which translates literally as ‘deer islet’.

A celebration of natural beauty, heritage and craftsmanship, OOAK Lamma is a unique private holiday home just a 15-minute boat ride away from the heart of the Hong Kong’s bustling city centre. OOAK’s private pier is constructed from upcycled wood reclaimed from an abandoned fishing boat, and leads guests up toward a sleek two-storey villa complex. Here, white walls, reclaimed wood and turquoise furniture create a soft and subtle vibe; Leung’s tribute to Mother Nature.

Floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors provide a close connection to nature and a true indoor-outdoor experience — Leung’s design reflects the philosophy of harmony between man and nature.

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Launched in 2020, SLD+ — SLD’s corporate culture centre in Shanghai — is home to the permanent ‘DESIGN RE:COLLECTIONS’ exhibition which showcases Leung’s design journey and works.

Located next to SLD’s Shanghai headquarters, SLD+ presents a clean, white outline embodying Leung’s design aesthetic of modernity and simplicity. “SLD+ is a gift to myself,” he explains. “I hope that this signature building, with SLD’s DNA flowing from the inside to the outside, will continue to inspire, extend, and create an infinite wonder of possibilities in the future, echoing with its name.”

With just a single window on its façade, inside the building a striking staircase connects the first and second floors, symbolising both Leung’s achievements and SLD’s growth through an emotional crescendo of past, present, and future breakthroughs. This culminates with the motto ‘Design has the power to break boundaries’ engraved in the red feature wall.

Steve Leung image 8 - One singular sensation