Hospitality Interiors caught up with the dynamic duo behind Hong Kong-based interdisciplinary design studio, OPENUU, to discuss their recent projects, passion for F&B, and future aspirations for the firm. 

How did you first discover your passion for design?

Caroline: I first discovered my passion for design in middle school, where we had the opportunity to take woodshop. Growing up, I’ve always taken still-life drawing classes, and oil painting was one of my favorite pastimes. The woodshop opportunity provided me a creative outlet in exploring design in 3D, through textures and building.

Kevin: I grew up in a family of designers, with dad an architect and mom an interior designer. We would frequent museums as a kid, either with school or parents. The history museums really bored me, and in contrast, the art museums fascinated me.

Could you tell me a little more about your professional background?

Caroline: I got my Bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, and Master of Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design. After living in the U.S. for 10 years, Kevin and I decided to move back and start our practice in Hong Kong doing small interesting projects. 

Kevin: I got my Bachelor’s of Architecture from Cornell University, and Associates degree of Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu (Boston). As a trained architect and professionally certified chef from Le Cordon Bleu (Boston), I worked in a few different restaurants. Most notably, I worked closely with Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA, where I spent quite some time further developing my love for exotic ingredients.

Blue Ginger was also one of Caroline’s favorite restaurants in Boston, as she attended Wellesley College, a 10-minute walk to the restaurant.

What do you feel is the single most important thing that people should know about you, or your work?

Growing up in Asia and educated in the U.S. has allowed us to live differently, and view space planning more efficiently. The lack of space with an abundance of high-rise buildings, living in Asia, teaches us to think differently about spatial design with efficiency and flexibility.

“Growing up in Asia and educated in the U.S. has allowed us to live differently, and view space planning more efficiently” 

Living in the U.S. for 10 years with larger living spaces has broadened our knowledge, and honed our spatial planning skills, while not losing the human ergonomics in a large project.

What motivated you to set up OPENUU, and could you tell me more about the company’s philosophy?

We wanted to deliver and share our knowledge with different communities, executing projects that are both flexible and functional, with a contemporary chic style in mind. We like to create spaces that also motivate and innovate companies we design for.

This means we not only want to make the space look great, but also create a space suitable for increased efficiency, that can grow with the clients, and provide greater value.

Could you discuss some of the most memorable hospitality projects OPENUU has completed? 

We recently completed Ah Yung Kitchen – it was a collaborative project between our client and a famous 1 Michelin star chef. It was a project where I was able to impart my kitchen and service knowledge alongside the design philosophy of OPENUU. 

Ah Yung Kitchen allowed me to work with different teams from the hotel that helped visualise the project, along with our design team. We were also able to learn from the hotel team about various aspects that helped guide our design to suite operational needs, as we pride ourselves in creating projects that are visually stunning with practical functionality.

“We wanted to deliver and share our knowledge with different communities, executing projects that are both flexible and functional” 

What are you working on at the moment?

Caroline: We have three ongoing restaurant projects, as well as one hotel project that just kicked off in September and will hopefully be finished completed by 2021.

On a smaller scale, we’ve been working on a collaboration with RIL CREED on some leather good items. This includes the Amber Home, a variety of cushions design using upcycled leather. Willow Travel is a small leather goods travel set of passport holders and card holders.

Kevin: I am involved in a small restaurant project, where I’m acting as the F&B consultant on the project. This is an interesting concept that fuses my background in Southeast Asian cuisine, with our local favorite – hotpot.

What are your framing ambitions for the company going forwards?

We would like to position OPENUU as an expert in the hospitality industry, with a secondary focus on F&B, allowing us to continue learning about the ever changing landscape of the hospitality sector, and continue to grow with the F&B trends, being able to help restaurants of all scales and realise their ambitions as well as ours.

Which areas of the world excite you in terms of their hospitality design scene at present?

The current wave of design is happening mostly in the Asian region, and we are fortunate to be in Hong Kong, allowing us to visit hotels in China, and around the Southeast Asian region, drawing inspirations from various types of hotels and resorts.

What do you feel will be the key issues and challenges affecting the hospitality design industry in the coming years?

I think technology poses the biggest challenge for the hospitality industry. With the speed of the ever evolving terrain of technology, it is difficult for hotels to constantly stay on top of the newest technology that may make or break a guest’s preference on booking one hotel over the other.

What are your passions outside of the design world?

Caroline: Entrepreneurship in general. I am always talking and learning from friends that are venturing off on their own business, and constantly reading about the issue.  

Kevin: I have always had a passion for cooking, hence enrolling in culinary school after my architecture studies, to the point where we opened a restaurant together, featuring one of my favorite cuisines – Malaysian.

We enjoy traveling to different places on vacations, and discovering the local cuisines, an activity that we enjoy doing together, and hope to pass this onto our daughter.