Creativity strikes in unexpected ways

Leonard Lee believes it's the subtle and refined details that define a hotel guest's experience, and his portfolio is a reflection of this dedication to his craft.
Ti Gong

Leonard Lee

Who is he?

Leonard Lee is regional creative officer and managing director of Asia-Pacific for interior architectural design firm Wilson Associates. 

He sees the world as an elaborate collage: a place where creativity strikes in many unexpected ways.His success stems not only from his passion but also from the inspiration he draws from people, cultures and environments around him. 

He is constantly challenging the status quo, pursuing the next innovative and industry-leading design concepts that will impact the hospitality design community.

During his 17-year career with Wilson Associates, he has designed numerous award-winning projects around the world for a variety of international brands, including Ritz-Carlton, Conrad, Capella, JW Marriott and Starwood. 

Lee believes it’s the subtle and refined details that define a guest’s experience, and his portfolio is a reflection of this dedication to his craft.

Please share with us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of. 

I have created stunning designs for some of the world’s most elite hotel companies, including luxury brands. 

Most proud of? It will have to be the Conrad Bangkok. It was my very first project with WA and I was only in my second year. Back then we were only 30 and I had to design every single area of the hotel.

I had to work around an existing building and we couldn’t touch anything, not even the MEP so it was all the more challenging. But I’m proud because the design of that hotel is timeless with gentle gestures to the Thai vernacular. It’s more than 10 years on and the hotel still looks relevant.

Are you currently involved with any project?

We have quite a few exciting and innovative hotel projects at the moment. These include the Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur, Ritz-Carlton Saigon and The Langham Sydney restaurant renovation. I’ve also been involved in a transformation process. Over the past couple of months, we’ve set up new offices in Bangkok and Tokyo. We’ve got a strategic collaboration agreement with Zaha Hadid and we’ve started various specialized studios.

What's your design style. 

Hotel design is about the holistic integration of all the elements within that space. That’s why a hotel concept has to have a strong story behind it as people remember a story more than anything else and you want them to experience the layers behind the story as they transition from space to space, with the story unfolding before their eyes.

I would like people to remember what they have experienced and the emotions they felt in a particular space. It is a comforting experience to know that people from different cultures and religions can share a space together as strangers and the design enhanced and contributed to that experience.

Where are you most creative? 

When I am on the plane. Those few hours allow me to reflect on things, gather my thoughts or think about the next big concept or idea for a project I’m working on.

What does your home mean to you?

Home is any environment that makes me happy, comfortable and relaxed. It’s important as I’m constantly on the road. My home is my own abode that I instinctively return to, where I’m able to find refuge with my loved ones and family.

What do you collect?

I recently chanced upon a piece in which I could sense all of the character and emotion of the artist. It’s by a Singapore artist, Jeffrey Wandly and that piece is called Back Lane II, Kampong Glam. There’s something magical about an artist who’s given an opportunity to express themselves on a blank canvas.

Where do you like to go most in Shanghai?

No place in particular but I generally like discovering restaurants and bars especially in the tree-lined streets in the city center. One such bar I’ve discovered recently was a speakeasy called Speak Low. It’s a bar hidden behind a bar and a shop selling bar equipment.

Within the bar itself, there’s another secret bar which you gain access from by pressing button on a map on the wall. It reveals itself behind a wooden panel on the staircase.

What will be the next big design trend?

Trends are momentary and they essentially move in the direction of the prevailing tendency. That is why I’ve always looked at having designs that don’t depend on trends or that aren’t inspired by one. Hotels that are heavily themed or rely heavily on the trend of the moment can’t have a product that would become timeless or be relevant.

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