Interior designers UDO LAM and FRANKIE CHAO are the founders of design studio Otherwhere in Hong Kong. Since launching in 2016, they’ve received a stack of high-profile awards, including at the Asia Pacific Interior Design Awards. We asked them for insights into their distinctive aesthetic.
Tell us about Otherwhere: who started it, when, and with what aim in mind?
We founded the studio in 2016. Our aim was to bring a new perspective of spatial design to people through our work. We believe that space should be able to bring together human emotion and lifestyle, and we hope our designs can provide the right kind of atmosphere for people living a hectic and fast-paced lifestyle to explore the inner side of life.
What is the significance of the company name?
Our company name actually started with the Chinese words “shan wai”, which means “place beyond the mountain and forest”. It’s an abstract idea from traditional landscape painting.
Imagine when you’re looking at a painting; you act like an observer sitting in a place that is “otherwhere”, beyond the artistic scene. You’ll find the layers and patterns in the painting’s composition are all lively and organic. Similarly, we hope our designs can help people to free up their minds so they can find that space has no visible boundary; they can always explore a space with different feelings.
What kind of services do you offer, and what kind of projects do you work on?
We offer interior design and project management services. For our residential project, we also partner closely with selected contractors to do the construction work.
For the past few years, our focus has been more on residential projects, with some retail and F&B projects in Hong Kong and mainland China too.
How does your design philosophy differ from other firms?
We always start a design by considering the emotional and psychological comfort of the user. We want to emphasise that no matter whether a space is for living or for a commercial purpose, it should also be a refuge for emotion and soul.
We’re not saying we ignore the functionality of the space. However, building technology and skills nowadays are so very advanced that they can take care of most of the practical issues; we try to position ourselves as designers who pull everything together with an emotional touch.
We think this is how our firm differs from others.
How has COVID informed your approach to design?
The pandemic has obviously shifted people from an outdoor and public lifestyle into a more physically inward one. As people are spending much more time indoors, we find our clients are seeking more personalised spaces that can offer more on both a functional and spiritual level compared to a pre-COVID time. With this in mind, how to introduce a personalised element – greenery, leisure spaces or hobby-related features, for example – into a design has become one of the key approaches in our recent projects.
On a practical level, we’re also more concerned about the air quality within a space. So, questions that are often on our design checklist include, “How can we enhance the air-flow for a better layout?” and “How could greenery help improve the air composition here?”
There seems to be a strong element of serenity in much of your work; is this a response to COVID-19 or has it always been part of your design aesthetic?
The element of serenity in our work is reflective of a lifestyle that we like and crave – it’s always been part of our design aesthetic. Having said that, we’re finding more and more people are seeking to achieve serenity in their lives through our designs, due to the massive impact of the pandemic on everyone.
What is Otherwhere planning for the future?
We’d like to involve ourselves more in projects that resonate with our design philosophy; beauty salons, yoga and meditation centres, businesses that are about people’s health and wellness – these will be key focuses.
Also, we would like to start building our corporate social responsibility by helping disadvantaged groups in society, including the elderly. During the pandemic, the poor condition of care homes and centres for the elderly is said to have contributed to the COVID situation. As designers, we feel like we could contribute more to help improve this. So, getting involved in projects like care homes and rehabilitation centres and clinics is another direction we’re hoping to develop at Otherwhere in the coming years.
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2022 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.