28 DEC 2018
HAPPY VALLEY, HONG KONG
on identity, culture and the inevitability of home coming.
We sat down with the partners of Lim + Lu, Elaine Lu and Vincent Lim to talk about the founding of their emerging practice and the potentials of design, architecture and business in Hong Hong.
“As a young startup, desperation is real. Having the ability to choose the right clients is extremely important when your time and resources are scarce. Always follow your gut instinct, even if it means rejecting well paid jobs.”
ELAINE LU / VINCENT LIM
Elaine Lu is co-founder and Managing Director of Lim + Lu. She was born in China, raised in Atlanta, studied and worked in New York, and currently lives in Hong Kong. She received her Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art & Planning. She has worked in the offices of Boldsen & Holm Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, and Tiffany & Co. Store Design in New York City.
Vincent Lim is co-founder and Creative Director of Lim + Lu. He was born and raised in Hong Kong, studied and worked in New York, and currently lives in Hong Kong. He received his Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He has worked in the offices of Davidclovers Architects, Gravity Partnership, and CL3 Architects in Hong Kong, as well as Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates in New York City.
What inspired you to found Lim + Lu, and why did you choose Hong Kong as your home base?
Elaine: We both worked for very corporate architectural offices in New York after graduation and were constantly searching for creative outlets at the time. In 2013, we saw a show in Paris by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec and were immediately inspired by their work and thought process. This was the first time we realized that a whole world for design exists beyond architecture. After that trip we started vigorously sketching; these ideas ultimately formed the basis for the Frame Table and the Float Table. We had our designs prototyped and presented them at the International Contemporary Furniture fair in 2014, and the feedback we received was very positive. This was the beginning of Lim + Lu.
We always knew we had a huge interest in furniture and product design. Starting our practice in Hong Kong was an opportunistic, yet natural, decision. After the ICFF show, we could not find an economical way to prototype and fabricate our products in the US; everything was too expensive to source. We reached out to families and friends in Asia for recommendations on manufacturers and vendors who could provide the quality we were looking for and at a price we could afford. We visited factories in China, where we quickly realized the material knowledge and production assembly in the country is quite sophisticated. Being in Asia allows us to be competitive and be close to the epicenter of the global manufacturing hub.
“Being in Asia allows us to be competitive and be close to the epicenter of the global manufacturing hub.”
Vincent: It is very important for designers to have the drive to self-initiate projects. The home we live in now happens to be our first interiors project, and it kickstarted our career. We renovated the apartment in different phases over three years and we also designed a few furniture pieces to go with it. We call it the “slow process of design”, where you take your time to decide what you actually want in the space. This apartment was featured in a few design publications after completion and it provided us with the momentum and exposure to move the practice forward.
Our relocation to Hong Kong was a conscious choice based around my existing connections and networks. I grew up in Hong Kong and a lot of my friends from high school ended up returning here after college – many of them are in positions to hire and work with designers. I knew a move back home would provide us with access to clients and resources better than anywhere else in the world, and I think having a good support network is critically important when starting a new business. Furthermore, the art and design scene of Hong Kong and China has expanded rapidly in the past five years; however, the industry as a whole is nowhere near as competitive and developed as that of Europe and the US. This is why we are getting quite a few amazing opportunities, despite the fact that we are a young practice. It is nice to be a part of the creative wave that is pushing Hong Kong forward.
“I knew a move back home would provide us with access to clients and resources better than anywhere else in the world, and I think having a good support network is critically important when starting a new business. ”
Color and material play an integral role in your body of work; could you tell us about the thought process behind your choice of chroma and how it ties into the overall identity of Lim + Lu?
Vincent: When we were in architecture school at Cornell University, the models and drawings we made were always in black or white. That was the pedagogy of the school and the favored style of the Modernist era. If you think about it, even our clothing preference as architects are often in black or in white! However, the strict colors of black and white almost never exist in nature. Life itself is so vibrant and we believe that the spaces we occupy should reference and mimic that quality. When it comes to color sensibility, Elaine is really the driving force behind the choice of materiality and chroma for many of our projects.
“Life itself is so vibrant and we believe that the spaces we occupy should reference and mimic that quality.”
Elaine: During my first week as a designer at Tiffany & Co, we had to choose a wall color for one of their stores and we were looking at forty different shades of white paint. They all looked the same to me at first. But the interior manager took the time to go through all the color chips with me, explaining how each white differs slightly in terms of hue and warmth. My time there really had a great impact on my sensibility towards the subtlety of color.
When we begin a project, we still start from the layout of spatial elements, and the notion of materiality is introduced at a later stage. Having said that, color brings energy and atmosphere into a space, and as a result informs the function and program. Some clients come to us with a color that they love, and we guide them towards complimentary palettes based on their personal preferences. In a restaurant we did in Central District, the color of the space was determined by these ceramic tiles we wanted to use that are very typical of vernacular Hong Kong cafes in the 80s. Those tiles only come in green, pink or brown, and therefore sets the palette and identity for the entire project. We like the notion of taking inspiration from pre-determined factors of a project and building a color palette around these initial ideas to see where design takes us. It is a very intuitive and fluid working process.
Vincent: I think our desire to integrate material and physical space very much embodies the design thinking and the branding of our studio. A lot of our clients come to us because they appreciate our use of color. When our very first project got published, we kept hearing that the colors we used were “brave”. In Hong Kong, not many people dare to use color in design. We understand that trends and tastes change over time, and that something that looks good today may look dated in a few years. Nonetheless, I think the use of color in architecture, if done well, can have a real impact towards the design and atmospheric quality of a space. Furthermore, we are living in a time at which color is making a strong comeback. A time where international designers, such as Ilse Crawford, are drawing attention for their, one could say “daring”, play with colors, materials and textures.
“We understand that trends and tastes change over time, and that something that looks good today may look dated in a few years. Nonetheless, I think the use of color in architecture, if done well, can have a real impact towards the design and atmospheric quality of a space.”
Tell us about a challenge you faced while setting up your studio, and what you would have done differently.
Vincent: My first advice to starting a business is to be brave and to dive head first. It is difficult to plan ahead, but things always work themselves out. It is also very important to have the drive to self-initiate projects and keep your creative juices flowing, especially during times when you are in a slump without many projects in sight. For us, the down time between jobs is perfect for designing furniture pieces. We may not have specific clients in mind, and we may not even know what these pieces are for. But those are exactly the kinds of project that helped launch our studio. We started conversations with a number of furniture brands where we asked, “Would you be interested in our products? We think there is a gap in the market and we are open to edits and collaborations.” That process opened many doors for us.
There are different scales at which one can self-initiate projects. We were in a fortunate position where we were able to renovate our own apartment, but you can always scale down to design furniture pieces instead. As a young business, you need to invest in yourself, whether it be renovating your own apartment or funding the design of a furniture piece. Unfortunately, many people give up when they hit their first roadblock.
“It is very important to have the drive to self-initiate projects and keep your creative juices flowing, especially during times when you are in a slump without many projects in sight.”
Elaine: Having a good client can also be very fruitful. As a young startup, desperation is real. Having the ability to choose the right clients is extremely important when your time and resources are scarce. Always follow your gut instinct, even if it means rejecting well paid jobs. You may also be tempted to accept a low paying job just to keep the lights on; but, remember, there is such thing as opportunity costs. To take on an undesirable project means that if someone else brings you a better-suited project down the road, you may not have the capacity to take it on. It is important to be disciplined and to be able to decide if a project is right for you. One can often tell if a client is the right fit within the first few minutes of meeting them. For example, we are currently working with an older client who has a very traditional taste in aesthetics, which is not our style at all. But we really hit it off during our first meeting and she was willing to explore and experiment with us. This all goes back to processing one’s chemistry with the client, the project and our work capacity, alongside never forgetting to go with one’s gut feeling.
“there is such thing as opportunity costs. To take on an undesirable project means that if someone else brings you a better-suited project down the road, you may not have the capacity to take it on.”
A big thank you to Elaine and Vincent for inviting us into to their home and sharing with us their insights in architecture and design in Asia. For more information on Lim + Lu, please visit their website here.
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Text edited by Tamara Jamil and Darius Woo
Photography and layout by Darius Woo