IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Up Close with JJ Acuna
This week Club Monaco met with James JJ Acuna, the incredibly talented designer, entrepreneur and blogger. This Filipino-born, US-educated designer has over 12 years of experience practicing architectural design and interiors in Hong Kong and the Asian region at large. His personal blog, Wanderlister.com, uniquely documents regional and local designs through his travels.
In the past 13 months, he has taken a new direction in his career, leaving a cushy Director’s seat in the corporate world for the life of an entrepreneur, working on smaller scale lifestyle and hospitality projects. His recent works involve collaborations with Award winning chefs like Chef May Chow and Chef Vicky Lau as well as creative tastemakers like Kevin Poon to formulate chef-centered design businesses. His studio now represents an impressive portfolio of projects across Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Manila.
Club Monaco (CM) & JJ Acuna (JJ)
CM: Tell us about a recent project you worked on in Hong Kong?
JJ: This year alone, we’ve opened two restaurants. One, a Michelin-rated fine dining venue for Asia’s Best Female Chef, Chef Vicky Lau called Tate Dining Room in Hollywood Road. And just this week we’ve opened an amazing new cafe called Elephant Grounds Mid-Levels on Caine Road in collaboration with Kevin Poon and company. These are both great projects and great clients. I’m very excited.
CM: Tell us about a project you are most proud of.
JJ: I’m happy with all my projects I’ve worked on, however the project I’m proudest of— that you can actually see on my website, is a house that I built for my sister and our family in Manila. I started designing it five years ago, and it’s only now that we are completing the project. It’s really a beautiful home, and to get to live in it and grow with it and watch my nieces and nephews and aged parents experience it, is truly a dream come true as an Architect and Designer.
CM: Where else would you consider living?
JJ: I would probably stay in Asia somewhere. I love the Philippines. But honestly, Hong Kong is fantastic.
CM: What are your must-read books?
JJ: I’m currently reading Lost Japan by Alex Kerr about life in Japan’s isolated Iya Valley. It’s quite a monastic and nomadic lifestyle, which is foreign to me but I find attractive to read. Other books I recommend people to read are The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. These are for people who are comfortable or want to be comfortable standing out from the crowd.
CM: Which are your favorite places in Hong Kong?
JJ: I love hanging out by the window side at Elephant Grounds on Star Street especially when the windows are wide open. This is one of my projects. I love having a quiet Chinese meal street side next to the temple in the Tai Hang neighborhood. I love walking along the waterside in Kennedy town piers after a dinner or drink with friends. I also love taking the ferry to Kowloon whenever I get the chance. Anywhere I can be alone and introspective just so I can observe the crowd, is what I love to do.
CM: How would you describe your design style? Do you have a signature touch in your designs?
JJ: I feel that in general, I’m a very collaborative person, a real problem solver, and very much a team player. I don't think I have a certain design style — as all my projects are informed by the Client “paying me” and their dreams, aspirations, and project briefs. But definitely if there was a thread throughout my work, I’d like to think that everything I do is light, fresh, and refreshing. I don't like things too heavy or overly complicated.
CM: How’s architecture/interior design affect your own fashion style?
JJ: Because I travel and move around so much, everyone does not really expect me to be dressed dapper 100% of the time. I like to be comfortable in my own skin and that reflects my style choices. But I definitely have to be professional and easy going. Anything that can take me from breakfast to cocktails in a gentlemanly way would be great.
CM: Where do you draw inspiration from to your work?
JJ: I draw influences from everything. Movie sets, cinematography, museums, galleries, travelling, people watching— and these days media. I like formulating narratives. I love telling stories, and I like to tell these stories in my design work. Everything I try to do in design is a set up for something special. What that is, I do not know. It’s always a surprise.
本周Club Monaco 訪問了集設計師、企業家和博客等才華於一身的James JJ Acuna。他在菲律賓出生，於美國長大並接受教育，在香港和亞洲地區從事建築和室內設計達12年，足跡遍及中國和東南亞等地。JJ 不僅在設計行業的崗位上，致力推廣和支持香港的設計和創意產業，更透過 Wanderlister.com 的個人網誌，將於本土和亞洲區內遊歷時遇到的設計作品紀錄下來。
13個月前，他毅然辭去安穩的企業總裁職務，踏上創業之路，與饒富創意的潮流先鋒Kevin Poon，及屢獲殊榮的星級主廚May Chow（周思薇）和Vicky Lau（劉韻棋）攜手合作，創立一間以廚師為本、專營時尚生活及款客項目的設計公司，將企業生涯累積的經驗，融入從亞洲社交媒體企劃中習得的知識。目前，公司業務遍及香港、曼谷和馬尼拉。未來，他寄望業務和生活繼續積極進取，創意不絕。
JJ: 單單今年，我們已創辦了兩間餐廳，其中一間是榮獲米芝蓮評級的Tate Dining Room，由亞洲最佳女廚師Vicky Lau（劉韻棋）主理，位於荷里活道。另外，跟Kevin Poon（潘世亨）聯乘合作的全新咖啡店Elephant Grounds亦已在本周開幕，位於西半山堅道。能與頂尖客戶合作構思優秀項目，令我深感興奮。
JJ: 我最近在讀Alex Kerr的《Lost Japan》，這本書描寫日本偏遠隱秘的祖谷溪。那裡的遊牧生活寧靜簡樸，是我聞所未聞的，我被書中的文字深深吸引。此外，我還推薦Malcolm Gladwell的《Outliers》和Ayn Rand的《Fountainhead》，適合特立獨行或有此宏願的人閱讀。
JJ: 我喜歡坐在敞開窗戶的Elephant Grounds星街咖啡店裡消磨時間，它是我主理的其中一個項目；我亦喜歡在大坑蓮花宮附近的路邊食店，享受地道中國菜。我愛跟朋友共晉晚餐或小酌一杯後，沿堅尼地城碼頭漫步海濱；也愛坐渡輪到九龍去。我喜歡獨處的時光，讓我躬身自省，觀察人群。