Wan Chai hotel The Fleming might never have reached top-of-mind status in its previous existence, but it had been operating in earnest since it first opened a little over a decade ago.
“It was a very successful hotel with 98 per cent occupancy over the past four years. It had no need for a redesign,” Maxime Dautresme, co-founder of the creative agency behind the image overhaul, A Work of Substance, tells us. Necessary or not, the property’s owner John Hui in partnership with consultant Jason Cohen decided to shutter up and give the hotel a complete makeover, transforming The Fleming into a 66-room boutique beauty that pays homage to the very essence of Hong Kong.
The new identity originates from a spirit of wistfulness, which, Maxime explains, can be difficult to unearth in Hong Kong. “I was lucky to travel a lot as a kid,” he says. “The nostalgia I have with scent, food, colours and sights is something that is hard to find in Hong Kong. But take Japan – you just have to watch Lost in Translation and you’re back at Shibuya crossing.”
One of the undisputed icons of Hong Kong’s past and present, however, is the Star Ferry, and this quickly became the inspiration for the interiors and branding, building on three values central to the success of this project: efficiency, culture and sociability.
“We started studying the Star Ferry and were like, ‘it’s perfect,’” says Maxime. “It brings that nostalgia, but at the same time it’s quite elegant. It’s super-efficient because it goes back and forth without turning, elements like the bench make it very social, and it’s a cultural icon. So, we took that and injected it into the interiors and the identity.”
From this genesis, the bottle-green and beige palette emerges, as does the brass detailing that elevates everything from the light switches to the air-conditioning control pad to the status of design objects. Desk chairs, like those in the lobby, recall the dual-direction seats found on the cross-harbour boat, and even the amenities have been conceived to awaken the senses with aromas native to our Fragrant Harbour.
A contemporary take on Traditional Chinese Medicine, A Work of Substance worked with a perfumer for more than a year to create the Shen Nong brand of bathroom products, which exploits the associative power of scent to create the sentiment of nostalgia that Maxime hopes people will relate to their stay at The Fleming.
Indeed, everything from the poured concrete shower floor to the extensive mini bar has been carefully contemplated by Maxime’s studio. “It evolved quite nicely because we had a strong positioning as a basis,” he says. “Because we’re a branding agency, using the strategies we use when we build identities allowed us to be very focused.”
A detail of the wall behind the reception desk
With curved edges and brass detailing, the lifts evoke the feel of the Art Moderne movement
The door signage can be turned from inside the room to indicate whether you want housekeeping to clean or whether you wish to be left alone and is inspired by hardware found on the Star Ferry
A twin room with photography depicting scenes that are singular to Hong Kong
The Shen Nong brand of bathroom products, which was created specifically for The Fleming using principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine
Open storage systems make the space feel larger and more efficient
A Work of Substance designed everything, right down to the dimmable light switches
The stationery and key cards bear the hotel's logo, which was inspired by the Star Ferry
Osteria Marzia by Black Sheep Restaurants occupies the ground floor of the hotel, serving a continental breakfast to hotel guests in the morning and coastal-Italian fare throughout the day
Inspired by bamboo scaffolding, this striking light fixture illuminates the exterior of The Fleming
And while The Fleming makes a significant aesthetic impression, the attention to detail it received from Maxime and his team ensures that it also delivers on less tangible terms, evoking an atmosphere that is both unique and unequivocally Hong Kong. As Maxime responds when asked what he most enjoyed about the project: “We captured what Hong Kong makes me feel like. I’m happy we managed to express that.”