Interior Design Magazine – June 2014


Interior Design Magazine – June 2014
Sai Leung and Alessandro Munge’s cosmopolitan outlook travels well
the world is their oyster
What do you get when you combine an Italian born in Germany with a native of Hong Kong? In the case
of Alessandro Munge and Sai Leung, who met at Yabu Pushelberg in the 1990’s, you get Munge Leung. Led
by the two principals, the Toronto firm’s staff of 37 is currently at work on 62 projects worldwide, almost all
in the hospitality sector.
Bisha Hotel & Residences includes the duo’s first hotel in Toronto, following 20-plus restaurants and
bars as well as 10 more bars and nightclubs for Ink Entertainment CEO Charles Khabouth. Out in Vancouver,
British Columbia, Rosewood Hotel Georgia has been earning raves, and its Hawksworth Restaurant for the
local superstar chef David Hawksworth was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation design award. Las Vegas,
already home to a restaurant and a lounge for MGM Resorts International, is still in the game. And China is
getting into the action, thanks to a Beijing office less than a year old. We asked Munge and Leung about the
latest from Canada, what keeps them busy in Sin City, and why Asia is so different.
From top: The principals
of Munge Leung.
Macassar ebony veneer­
ing the reception desk at
Rosewood Hotel Georgia
in Vancouver, British
Columbia. In the hotel’s
Hawksworth Restaurant,
an acrylic on linen by
Rodney Graham.
from top: courtesy of device 222; martin tessler (2)
How did Bisha come about?
AM: One of the developers, Charles Khabouth, was
Tell us about Hotel Georgia.
AM: We spent a lot of time walking the streets of
an early nightclub client of ours. Over the years,
he’s become a friend. We’ve traveled a lot together.
He’s a hoarder who loves to be surrounded by
beautiful furniture and art, and he’s always dreamt
of having his own hotel. So Bisha will be filled with
one-of-a-kind pieces, as if he’d picked them up on
a journey.
Bisha was Charles’s childhood nickname, by the
way, which says something about how personal the
project is to him. Charles’s other friend Lenny Kravitz
is doing a floor of suites influenced by music and art,
and we’re doing the rest.
SL: Charles is so passionate about what he does. It’s
similar to our enthusiasm about design.
AM: He pushes nightlife and food in global directions. He’s the only one in Toronto who takes risks.
Vancouver to capture its spirit in the hotel.
SL: Our redesign felt appropriate for the Rosewood
brand as well as respectful of the history of the
property. It’s a glamorous 1920’s building, so
everything in it needed to reflect that, from the
light fixtures, which are a Venetian interpretation of
art deco, to the bathrooms, which are very different
from nightclub restrooms.
What was it like to reinvent a landmark?
AM: It’s the most historic property we’ve worked
on, and it showed us how to respect history in
bringing the “old girl” back to life. We weren’t
actually obligated to preserve anything, because
the Vancouver Historical Society had deemed the
building to be in such bad condition. We did,
though, and our renovation resulted in landmark
status being conferred. While it certainly would
have been easier to do it the teardown way, it felt
right to give the city something with veritas among
all the glassy new construction.
Speaking of gambling, what about your
projects in Las Vegas?
AM: We love working there. It’s Candy Land.
The restaurants and hotels are off the charts. The
scale is enormous, and everything is opulent. We
can’t say much right now, but we’re working on
probably the most coveted location on the Strip—a
restaurant overlooking the fountains at the Bellagio.
How about your office in Beijing?
SL: In Asia, you really need to establish trust with
your clients. Once it’s there, though, they’re much
more open and excited to go along with your ideas.
That lets us dream. The challenge is the execution.
Our projects tell stories, and that’s reliant on good
drafters, contractors, even cleaners. Having a team
of people who can manage the technical and logistical aspects is crucial.
AM: Projects there are really innovative. The communication is the disconnect. Our Beijing team
draws the way the locals build, and that’s something an outsider can’t fake.
—Zoe Settle
How long did all that take?
AM: Five years, starting in the recession. During
that time, the property nearly became a W, which is
now hard to even imagine.
Kudos on the hotel’s restaurant. Could you
describe your approach?
AM: We firmly believe that when a restaurant
68 june.14
martin tessler
from top: tom arban; eugen sahknenko; martin tessler; eugen sahknenko
is part of a hotel, like Hawksworth is, the main
entrance should still be off the street. Otherwise,
the visitor loses connection to the city. The hotelbranded restaurant is such a dated concept. Today,
there are so many great chefs partnering with
hotels that it’s better to feel separate. If the restaurant’s aesthetic is too close to the hotel’s, there’s
not enough energy.
I’d say that the only similarity between the
Hawksworth interior and the rest of Hotel Georgia is
the over-the-top crystal chandelier. The restaurant
is much more contemporary, with a lot of international and local artwork. We hope the guests move
around, because each space offers a different experience. There’s a quieter dining room with wengé
paneling, a contrast to the very zippy bar.
Opposite, from top: Hawks­
worth’s custom chandelier,
its 300 crystal prisms handassembled on a chromed steel
frame. A custom screen in brassplated metal and ebony in a
guest suite at Hotel Georgia.
From top: C. Jeré’s lamp in
a preview lounge for Bisha
Hotel & Residences, under
construction in Toronto. A
custom chandelier at Kumi
Japanese Restaurant + Bar by
Akira Back at Mandalay Bay
Resort & Casino, Las Vegas.
The pool at Hotel Georgia.
Kumi’s walnut bar and custom
oak tabletops.