Following a succession of delays, nobody seems quite sure when it’s going to happen, but, at some point in the next six months or so, Asian luxury hotel brand Shangri-La will open the (elevated) doors to its first London venue, occupying floors 34 to 52 of the Renzo Piano-designed Shard and revealing an interior design concept described by general manager Darren Gearing as "contemporary, very comfortable, user friendly and luxurious, but not overly designed".

Guests at Shangri-La’s first foray into the UK market will be able to enjoy sweeping, panoramic vistas of the capital and beyond. "For the guests, it is a marvellous, seamless experience with stunning views," Gearing said.

However, acclaimed Hong Kong-born architect and interior designer Steve Leung, the man behind the design, is keeping shtum about what we can expect from the five-star property’s interior, although it’s safe to say it will be in keeping with its creator’s design philosophy.

"I think design should combine artistry with practicality," he says.

Indeed, contemporary style advocate Leung has always been known for his preference for minimal, elegant, functional designs, which also incorporate cultural and artistic elements, while, preferably, giving the guest something spectacular to look at outside of the design itself. "A luxurious interior should come with good view, perfect facilities and superior comfort," he adds.

Just right

Leung, whose company has been credited with more than 100 design and corporate awards in both the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide, is also famous for combining his signature minimalism with a subtle but unmistakable Oriental vibe, which he credits to his upbringing and subsequent working life in Hong Kong, and has described as "a very subconscious Asian approach, corresponding to the Chinese traditional culture that is to keep things in balance and a ‘just right’ position".

An examination of any one of Leung’s many high-profile hotel projects, which include the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin, and the Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay, both opened in 2009, immediately illustrate his priorities when it comes to design.

"I like to face and tackle obstacles, as such experiences help me spot weaknesses or drawbacks and improve myself as well as my design to a higher level."

At the former, which is situated at the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, warm, earthy colours – cream travertine on the walls and the floor in the lobby, as well as a 5m-tall walnut feature wall behind the reception counter, and beige oak wood walls and bamboo pattern wallpaper in the guest rooms – create a minimal, elegant atmosphere. Meanwhile, sweeping mountain-harbour views that guests can enjoy from the public areas and the rooms bring the outside environment in.

Apart from the bird cages, window lattice and other Chinese touches at the hotel’s Sha Tin 18 restaurant, the Asian influence is certainly subconscious at this property, the focus rather being on creating an atmosphere of ‘just right’ quality and professionalism, to fit in with its location at an academic institution.

Similarly, at the Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay, the focus is on creating the right atmosphere for the hotel’s target market (business travellers) warm colours again being used to evoke a welcoming, elegant feel. However, at this property, these understated tones are juxtaposed with bright colours and eye-catching, contemporary pieces of art – paintings and sculptures – to emphasise the ‘city life’ theme of the hotel, which boasts a spectacular view of bustling Hong Kong.

But it’s at the first Chinese restaurant at a W Hotel – Sing Yin Cantonese Dining at W Hong Kong – that Leung’s modern take on an Asian vibe is best illustrated, according to the designer.

Rather than opting for the traditional grandeur of a Chinese restaurant, he instead decided to feature Hong Kong’s streetscape throughout the venue – in a contemporary way, of course. While the passage to the main dining area is designed to emulate the city’s local shopping streets, the semi-open private dining rooms are disguised as newsstands and boutiques. "Such localised features worked well in the hotel environment with magnificent character," he notes.

First loves

When asked to pick his most memorable hotel design project, however, Leung has something different in mind.

"Many projects are memorable as they are unique," he says, "but my first hotel project, Novotel Hong Kong Citygate, is one of the most memorable. We were involved at the early stage and designed the hotel from the inside out."

Unusually, the design of the exterior architecture of the hotel was finalised only after mock-up rooms had been built off site. "This is, perhaps, one of those rare times that a hotel has been designed inside out with the focus on meeting the needs of the customer first," the project director said.

"It’s important to have the design fulfilling the hotel’s brand image and positioning. In the design, I emphasise the layout and proportion of furniture and space."

For Leung, though, this focus on the guest is far from unusual. "Before I start doing a design, I would first understand the uniqueness and target market of the hotel as well as the needs of the client and users," he says. "So the design would meet the client’s expectation while people can enjoy so much in it."

This was certainly achieved at Novotel Citygate, and Leung also managed to create a luxurious offering without spending a fortune. "For this four-star hotel, we did our best to provide a five-star design at a three-star cost," he explains. "Both the client and I were satisfied with the result.

"It is also important to have the design fulfilling the hotel’s brand image and positioning," he adds. "In the design, I emphasise the layout and proportion of furniture and space, while appropriate placement of artworks can definitely add value to a hotel design."

Leung’s expertise in the clever use of space is more than apparent in Novotel Citygate, home to the tallest revolving door in a hotel anywhere in the world, which leads into an imposing, 7m-high lobby. Subtle Asian elements also appear throughout the contemporary hotel; for example, the texture and lines of the lobby’s stone are understated reflections of Chinese ink paintings, while the hotel’s Essence restaurant features Asian motifs.

When choosing the hotel interior design projects he wants to get involved in, it’s not just the client’s and guests’ needs and the market positioning that come into play for Leung; he also carefully evaluates the location, the client’s background, the scale of the project, the architectural design style, the design period and, most importantly, whether or not it will offer him a challenge.

"I’m often intrigued by new and exciting challenges, the shorter product life cycle of interior projects is more compatible with my personality."

Indeed, the successful designer has always thrived on taking on a challenge, which is part of the reason, he says, why he now prefers to focus on interior design as opposed to architecture, with 90% of his company’s projects currently interior design ones, in addition to furniture and some related product designs.

"Throughout these years, I found interior design projects more interesting and fulfilling. Since I’m often intrigued by new and exciting challenges, the shorter product life cycle of interior projects is more compatible with my personality than that of architectural and urban planning projects.

"I like to face and tackle obstacles, as such experiences help me spot weaknesses or drawbacks and improve myself as well as my design to a higher level."

Over to yoo

So, what’s next on the horizon for Leung? Unquestionably, more challenges – and also some more great views.

"We recently completed a project, Han Yue Lou Villa Resort in Huangshan," he says. "The hotel is the largest resort in the area, coming with an amazing green view and golf course. The Chinese-modern interior is made up of huge amounts of natural stone and wood materials to create a tranquil and primitive atmosphere."

Leung also hopes to spread his contemporary Asian design concept as widely as he can and, as such, has recently joined forces with design company yoo, founded by John Hitchcox and Phillippe Starck in 1999. "I am so honoured to join and become the creative director of Steve Leung & yoo," he says. "Yoo and I have a similar vision, which is to improve people’s living standards through design. Being the first Asian creative director, I hope to spread Asian culture and art across the globe, and also lead Asians, especially the Chinese, to develop our own design style and characteristics and to create world-renowned designs.

"Steve Leung & yoo welcomes a variety of projects. It can be residential or hotel projects, which are challenging and interesting," he concludes, adding that he will further develop his own company by diversifying into hotels, restaurants and retail, as well as exploring more opportunities for brand collaborations. In the meantime, the industry waits with bated breath for Shangri-La at The Shard’s big reveal.