Young At Heart
Daniel Elsea -- Interior Design, 3/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
People in Hong Kong are always in a hurry. To fuel their rapid-fire lifestyle, there are fast-food restaurants everywhere—serving up tasty dim sum, wonton soup, and fried rice on the go. But because these cafés are all about convenience, the decor has never strayed far from the ordinary. Now, Steve Leung Designers and the Alan Chan Design Company have vividly reimagined the neighborhood eat-and-run, giving it the last thing anyone in Hong Kong would expect: sex appeal.
The concept is called MX, and it's a rebranding effort from parent company Maxim's, a big player in the city's fiercely competitive world of fast food. So far, there are two locations, both fantasy worlds of fiberglass furniture and high-energy artwork. "Design should be in everyone's lives," says Chan, a graphics celebrity of sorts for his posters in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Leung adds, "MX is something for the young as well as the young at heart."
And hearts are central to the ebullient scheme—not only because they tap into youthful nostalgia, but also because Maxim's is an English play on a Cantonese phrase for beautiful heart. "It's very East-West, which is to say it's very Hong Kong," Chan explains.
MX's flamboyant logo is a series of elongated red hearts exploding from a bull's-eye center. In both locations, this image appears larger than life, splat like a Rorschach ink blot across the glass storefront. Walls are clad in ceramic tile etched with a heart pattern, and Chan invited artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and Canada to contribute original compositions incorporating hearts. Digitized, blown up, and printed on canvas, these lively pieces now line the walls behind banquettes and booths.
The artwork ties in with the interior's red accents, which include giant plastic lamp shades emblazoned with red hearts and red-painted sections of the ceiling, for starters. Otherwise, it's a sea of bright white, very Pacific Rim bling bling. (This clinical envelope may also speak to a post-SARS obsession with hygiene, and the space-age contours of tables and seats allow for easy cleaning.)
High-tech gadgets contribute to the futuristic atmosphere. Long communal tables are outfitted with mini television pods broadcasting entertainment, news, and advertisements. Above the counter, a news ticker informs customers that their numbered food orders are ready to pick up and also delivers weather reports and updates on the stock market.
The financials on MX definitely look healthy. Since the first two locations debuted, the chain has reported double-digit growth—and announced plans to roll out Leung and Chan's design at all 59 Maxim's outlets over a two-year period. At $5 a plate, that may make them Hong Kong's most accessible entry point into the world of high design.