The Opus Suite | CityAM
CityAM newspaper | 14 February 2014
Creating the height of luxury at the Shard
He's the hotshot architect-designer sensation of Asia Pacific, who has chosen London for his first European projects. Andre Fu talks to Laura Ivill about uber-suites, the Shard and creating zen in your own home.
As I join Andre Fu at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, late summer sun is pouring in and he is surrounded by flowers. It is three weeks before his new suite is launched and he is giving the final details his undivided attention.
It's this attention to detail, along with his ability to conceptualise and deliver a project from the architectural drawing board to the finished product with style and precision, that has made his name. Following award-winning success with the Upper House in Hong Kong in 2009 and Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore in 2010, Fu has been in demand, completing projects spanning Asia Pacific, including more hotels and restaurants for the likes of Shangri-La and the W. However, he has chosen London for his first European commissions.
As well as the new Opus Suite at the Berkeley, he is simultaneously working on floor 52 of the Shard - the top floor of the Shangri-La hotel development that is hotly anticipated, and much delayed (it opens on 6 May). Fu's task is to make his floor a day-to-night experience. “In the daytime, half of the footprint will be a fitness lounge and swimming pool for guests; the other half is a bar that will open up in the evening, and the swimming pool will become part of the bar as a water feature,” he explains. “The idea is that the whole footprint gets animated in the evening. It will be called Gong.”
While we are waiting for the Gong to sound its opening in July, the Berkeley has been an instant hit, with Hollywood actors and top-of-their-game sportsmen beating a path to its door. The more world-class talent London attracts, the more attractive it becomes, but this is easily Fu's second home. Hong-Kong born, he was educated in England from the age of 14, graduating from Cambridge in 2000 with an MA in architecture, the same year setting up his own studio, AFSO. In 2003, he returned to Hong Kong, at a time he felt was right for “a newer generation of designers, people with a global vision”.
I first met Fu in 2009 when he showed me around the Upper House. He talked of “flow” and “the journey” in a hotel that had to create something amazing out of the existing top floors of what was a straightforward modern glass-and-steel tower on the waterfront. Fu's transformation transported guests up to a spacious zen-like haven, far from the frenetic pace of the streets below. His textures of bamboo and brushed metals spoke warmth and refinement, artworks added focal points, and my room, spacious yet cosy, was never outdone by one of the most spectacular views in the world – Hong Kong Harbour. I looked for humble paint among the textures. I couldn't find any. Everything was elegant, luxurious and serene. How does he explain his design ethos?
“In terms of the design vocabulary, maybe the “Asian” sensitivity comes more from within than from the look,” he says, explaining that he is not about “the incense, the candle, the pebble next to the orchid”. Instead, his work aims for “that sense of balance, sense of symmetry.”
Textural materials are a signature of Fu's work. “We are using bamboo again,” he says of the Opus Suite. “We like it because it’s a very green and renewable material. It’s for a lot of the wall panellings, and we are working a lot curves into it to give a sense of embracing.” He is also using brass, “a brushed brass, a champagne gold colour, which, for me, is kind of English. The third material is a grey marble, but we are flaming it to give a finish a bit like a lychee skin - when you run your fingers on it there is a slight texture to it like a lychee, which makes it feel a lot more earthy or grounded.”
We head up to the fourth floor to see the suite's layout. It is still concrete and wiring, but I can see that new well proportioned rooms, a whole apartment, have taken the place of the five suites that were torn out. “Even though spatially what we are doing is very architectural, very clean,” he continues, “with the materials that we are choosing and the intimacy that we are working into the space, we are breaking it down so that it becomes smaller pockets of spaces, more like 'places for people'. That’s probably the main philosophy behind all of this.”
Looking around I ask if he has any tips of anyone planning their own home refurbishment. “I have been doing my own home in Hong Kong,” he replies. “The important thing is to understand how you live and the space that you have, and really craft it in accordance to your needs. Invest in the shell with quality materials – the flooring, walls, ceilings - which is the core of it. Most people just think about the look that they want, whereas it’s important to understand how you flow around the space.”
A few months later I return, and enter a temple to serene living. Freshly baked cookies in oversize jars, hand-tufted rugs and a vast flaming fireplace set the scene. All the furniture has been designed and made exclusively for the two-bedroom apartment, and sliding doors open everything up for airy entertaining, or close to create the cocooning, traditional spaces Fu described. A Poggenpohl kitchen leads off the dining room, where Marcus Wareing or Pierre Koffmann will leave their kitchens in the hotel downstairs to cook for you (yes, really). “Well appointed” doesn't even come close.
It is clearly refined, and the soft colour palette will sit well with any international traveller. I don't immediately feel a “sense of place”, of being in London. Often that sense is imbued by the view, one's highly defined surroundings, and Hyde Park is across Knightsbridge in the mid distance. But, hey, if you lived here for five days you would grow into your surroundings.
Without doubt, it is a fabulous entertaining space – I can imagine my butler with a tray of Krug welcoming my oh-so-fashionable friends, with plenty of room to mingle amongst the artworks. It is a suite with bragging rights and a price tag to match. And, yes, the flowers are exceptionally nice, too.
The Opus Suite at the Berkeley costs from £10,000 per night, with a minimum five-night stay. Breakfast (you'll be pleased to know) is included (the-berkeley.co.uk)