Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration of a casual speed date. This week, we speak to Ketty Shan, Founder of Atelier Shan and Peerie Tea.
If you’ve been to Soho House Hong Kong, Casa Cucina in Sai Ying Pun, or even Sauce Barbershop on Elgin, you have seen the works of French-Tahitian interior designer Ketty Shan — even if you didn’t realise it.
Graduating from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture and the National Institute of Sciences in France as an Engineer-Architect, Shan first worked in large-scale architecture projects in Hong Kong, before shifting to interior design. She made a name for herself as a design manager for a property developer in Kuala Lumpur and, more recently, Soho House’s Principal Architect. In 2020, she founded her own boutique design studio, Atelier Shan, to focus on interior projects in Hong Kong and private villas in Tahiti.
“The origin of Atelier Shan was the realisation that the architectural industry needs a different approach. In the corporate field, there are so few opportunities for women to be promoted to high, leading positions. Creatives need to be inspired and have a rhythm that can’t be dictated by office hours. We need freedom, experience and breathing space. As a result, I decided to open my own practice.”
Shan is currently working on several projects including a Mediterranean restaurant concept in Central, the new Eric Kayser and a private therapy clinic as well. Talk about diversity.
“My greatest challenge was finding the right people to partner with, from suppliers to contractors to draftsmen,” she says. “As an expat — and not being able to speak Cantonese or Mandarin — I had limited options with the people who could help in all stages of the design process. It took me about eight months to get a good flow and a solid core team with whom I now have a very strong, trusted relationship.”
On top of her design projects, Shan also runs Peerie Tea, her passion project that features a collective of small cross-generational farms from across Yunnan, Assam and Taiwan.
Name: Ketty Shan
Neighbourhood: Chai Wan
- Founder of Atelier Shan, design studio
- Founder of Peerie Tea, organic boutique tea brand
1. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?
As a French food lover, it really kills me not to pick a French meal, but I have to admit my best meals are always at Roganic!
2. Who is your role model?
I adore Oprah for many reasons; she started from below zero with a very tough childhood and even after becoming successful, she used her resources to make impactful changes in the U.S. laws to protect children and help people in distress at a very personal level. She is unstoppable, fun, loves life and seems like such a positive person.
3. What’s your favourite tradition?
Birthday cakes, no party is complete without one.
4. What was your first job?
I was an intern at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and conducted research on the Urban Heat Island effect in Hong Kong. This opportunity gave me a very attractive insight into the career opportunities that Hong Kong had to offer, but also made me discover the city like a local.
5. What is your drink of choice?
Ruinart Champagne for the day, and a smooth Japanese whisky for the night.
6. When was the last time you drove a car?
Two years ago, when I last visited my family. Tahiti only has one main road, and still, I am very capable of getting lost — plus the GPS doesn’t seem to work well there.
7. What is the best thing in or about your studio?
The internal staircase! I love the double height that allowed us to have an original Kai O Floor Lamp designed by Kenneth Cobonpue. The interior is very raw and industrial, I felt the natural light and direct sun were enough to fill the space and create beautiful shadows evolving throughout the day. I wanted the space to feel homey, collaborative and inviting. It’s all about mixing and matching: I am always looking for vintage or handmade items such as rattan chairs, to complement the industrial style.
8. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Architecture school conditions us to work overnight. I design a lot better at night. This is a bad habit that is very difficult to fix, but I am getting there!
9. What energises you about your work?
Delivering humanised, personalised design responses to a brief while working through the whole process as a team with the client and builders, seeing spaces we’ve designed thrive and my clients satisfied with the result.
10. What is one movie everyone should see?
Dangal, with Amir Khan and directed by Nitesh Tiwari, based on the real stories of the Phogat sisters, the first world-class female Indian wrestlers.
11. What is your biggest regret in life?
Not learning Mandarin at school, like my older sister did. Now I struggle learning it on Duolingo.
12. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
Definitely now [it’s] the quarantine imposed by the government due to Covid. Like many others, I haven’t seen my family for two years and have missed big life events, time with my grandparents, that no one can give us back.
13. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
I would love to go to Italy. My trip booked as I was a student had to be cancelled due to the volcano eruption of 2010 in Iceland, and I never got another opportunity to go. Perhaps a late honeymoon?
14. What is your greatest fear?
Suffering from Alzheimer’s — either myself or one of my family members.
15. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
Our engagement! My now husband prepared a whole secret trip and made me believe we were going to climb Mount Kota Kinabalu, which didn’t sound very relaxing to me! In reality, he had booked an eco-villa at the Gaya Island Resort, accessible only by speedboat. We hiked to a private beach where he proposed. I was in shock (so many tears!) and it was the most beautiful moment of my life.
16. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
Taking the minibus.
17. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
Spice Girls – “Wannabe”.
18. If you had to describe Hong Kong in one word, what would it be?
19. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
The first time I learned how to ski, in Christchurch, New Zealand. In each pocket of our ski jacket, my mom would tuck a chocolate bar and dried raisins — I guess in case we get lost on the slopes.
20. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
21. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
The price of my handbags.
22. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.
My latest handbag! Handbags are key for business owners. We run from meetings to construction sites. It needs to be very functional, but at the same time, the reflection of our personality. Mine needs to fit a tape measure, water bottle, iPhone charger and notebook. It took me a few months to find the one at Chloe’s, and we are now inseparable. A love story.
23. What is the last dream you remember waking up to?
In my last dream I was in some sort of very vivid Squid Games and one of my teammates had just died in my arms…
24. What was the best gift you ever received?
The surprise video that our family prepared for our wedding since they couldn’t attend it.
25. What’s the best or worst career advice you’ve ever received?
The best: Use your difference as your advantage.
I never fit in any sort of category and in my younger years, this would make me feel very insecure. My origins are Hakka, but I don’t speak any Asian language. My passport is French, but I have only lived eight years in France. And I am Tahitian, but I can’t surf! With experience, I realised this multicultural mix is in fact, my strength and is what makes me — and Atelier Shan — unique.
26. If you could snap your fingers and fix one thing about the world, what would it be?
Free access to education for everyone. No one should be drawn out of school for any cultural or financial reasons.
27. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done, and why?
Setting up my design studio at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic without knowing what the next day would bring. It has been a significant shift in my career and has required a lot of sacrifices. It also has revealed the truth in many aspects of my life: Friendships and business partnerships, which can be quite scary. However, it got me to know myself better and has really empowered me to be a better person.