How did you first discover your passion for design?
Design for me is just art. I was born in an ancient city located in Jiang Nan and grew up in a beautiful landscape. I began exploring art at a very young age and one of my first memories is drawing on my bedroom wall.
I fell in love with design by observing nature but now one of my main inspirations is my personal experience of my city and family. These memories never change: the temperature of a cup of tea, the sound of bare feet running and laughter in the courtyard, the whisper of wind, the dripping of water from the roof and the sound of melting snow.
At 29 years old, I realised design comes from the heart and not from the eyes or the hands when I read a magazine introducing Japanese architect Aoki Jun, who designed Louise Vuitton’s flagship store in Tokyo. His notion of design is very abstract – like blending oil into water in a container and then discovering that these two liquids react by dividing themselves rather than existing as one. This was the first moment which opened my mind and said, “Hi, James, this is the art of design!”
“I look at each project as if it were a piece of art, and imagine any space to be like a sculpture that I can carve and cut to reveal what is important”
Could you tell me a little more about your professional background?
After graduating with a BA degree in interior design in 1997, I achieved the 1st Golden award from Asia Pacific Interior Design in Hong Kong at 29 years old. I then lived in London and graduated from the University of London, Chelsea College of Arts with a Master’s degree in Interior and Spatial Design in 2005.After graduating, I joined Chhada Siembieda & Associates (CSA) who designed the Four Seasons in New York and the Ritz Carlton in Sanya. As a senior designer there I worked on the iconic Macau Banyan Tree Resorts.
After this, I worked at Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) where I was promoted to project director and design director, managing a team based in Hong Kong and two others in Melbourne. This job gave me a global vision and remit, allowing me to work with international designers for high-end hotels.
What do you feel is the single most important thing that people should know about you, or your work?
I am contemplative but innovative and I love telling stories with my work. My motto is, “Design everything as if you were an artist and tell a unique story.” I look at each project as if it were a piece of art, and imagine any space to be like a sculpture that I can carve and cut to reveal what is important.
What motivated you to set up L’Avventura & Associates, and could you tell me more about the company’s philosophy?
As an artist, I like to break boundaries. I think most designers become accustomed to just solving problems with their creations, and they do not define what their design will become years later. I am inclined to think about everything from the opposite point of view to this.
At the moment, for example, I am working on a series of new collections for the Palace Museum of China. These collections aim to define the new vision of ‘Asian art’, as fun, abstract, cool and stylish and not just focused on Zen and quietness.
Could you discuss some of the most memorable hospitality projects L’Avventura has completed?
My partners at L’Avventura and I have completed many landmark hotels around the world. Recently, we completed the Grand Hotel in Beijing. Other previous projects include the Grand Hotel Zhuhai and the Qube hotel in Jingzhou.
“L’Avventura and Lavven have deep roots in cultural traditions, but we also knock down walls to innovate”
What are you working on at the moment?
Our design style is “lean luxury” – a clean and minimalist design that goes beyond only being traditional. L’Avvetura is currently designing one of the top 10 villas in Vancouver CA, a Spanish style villa in Sydney, a hotel by the Spanish hotel group Barcelo in Thailand, the Hilton Double Tree in Xi’an, the Mumian Hotel by the Hyatt Group, and a CEO’s penthouse in Beijing.
We are also preparing a big show at the Palace Museum in Beijing this year for the 600th birthday of the Museum. The show will include the works of 5-8 artists in collaboration with Lavven.
We collaborate with studios in the US, Australia, and Europe from our office in Hong Kong.
What are your framing ambitions for the company going forwards?
To be innovative rather than just creative! L’Avventura and Lavven have deep roots in cultural traditions, but we also knock down walls to innovate. We re-define interior design to create an artistic soul within every project.
We are innovating a new system called “Five” centred on the idea that it could only take five people to run a design firm in future: the CEO, the CFO, the COO, the Director and the Stylist. All other production will be handled in a data centre in the cloud space.
What area of the world excites you in terms of its design potential?
Different design themes excite me more than different countries. The ones that I find particularly interesting are ‘Masculine Romantic’, ‘Lean Luxury’, ‘Futuristic Rustic’ and ‘Cool Zen’. These themes are all interesting and blend different styles.
“A designer is not only a developer and I believe that hospitality designers also need to design furniture, texture and even artwork”
What do you feel will be the key issues and challenges affecting the hospitality design industry in the coming years?
The most challenging issue in hospitality design is that most hotels within a group use the same designers. This just creates clones of the original hotel within the same group. All over the world, hotel groups are hiring almost exactly the same designers to work on all of their hotels and keep the business’ design DNA.
I think that in the coming years, identity will become the most important issue rather than a design just being beautiful!
Another issue in the industry is copyright. Hospitality designers normally select mood images from the internet and follow them to the design and development stages. A designer is not only a developer and I believe that hospitality designers also need to design furniture, texture and even artwork. We are artists after all – why just stop at hospitality design?
What are your passions outside of the design world?
I have been a professor of Hospitality Design at the Asia and Pacific Hospitality Design Association since 2014. I teach senior students – inspiring the younger generation of designers is my passion.