LOH LIK PENG

Singaporean hospitality whizz Loh Lik Peng, founder of Unlisted Collection, has masterminded some of the world’s most dynamic boutique hotels, restaurants and bars, collaborating with architects, designers and chefs from Singapore to Shanghai and most recently Sydney.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspires your love of boutique hotels?
Our properties are usually located only in conservation buildings or buildings with a lot of character, which gives our guests an authentic experience of the city. I like these difficult old buildings. The original Sydney building housing The Old Clare Hotel was built in stages, starting from the early 20th century to the 1930s. It’s very complex and conservation listed, so the regulatory process was tough. I am delighted with the finished result and feel we’ve created something unique. 

ABOVE: Hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, founder and director of Unlisted Collection
BELOW: Heritage-modern rooms at The Old Clare Hotel, Sydney, including the Abercrombie Room (with freestanding bath), Clare Room and more contemporary Chippendale Loft. Local architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer adapted the original buildings

ABOVE: Original period details, from timber panelling to parquetry floors and cornices, feature in The Old Clare Hotel's two Showroom Suites (each with a restored bar as a bedhead) and pendant lamp-sporting C.U.B. Suite, located in the former brewery boardroom

What was your design vision for The Old Clare Hotel?
I liked the idea of working in an old brewery with a strong local heritage. I was really attracted by the raw industrial feel of the building and the locality. My vision was not to over-restore it, but to maintain the grittiness and the industrial, urban feeling of the building while respecting its unusual history. You can still see and feel its original character even as you sleep in the most comfortable of environments. We have cleaned the old lady up nicely but I hope she still retains the atmosphere of her brewery and pub past.

ABOVE: Design details in The Old Clare's 62 rooms include desk lamps made from salvaged car jacks by Margate's The Rag and Bone Man; Reclaimed naval search lights; and custom-designed pendant lights by PSLab, referencing the building's industrial elements and black steel

Which details are you particularly proud of?
I hope people just appreciate the original features of the hotel and some of the interesting heritage rooms. The Old Clare Hotel has these amazing art deco curved windows, original timber panelling and intricate plaster air vents. The structure is all macho bricks, steel, concrete and big timbers and I love that industrial character. We worked with some great collaborators too.

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ABOVE FROM TOP: Automata restaurant offers casual fine dining under chef Clayton Wells, with industrial-chic design by Matt Darwon (aka Matt Machine), including chandeliers upstairs made from aircraft engines; Kensington Street Social eatery, helmed by UK chef Jason Atherton, features rough-luxe interiors by Shanghai's Neri&Hu; Curvy The Clare bar stays true to its pub roots; The Rooftop Pool and Bar offers views of the Brutalist UTS Tower and Jean Nouvel's One Central Park residential skyscrapers, with living green walls by Patrick Blanc

Tell us about the restaurants and bars launched alongside the hotel.
We have two very special restaurantsAutomata and Kensington Street Social – on site, and we also have a Rooftop Pool and Bar and revamped heritage bar The Clare serving some of the best cocktails in Sydney. 

ABOVE: Current show 'Vile Bodies', at Chippendale's mod-Sino White Rabbit Gallery until 5 February 2017, features Zhang Dali's disturbing installation 'Chinese Offspring' (2005) in the atrium; Level 2 displays Su Xinping's outsize image of clasped hands 'Untitled' (2015) and Hou Chun-Ming's vibrant 'Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea' (2008). The birdcage-hung teahouse serves tea and dumplings

What attracted you to the hotel's location in Chippendale, in Sydney's inner-south?
Chippendale is filled with interesting designers and galleries, such as contemporary Chinese art showcase the White Rabbit Gallery, which I find really inspiring. I’m excited by Chippendale’s authentic and local feel. It’s a very low-key neighbourhood that has its own thing going on and its own local scene. I hope our guests just go and explore Kensington Street and the wider area, as they have so much to offer.

ABOVE: Unlisted Collection stays include opulent Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, East London; Quirky Wanderlust Hotel in Little India, Singapore, set in an old school; and The Waterhouse at South Bund in Huangpu, Shanghai, a concrete former 1930s army HQ and warehouse transformed by local architects Neri&Hu with light minimal interiors 

What's your design philosophy?
I’m inspired by authentic locations, places that have a sense of localness, grit and edge. I've sited previous hotels in town halls, old schools and old warehouses – and having one in a former brewery appeals to me very much, especially since the Carlton & United Breweries has such a long association with New South Wales and Sydney. I’m fascinated by unloved heritage buildings in these vibrant local neighbourhoods and I think The Clare/C.U.B. and Chippendale have this character in spades.

ABOVE: Loh Lik Peng's design heroes include Danish architect Finn Juhl, whose 'Pelican' armchairs by Onecollection are available from London Scandinavian interiors store Skandium

Who are your design heroes?
My design heroes include Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl.

What's currently exciting you in design?
I’m really into small craft producers at the moment. I love handcrafted Japanese ceramics and Korean lacquer. 

ABOVE: Loh Lek Peng's must-sees in Singapore include heritage-modern hybrids the National Gallery Singapore, converted by studioMilou and CPG Consultants; and the National Design Centre by SCDA Architects, shown here illuminated at night

What should design fans see in Singapore?
The old Supreme Court and City Hall buildings have now been turned into the National Gallery Singapore, which showcases great architecture and South-East Asian art. I also love Singapore’s National Design Centre as it always has an interesting programme. Both have brilliant gift shops! 

ABOVE: Post Ranch Inn at Big Sur, California, sports wraparound ocean views

Where's on your travel wish list?
My all-time favourite resort hotel is the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California.

What's your social media of choice?
Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and Instagram because I love visual mediums. For news on our hotels and restaurants, follow Unlisted Collection.
unlistedcollection.com

Photos:
Various; Unlisted Collection (portrait); Aaron Pocock (National Design Centre); White Rabbit Gallery, courtesy of the artists and White Rabbit Collection

NERI&HU

Founding partners of acclaimed Shanghai architecture and design practice Neri&Hu, husband and wife Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu are also creative directors of Chinese furniture label Stellar Works and have crafted elegant modern products for a host of top global brands.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What’s your design philosophy?
At Neri&Hu we believe in architecture and design as a powerful cultural force. We prefer the subtext over the obvious, and the poetic over the utilitarian. We always start with a concept and research it in depth, looking for traces and signs that inspire us. We are still too young to have a distinct language, so we flow in many directions depending on the specific project, but we always explore layering, transparency, texture, framing and materiality. Questions of culture and aesthetic philosophy concern us deeply and we also want to relate what we do to everyday life.

What do you each bring to the party?
Lyndon is more of a creator and Rossana a critic, which is a good combination.

ABOVE: At The Waterhouse at South Bund, Neri&Hu transformed a Thirties army headquarters in Shanghai into a rough-luxe boutique hotel

How do you balance heritage and modern to create a new Chinese aesthetic?
For us, the redevelopment – or historic renovation – projects are extremely interesting. They allow us to try different ways of interpreting culture and history, something that relates to our identity as individuals and as a collective, and to explore the contrasts between old and new. They’re also a perfect way of preserving memory, as well as creating a sustainable environment to promote healthy reuse, rather than simply demolishing and rebuilding for commercial gain.

Which recent projects are you proud of?
We’ve just designed Kuala Lumpur's Sentul Contemporary Art Museum in Malaysia, which is about monumentality and preserving urban memory, and a creative agency's headquarters for Meiré und Meiré in Cologne, Germany, which merges architectural and institutional identity.

ABOVE: Industrial-chic interiors for Kensington Street Social restaurant at The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney team raw concrete and sleek wood with brass and glass louvres

Tell us about Sydney restaurant Kensington Street Social at The Old Clare Hotel.
We were inspired by Kensington Street Social’s setting within the former Carlton & United Breweries building. We reinterpreted the brewing equipment once used there by inserting two machine-like volumes into the space. The two machine boxes rest atop a continuous concrete landscape defining the footprints of the restaurant’s tapas bar and cocktail bar. The design also takes its cues from the ‘social’ motif of chef Jason Atherton’s restaurants and architecturally treats the interior as an extension of the lively Kensington streetscape, blurring the boundaries between inside and out. 

ABOVE: Neri&Hu's graphic 'Remnant 1' (red) and 'Remnant 2' (blue) rugs for Dutch brand Moooi Carpets reflect Chinese streetscapes; 'A Cabinet of Curiosity' cabinet and 'Utility' sofa for Stellar Works; 'Jie' rugs in celadon and blue for Spain's Nanimarquina, riffing on street tile patterns

What inspires you?
We are inspired by the mundane and the ordinary. The fabric of Shanghai and the everyday activities in and around the city are a huge inspiration. The Western architectural tradition forms the basis of our education, but culturally we are very much Chinese, and that influences our work especially in China. We also like to examine local culture wherever our projects are located.

What’s currently exciting you in design or style?
Paring down to the essence of things – not simply minimalism, but keeping only the necessary while still creating an enriching spatial experience. Also exploring new materials.

ABOVE: 'Ayi' coat rack/umbrella stands for Swedish firm Offecct; the red ash 'Ming' chair for Stellar Works reinterprets trad wooden Chinese seats; Conceived as 'little butlers', 2016's 'Ren' occasional furniture collection for Italy's Poltrona Frau was inspired by the Chinese character 'ren' meaning 'people'; Co-joined 'Together' chairs for Denmark's Fritz Hansen

Who are your design heroes?
There are many contemporary giants whose work we admire. Le Corbusier is still very relevant for studying form and spaces. Carlo Scarpa continues to inspire us with his details and composition, and Adolf Loos with his clarity and rigour. Of the architects practising today, we admire the work of SANAA, Alvaro Siza, David Chipperfield and Peter Zumthor. In terms of mentors, Lyndon's thesis adviser at Harvard Graduate School of Design was Rafael Moneo and he’s definitely played a big part in moulding his take on architecture. Both of us worked at Michael Graves, which taught us a multidisciplinary design approach.

Where’s on your travel wish list? 
Malawi, Istanbul and Prague [Rossana]. Argentina and Berlin [Lyndon].

TOP: A continuous clothes rail runs around flagship fashion store Comme Moi in Shanghai, which also sports cage-like custom-made cabinets; 'Dowry' cabinets and other signature pieces for Stellar Works; 'Jian' hooded sofa for Spain's Gandiablasco against the Pudong skyline
ABOVE: The 'Bai' pendant light family for Spanish brand Parachilna encases a Chinese lantern in a modern glass bulb; A lattice of brass rods creates see-through interiors at skincare brand Sulwhasoo's Seoul store

What’s the Shanghai design scene like?
It is being infiltrated with global energy and design influences on a daily basis, and the absorption rate is extremely high. The problem that comes with this phenomenon is that people are not that critical about what they see and use, so regardless of whether things are good/bad, appropriate/inappropriate, they are all being taken on here.

What’s your social media of choice?
Instagram, I like images over words when expressing myself [Lyndon].
Weibo if at all, but trying to boycott it right now! And Instagram [Rossana].
www.neriandhu.com

Portrait: Andrew Rowat Other images: Poltrona Frau and Sulwhasoo, Pedro Pegenaute; Gandiablasco, Dirk Weiblen

For more on Neri&Hu, see our earlier post on Stellar Works