Art & Design Interiors & Design

Designer Spotlight: André Fu’s Approach to Modern Organic Decor

The celebrated Hong Kong-based designer on his highly organic process and creating compelling settings in hotels, restaurants, and homes around the world

Back in 2005, an early André Fu residential project was featured in one of Hong Kong’s Sunday papers. His modern, organic design, and the “calm comfort” of his approach to decor, caught the eye of Keith Kerr, the then chairman of development company Swire Properties. One phone call from Kerr and an interview later Fu was entrusted with the opportunity to create what is now The Upper House hotel.

The rest, as they say, is history. Fu has since won numerous awards—in 2019 Elle Decoration China named him Interior Designer of the Year—and designed hotels across Asia and Europe, as well as launching André Fu Living, a holistic collection of lifestyle products.

André Fu surrounded by modern organic decor in the 53W53 private residence in New York
André Fu designed the interiors of the 53W53 private residence, an apartment within the Jean Nouvel-designed tower of the same name, which rises above New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Image: Stephen Johnson

Born in Hong Kong, Fu studied architecture at the University of Cambridge in England, but says he’s “always been fascinated with the world of design” and recalls creating hand-drawn mazes at school, which his classmates then attempted to work their way out of. It was his childhood spent in Asia, and travels in Europe in later years, that he says fostered an interest in architecture.

The environment I create for a hotel serves as a backdrop, it’s the way it is operated that brings life and soul to it

Today, he describes his design process as “highly organic.” A commission, be it a residential interior (actress Michelle Yeoh was an early client) or a hotel, begins with a series of in-depth discussions with the client to “understand the genuine vision behind the project. I will also allow myself the time to understand the context of the site, its neighborhood, and its character.” When a “mental collage” then starts to take shape he will begin sketching.

Sofas and soft lighting in the Sky Lounge of the Upper House hotel
At the Sky Lounge in Hong Kong’s Upper House hotel, Fu balanced the room’s 13-foot-high (4 m) walls with intimate sofa seatings, and personal touches such as game sets from Asprey and Hermès. Image: Michael Weber

Of his hotel designs, which include Bangkok’s Waldorf Astoria, Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto in Japan, and Villa La Coste in Aix-en-Provence, France, Hong Kong-based Fu says, “the environment that I create serves as a backdrop… it is the way the hotel is operated that brings life and soul to it,” and that he enjoys designing for hospitality as it allows him to “express a more layered, holistic approach.”

The underlying value in my work is about crafting compelling settings that embrace and reflect harmony, beauty, and warmth

So how does he see the future of hotel design? “Luxury hotels will revolve around expressing a unique persona—a destination that embraces culture, heritage, and a candid sense of place,” he says. “Celebrating a ‘sense of place’ is an understatement in modern hospitality, but I think there’s nothing more rewarding than creating a hotel with its own organic narrative, and with decor that evokes a genuine retelling of a city’s cultural context.”

The Mitsui Kyoto's Nijo suite
“I wanted my design to convey the sense of serenity and tranquillity that I feel in Kyoto,” Fu says of his approach to the Nijo Suite at Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto, Japan. Image: Miyuki Kaneko

When it comes to his influences, Fu cites everything from “a whimsical moment that I might observe at a vintage cafee, to mid-century architecture that I admire. I’m also heavily inspired by the poetic quality of Mark Rothko’s paintings, the power of Brancusi’s sculptures, and the work of architects Jean-Michel Frank and Gio Ponti for their holistic approach to design.”

His oeuvre is just as wide-ranging and was recently documented in coffee-table book Crossing Cultures with Design, “an in-depth exploration of how my design career has evolved in the past 10 years.” The book, created with writer Catherine Shaw, explains how Fu’s hotel projects develop, and how the underlying value in his work is to embrace a sense of “relaxed luxury.” His art, he believes, “is about crafting compelling settings that embrace and reflect harmony, beauty, and warmth, and which are imbued with refined, understated sophistication.”

Banner image: The Fu-designed 53W53 private residence in New York. Stephen Johnson