We met up with Interior and Architectural Designer, JJ Acuna to talk about how splitting your time between two places can create a sense of balance rather than disorder. He also shares how growing up in middle of military and civilian clashes versus moving to suburban American had an impact on his aesthetic.
Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how it influenced you?
I was born in Manila and I stayed there until the end of the Marcos dictatorship in the late 80’s. Our house was right in the middle of the clashes between military and civilians on the street. It was interesting to be there in the midst of a ridiculously charged cultural and political revolution – where us Filipinos had some kind of guise of royalty under the Martial Law regime and then having to pick up the pieces and start over from scratch with a Democracy all over again. However, I never got to be a part of that because I moved to suburban America in Texas where everything was just homogenous, flat, and very middle-American. To go from Manila to Fort Worth Texas was a complete contrast. The Philippines was all about culture, flavour, and eclecticism whereas the United States was about modernity, cleanliness, and masculinity – and I guess that mix effects my aesthetic sensibilities.
What kind of work do you do?
I’m a Lifestyle and Hospitality-focused Interior Designer and Architectural Designer running my own little practice in Hong Kong and Manila.
Did you always see yourself as someone who would work in more than one place? And how has splitting your time between Hong Kong and the Philippines impacted your idea of living a simple life vs. living a busy life?
I think working in both Hong Kong and Manila gives me a much-needed balance. It really helps me manage my expectations about life in general. In Hong Kong you can and should get 2-5 things done in one day, whereas in Manila because of the traffic – you get 1 thing done, if you’re lucky. In both cases, you have a sense of gratitude because A) in Hong Kong – you think about how it’s rare that a city is so efficient that so much can get done. And B) In Manila – you’re happy you got anything done at all – so there’s an acceptance and a feeling of being thankful in both situations.
What’s your definition of quality when it comes to curating a space?
Practicing in Hong Kong you really get to appreciate empty space because there’s not much of it. Clients think adding value to any space is to fill it up with as much storage, art, and bullshit as much as possible – but what I try to relay to clients, is that there’s more luxury in a space when you just learn how to curate, edit, and delete unnecessary clutter. I want all my clients to read Marie Kondo, not because everything has to be Japanese and empty, but because when there’s less clutter in a space, objects within it can be better appreciated. You have a clearer headspace and mind because there’s room to move, grow, and adapt over time.
What’s your favourite thing in, or about your space?
I love my chairs. I invest a lot in chairs, and I have all sorts. So, all my chairs I love – I can’t pick just one.
What do you love to do here (in your space)?
This is my temple of work. Here I work. I also meditate, but mostly I work.
How do you make a space ‘homey’?
I invest in Art and books. I feel that that’s all a space needs, plenty of books and art just so you have the option to get lost in either your thoughts or other subjects.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently designing a couple of restaurants and cafes in Manila. In Hong Kong I just opened an amazing tropical brutalist-inspired Peking Duck restaurant in Wan Chai called Pinot Duck. I’m also working on a “non-Gender binary-queer space” in Sai Ying Pun called Madame Gao’s that’s opening this summer.