In creating the brightly colored, elegant interiors of the Burj al Arab and working as an integral part of the construction team, London-based Khuan Chew, design principal and founder of KCA International, created a benchmark hotel-a luxury tower that proclaims itself as the world’s first seven-star hotel and challenges others to come near it. The project catapulted her into the international limelight as an iconic design leader. Chew has an impressive client list spanning four continents, with a diversity of work ranging from exclusive penthouse apartments, yachts, country houses, and royal palaces, to international airports, five-star hotels, and public buildings.
That’s the beauty of design. You re-invent it all the time.
HAUTE LIVING Though your work is widely varied, is there a unifying theme or hallmark of your design?
KHUAN CHEW No, not really. Our work is very varied-from private superyachts to metro trains and stations, airports, and, of course, hotels, not to mention the odd palace or private residence for an oligarch.
HL If you could collaborate with any designer, living or dead, who would it be?
KC Kengo Kuma.
HL You’ve worked on four continents. Which is your favorite place to design for?
KC At the moment, Asia. Culturally, it comes naturally. It’s also so diverse in the various pockets within Asia itself. It can be heavy decoration and rich in India, calm and beautifully unexpected from Japan, so earthy in the Southeast Asian countries, and so rich artistically and historically in the Tang/Han/Ming periods in China, which still influences life in China, and on the outside, too.
HL Where do you find your inspiration? How do you search for it?
KC Surprisingly, from anything and everything. I can be anywhere in the world doing whatever, something can catch my eye, and I can apply it in a different idiom or scale or reinterpret it. That’s the beauty of design. You re-invent it all the time.
HL If you could make up one rule of design for all designers, what would it be?
KC Be true to yourself. Fight for what you think is the right solution. Don’t give in to compromise if you can help it. You may live to regret compromise as I have. The older you become you are less likely to give in to others. In other words, don’t end up being mediocre. Be different and be the best!
HL Of the buildings and spaces you have designed, do you have a favorite? Why?
KC Actually, yes. My own home in a secret country-but I sold it when I was strapped for cash a couple of years ago. I was my own client, so I could pretty much do what I wanted and it all worked. I saw it only a month ago, when the new owner with whom I kept in touch with invited me round. It is exactly as I left it.
HL How do you balance the business aspects of your work with its inherent creative nature?
KC I don’t. I am a hopeless businesswoman. That’s why I am still working-business is now being taken care of by others who do it better than me, so I can concentrate more on design.
HL What time of day do you do your best work?
KC Morning-after a workout session of jogging or the gym.
HL Growing up, music was very important to you and your family. Does it still play a role in your life today?
HL What lesson have you had to learn the hard way?