The Lim + Lu co-founder talks ambition, design inspiration and the worst advice he’s ever been given
I Am Generation T is a series of Q&As with some of the extraordinary individuals on the Generation T List 2018.
Beg, borrow or steal your way into Vince Lim’s Happy Valley apartment for dinner. He and his wife and business partner Elaine Lu, a fellow Generation T honouree, have turned their Hong Kong home into a showroom for their beautiful designs—it will make you envious, but it will also inspire you. Swathes of bright colour combine with patterned ceramic tiles, while soft pink and jade green walls are broken by floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of mid-century furniture.
But this couple aren’t merely stylish. They’re changing the aesthetic of Hong Kong apartments through their design studio, Lim + Lu, which has grown into one of the city’s most celebrated furniture and interior brands. Think grid-like coffee tables, geometric day beds and soft-hued sofas.
The concept was born in New York—where the couple met—but has now migrated back to Lim’s hometown of Hong Kong, where he grew up helping his father, William Lim, the director of CL3 Architects. Lim + Lu’s focus is global, and they provide architecture, interior, branding, furniture, and product design services.
Since their launch two short years ago, the awards have been rolling in. They were recently selected as Rising Asian Talent by Maison et Objet 2017, 40 Under 40 by Perspective Magazine, and the 100 Most Influential Architects and Designers in 2017 by Architectural Digest China.
The move east precipitated this stellar success. While Lim was inspired by the frenetic energy of New York, he is relishing being back in Asia and the access he has to materials such as porcelain. He recently made the trek to Yunfu, the marble capital of China, and the contrast between the luxury of the material he sourced and his clean, geometric aesthetic is particularly visually striking.
And while this is a man with obvious talent, Lim’s meteoric rise to the top of a crowded industry necessitated a fair bit of determination. We sit down with Lim to talk about the demands of the design industry and his entrepreneurial journey so far.
What are your business non-negotiables?
Ethics and morals. Cutting corners to meet deadlines and skimping on materials just isn’t honest in my opinion.
What was your biggest 'Eureka!' moment?
The big one was learning not to bite off more than I could chew. We started off trying to grow by taking on more projects, and then it got to a point where we were spreading ourselves really thin. Now we only take on work when we can fully dedicate ourselves to it.
A more specific one was years ago in Paris, when I saw a furniture show by the Bouroullec Brothers, which entirely shifted my thinking. I suddenly realised how much I preferred doing furniture to architecture—mainly because it has that intimate scale to it and is easier to relate to.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
People always say, ‘Fake it ‘till you make it’ or ‘Say yes first and figure it out after’. I think that’s awful advice as I need to plan ahead and never take on a job without seeing what the client chemistry is first.
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
Definitely the same line of work I’m doing now—but because the studio currently focuses on a wide range of designs, it’s hard to say which leg I’d like to grow. Ideally, we will be working with multiple furniture brands, and that will alleviate the pressure to do interiors as well. Although, of course, if there are large interior projects then that would be great too.
What’s your ultimate professional ambition?
I think as a designer, one of your driving motives is the idea of leaving behind something—some kind of a legacy, whether it’s in a piece of architecture or furniture or an object that will live on beyond you. Great furniture pieces turn into family heirlooms and I would love to leave something behind that people could really remember me by.
Any productivity hacks you swear by?
It’s not original—but it has to be drinking coffee. I love taking a bit of time to regroup during the day by walking to the café to buy my coffee. It takes 20 minutes in total and eases the pressure—and makes me much sharper afterwards.
See also: I am Generation T: Keshia Hannam
How do you deal with failure?
I’m confronted by failure each time we pitch for a project and don’t get it, although my wife Elaine always says, ‘That’s not failure, it’s just that people are looking for different things.’ She’s right. I put too much pressure on myself. But I’ve learned to keep on looking for other projects or keep ourselves busy by designing other things, which often came about because we didn’t get the big project. As cheesy as it sounds, when one door closes another one opens—by doing one thing you can’t do another, because there’s only so much time in a day.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to start a design firm earlier. I worked for four years in New York prior to moving back to Hong Kong and in that time, I gained a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge, but I learned far more when it was just me and my wife managing everything. If you’re at a larger corporation you’re really a cog in the machine, and you might end up doing very limited task.
See also: I am Generation T: Juliette Gimenez
Name three characteristics every young entrepreneur needs to flourish
The most important is to be personable. That doesn’t mean if you’re a shy person, you have to all of a sudden go out and network constantly—but I do think it’s important to communicate well, however you do it. In the design profession, you also need to be well read. Not necessarily books but you need to know what’s current in design, what’s happening in the design scene, what’s trendy, what’s classical… The third would be passion. Loving what you do goes a long way in all industries and particularly design, because the job never really ends—it’s so subjective, you can never tell when it’s finished so you keep working on it for as long as time permits.
See all 50 of the game changing young talents on the Generation T List 2018.
Photography: Callaghan Walsh | Styling: Christie Simpson | Outfits: Theory