James Acuña

Interior designer and podcaster James Acuña shares his journey into design, style and his inspirations growing up in Texas.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is James- my friends call me JJ for short. I live in Hong Kong, born in Manila, raised in Fort Worth, Texas. Although I trained in Architecture, I now practice Interior Design doing projects mainly in hospitality with a growing portfolio of residential projects across Asia. I share my ideas about everything I’m interested in through my Podcast, titled “Aligned by Design with JJ. Acuña”. The podcast is a great opportunity for me to talk about the kind of mantras and techniques me and other people do to focus, heal, and align themselves in this crazy world.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Well I wake up and on a good day I try to fit in my daily meditation or exercise and then I get working here in the studio or another studio in Causeway Bay. I have a small design team of 4 people including myself in Hong Kong plus 4 people in Manila. We work on design in the studio or on site most of the day then at night I take a walk, cook, meet friends for dinner or I edit my podcast. Little things like this. One quarter of the year I teach Interior Design at Insight School- so sometimes I’ll hang out with the students, teach design, and work with them on their studio projects.

How did your design journey begin?

At first I wanted to become a painter since I was so good with paintings and oils at school. I also wanted to be a fashion designer, so in university while at Architecture school, I learned pattern making and how to sew dresses. Eventually I stuck it out with Architecture and did my undergrad at Cornell University and my masters at Columbia University- both in Architecture. I practiced corporate architecture in Hong Kong ever since moving here in 2005 and about 5 years ago, I quit traditional architecture to focus mainly on doing Interior Design which I just love to do because my friends and family can actually enjoy the spaces that I make. I like intimacy, I like domesticity, I like creating personal spaces- and so this scale of design made sense for me.

“I like intimacy, I like domesticity, I like creating personal spaces – and so this scale of design made sense for me.”

What have been your biggest design influences?

There was the Kimbell Art Museum in my home town in Fort Worth designed by Louis Khan- a famous modernist in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then next to it, there was The Modern Art Museum designed by Japanese contemporary architect working in the modernist idiom, Tado Ando. Built in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. So at a young age, I grew up in a small town filled with iconic modern architecture. I was also drawn to the works collected by the patrons of the museums and exhibited in these galleries, paintings by Caravvagio, Diebenkorn, Sean Scully, Robert Motherwell, Baselitz- all of these paintings left an impression on me - and still do to this day.

Could you tell us a bit about your creative process?

These days I’m really drawn to pattern, to colour, to art, expressionism, bold forms, and you know the accidental tile placements you see everywhere in Hong Kong buildings. I love the sun and how it creates shadow on building facades. I love plants. And when I travel the world, I always look at tile works, I’m drawn to all kinds of found surfaces. The more colour the better. The more contrast the better. I also do a lot meditation. I go on a lot of walks. Also when I watch TV- I didn't used to- but my partner taught me all about watching television and movies with a purpose. So when I look at media, I try to look at set designs, architecture, scene settings, compositions, art direction. It’s a visual world so you have to make the most of it. I do also follow my favourite designers on social media- I love the works of India Mahdavi, Kelly Wearstler, Ilse Crawford, for example.

Where are your favourite places to travel to for design inspiration?

I love Milan, Rome, New York, Kyoto, Thailand- all amazing places to visit for design inspiration. Los Angeles is on that list too.

How would you describe your personal interior style?

Worldy. Bold. And full of colour, texture and contrast.

When working from home how do you create an inspiring workspace?

I like to surround my space with art, design, books, prints, colours, plants, flowers – everywhere I look I need it to be inspiring. My partner calls it cluttered, I call it inspired!

Hong Kong homes are typically somewhat smaller than elsewhere, how do you create a design-led space when working with small areas?

Utilise as much daylight as possible and throw away unnecessary stuff you don't need in your life anymore. The Marie Kondo method is really the way to go. No one needs stuff. No one needs to hold on to anything. Really value space. And value good pieces of furniture that are well made, can last and something that you can really look at that you can be proud of.

Any insider tips on where to pick up beautiful design pieces in the city?

I love Cat Street – that little alley has beautiful pieces for the home. There are some new players in the local Home Decor market as well like Dalisay Collection at K11, Hapi in Sheung Wan, and L’s Where in Central that sell some really cool and unique things.

Follow the wordly design inspirations of James Acuña here