Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. Each week in 27 Questions, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims, aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration it takes to sit through a two-minute speed date.
As the daughter of a former NASA scientist, you could say talent runs in the family: Taiwanese-American architect Dara Huang holds a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University, and started her career at Herzog de Meuron in Basel and Foster + Partners. In 2013, she founded Design Haus Liberty, her own international architecture and design practice based in London, which as of 2019 also expanded to Hong Kong.
Huang’s projects spread throughout the globe, spanning luxury commercial projects to private residential designs. She’s designed bespoke feature installations for Cartier in Shanghai and Dalian; Manolo Blahnik stores in Hong Kong, Seoul and Jakarta; and private residences across Hong Kong. Last year, one of the projects one of the projects Huang was most proud of was the Villa Mosca Bianca, a sophisticated, 60 percent sustainable home in Italy’s Lake Como designed for a retired couple, featuring natural local materials, renewable energy, reused rainwater as well as natural ventilation.
Named one of Prestige’s 40 Under 40 in 2019, Huang is not only seasoned in her work with luxury clients, but is also interested in democratising design: She co-founded an affordable urban housing platform Viva House, in a world that is rapidly shifting towards the co-living model.
Earlier this autumn, on top of the tireless duty of being a working mum with her four-year-old son, Wolfie, and contending with the challenges of work during the pandemic, she has also managed to keep busy with a community project in collaboration with Lego, working with inner-city children in London to rebuild neighbourhood buildings through their eyes.
“The children were tasked with building either a school, house or office using Lego bricks, with one simple outcome: design something that makes people happy,” Huang tells Lifestyle Asia. “The project follows research commissioned by The Lego Group, which found that children can get creative more easily compared to adults. [The study] revealed that children face fewer limitations when accessing a creative frame of mind, meaning their ideas are more free-flowing and plentiful. I love giving back and being able to inspire the next generation.
This November, Huang launches her inaugural eponymous furniture collection, inspired by the changing needs and functions of the home. “I’ve always been fascinated with furniture design but as a professional I was constantly looking for furniture that is, firstly, well designed, secondly, fits urban as well as suburban spaces; thirdly, is as functional as it is comfortable; fourthly, is at a price that I can access it at; and finally, is sustainable and has quality robust enough for both residential and commercial use.” The resulting 25-piece collection features a curved sofa, armchairs, coffee table and drawers that prize organic, tactile qualities of raw materials from stone to wood. According to Huang, it came at a serendipitous time:
“After designing many bespoke pieces we finally decided that we would do a three-bedroom collection. The reason for this was because we were [also] about to launch a penthouse collection with Greenwich Peninsula. That was a huge catalyst for us to make a collection that all went together, but also because I think the residential interiors market is growing. People generally need help with their homes and we wanted to make something that can be easily mixed and matched.”
We catch up with Huang with our signature rapid-fire interview series in the hopes to let off some steam — and get to know the talented architect and designer from a new light.
Name: Dara Huang
Neighbourhood: London/Hong Kong (SoHo)
Occupation: Architect/ Entrepreneur
1. What is your life motto?
“If I’m not excited about it, nobody else will be.”
2. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?
I would say these almond buns in Causeway Bay at West Villa restaurant — tell me they aren’t the most amazing thing in this world!
3. Who is your role model?
My dad (a retired NASA scientist).
4. What was your first job?
I had a few. One was painting surfing chihuahua murals on Taco Bell windows across central Florida. The second was a cashier at the local grocery store.
5. What is your drink of choice? Sparkling water.
6. Your go-to coffee order?
Coconut latte, decaf.
7. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
The ceiling height. Always.
8. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
9. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
I don’t get to see my son.
10. What is your greatest fear?
11. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Michelle Obama… ok that’s six, I’m seeing a trend here…
12. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
The bathroom, even though I’m alone in larger spaces, there is something about small dark spaces that makes me feel like nobody can bother me, where all other doors are ‘open’.
13. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
My baby when he was newly born — I have no idea how they are born with a scent and how that is generated. Perfume wise — Another 13 by Le Labo.
14. What’s your favourite tradition?
15. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
Sadly no because my mother was an amazing cook and there was no room for me [in the kitchen].
16. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
My father. That if you want something you have to work for it.
17. What’s the best or worst career advice you’ve ever received?
The best: get an overdraft and use it as a bridge loan, because when you’re a small growing business in the beginning, payment schedules are not always predictable. So if you simply apply for an overdraft then you have that flexibility to dip into it on emergency basis. Hopefully you’ll never have to dip in to it — I don’t think I ever have, but it’s a good safety net. This way you can pay out your monthly costs and once the late payments hit your account, you’re only ever using the overdraft as a bridge loan.
18. What energises you about your work?
Winning new business and coming up with new designs.
19. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.
Oh for sure. He was the father of my child, and he left as quickly as he came, so I would say unfortunately it’s not an instinct you can trust!
20. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? which do you wear the most often?
I have lost count, and since COVID I only wear my snow boots and my trainers. I also hate carrying handbags now too.
21. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?
I’d rather never be alone for a single moment, even though I really cherish and value being alone. Because I love being around my son, for instance.
22. What would you do if you won the lottery?
The exact same thing, except I’d buy my house instead of rent it.
23. Start your life again at age 15 with all the knowledge you have now, or fast forward 10 years?
Start my life again at age 15 with all the knowledge I have now! That would be amazing! I’d skip grad school and college… maybe even high school.
24. When was the last time you felt starstruck?
When i found out my client was on the Game of Thrones.
25. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
26. If you could snap your fingers and fix one thing about the world, what would it be?
27. If you could do it all over again, what is one thing you would you do differently?
I would have spoken up a lot more as a young recently graduated, female professional.