Meet the Filipino architect reimagining domestic space in Hong Kong
Christian San Jose
Abdela Igmirien & Adam Khuel
23 October, 2018
It is refreshing to see and live in spaces that deviate from the sea of mobile houses and tiny apartments in cramped cities like Hong Kong. Architect and interior designer James Acuña knows this all too well.

He is the editor of the design blog Wanderlister+, and the founder of JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studios whose clientele include some of Asia’s best restaurants like the Tate Dining Room in Sheung Wan by Vicky Lau and the Little Bao in Bangkok by May Chow.

Living in Hong Kong for the last 13 years working as a manipulator of space in the world’s least affordable housing market, Acuña designed his 100-sqm boutique studio to double as many things: a place to work, a library of ideas, and ultimately, an extension of home.

We caught up with Acuña about his spacious quarters located at the industrial district of eastern Hong Kong to talk about mixing aesthetic sensibilities and domestic practicality

Take us through your creative process when designing your space.

Well, when I first got it it was just one big empty space. The biggest question in my head was—how can a design studio space be a place to work, a place to receive guests, a place to generate ideas, a place where inspiration can occur. I didn’t want too many walls but I did need a lot of zones for different types of programme.

The idea is to create anchors within an open plan to help define the use and aesthetics of that part of the floor plan and space. The living area has a big built-in bookshelf, the meeting area is underpinned by a 20-year old American Maple dining table made in Massachusetts, and so forth.

So now if you walk around the studio, each zone has a very unique personality, even if it’s a generally open plan.


What were some considerations you had in mind?

Basically, I just wanted to create a studio space that was very comfortable for friends, collaborators, designers to come in and ideate in different ways. I wanted it to feel easy, flexible, and textured. There’s collaborative areas like the living room and dining room, an introspective reading area for one, a meditation area, and typical working area with a nice timber desk.


What was the inspiration behind its design?

My own art and my books were the main impetus for the design. I collect a lot of books on architecture, art, and design, and I have tons of Filipino art from different galleries. So when planning the studio’s design, I basically planned the location of the bookshelf first for the display and exhibition of these special items, and then the rest fell into place after that. I also loved the natural daylight—it faces South West—so I get a lot of good light here.


Were there any hurdles you came upon designing this studio?

The studio’s windows needed updating because there were leaks and there was some existing structure we turned into storage, but in general, the space was pretty much a tabula rasa. The most difficult thing I think was re-plumbing the space for the open kitchen and pantry area and installing a new powder room and shower. Just to make it more homey and domestic because after all, it’s a multi-use loft. And doing everything within a reasonable budget and completing the whole project from design to turnover in about six weeks.