Diners well-versed in Hong Kong’s culinary scene may be distinctly familiar with the aesthetic – functionalist yet playful interiors imbued with a hint of modernist sensibilities – that can be found in the city’s trendiest eateries (17 at the last count) and attributed to Sean Dix of dix design+architecture.
The well-travelled Kansas native decided to base his furniture and interior design studio out of Hong Kong ten years ago and hasn’t looked back: since his first restaurant design for the roaring success that was the original Yardbird, Dix now counts founders Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang, chef Max Levy of Okra, and the Black Sheep Restaurants group among his list of regular clients. This month, he shares with us what’s been inspiring him as of late.
Which piece are you most proud of designing?
I’m proud to design furniture and spaces that are without an expiration date and help provide a stable income to a lot of people – my restaurant clients, the furniture factory team, my design team, our suppliers and distributors.
What’s your favourite material of the moment? Yardbird 2.0 (Photo: Alex Maeland)
My favorite material is whatever’s most appropriate for the application. Generally I tilt towards materials that age well, that look better when they are a bit scratched up and start to get a patina: solid American oak, raw polished aluminum, the cast concrete that we used at the new Yardbird.
In terms of design, my favorite restaurant will always be the Four Seasons in New York designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson in 1959 – truly a masterpiece.
But for food there are too many: there’s a grubby street food place in Saigon that makes the best lemongrass clams and stir-fried frogs’ legs. You just lean off your low plastic stool to spit the bones right onto the sidewalk – very convenient. In Hong Kong, Yardbird is always a favourite. Matt’s team makes great food and is always on point, utterly consistent. Okra, especially Max’s upstairs omakase, is always amazing and still surprisingly a bit under the radar. His passion and precision are absolutely evident. Daniel [Calvert] at Belon makes food that’s better than any French grandma’s.
Favourite travel destination? JUA Bangkok (Photo: Jason Lang)
Because I love street food, Thailand always rates at the top of my list. But for pure inspiration, Japan is ichiban. It’s the Galapagos of design – it seems like everything evolved differently in Japan. I learn a lot every time I visit. I recently collaborated with Chef Chet Adkins and photographer Jason Lang in Bangkok on an izakaya called JUA. It was a great project that incorporated elements from both – it’s a traditional Thai walk-up with a super minimal, Japanese-inspired interior.
Can you name a designer who’s been particularly inspiring to you?
I like the old guys – Achille Castiglioni, Dieter Rams, my old bosses Ettore Sottsass and James Irvine, Friso Kramer. Mostly the design I collect is anonymous but I’ve made some rare exceptions and I live with some of their pieces. A Rams sofa, Sottsass’s iconic vase, a BBPR desk, a Lappalainen chaise lounge…