The word KAZE is Japanese for ‘wind’ it represents expansion, growth, and freedom of movement. Danish architect Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen chose this name for her boutique Vietnam based interior design studio when she launched it in 2009 as a reminder to never allow KAZE’s sense of style and knowledge stagnate. The goal of each KAZE designed projects is to have the same sense of movement, lightness, and power as a gust of wind.
KAZE interior design studio, has been going strong for more than 10 years and it is one of the top interior design studios in Vietnam. The firm has taken on more than 100 high-profile projects across Vietnam and Cambodia. Specialists in development in the fields of Hospitality and F&B, the KAZE team has transformed the style and spirit of major projects such as Le Meridien Cam Ranh Resort & Spa by Marriot, Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint in Ho Chi Minh City and DIAMOND ISLAND PENTHOUSE & VILLAS by Kusto.
Fong-Chan has an unwavering commitment to what she calls her “building for humans” philosophy. This means nothing goes into the space that will not be useful, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing. It should be a usable space, not simply a pretty picture.
As Fong-Chan puts it, “you can tell a lot about how a person runs their company by the way the toilets are kept.” If management only cares about the aesthetics of a company and not the functionality something has gone wrong.
Far from the stark, harsh modernity that can be found in certain ill-designed spaces, KAZE Interior Design Studio’s projects are categorized by beauty, light, warmth, and innovation.
But what happens between concept creation and the moment that someone walks into a fully realized KAZE designed space? City Pass Guide acts as an interior designer for one day to learn more about the processes, inspirations and, at times, frustrations of being the leading interior design studio in Vietnam.
When someone walks into KAZE interior design studio in Saigon’s District 2 it is clear to see that the office is a hive of energy where anything and everything can instigate inspiration. Fong-Chan has created a unique environment that is the right balance of easy going and innovative. Interior design books stacked on shelves range from tomes about types of marble used in 15th century Italy to glossy coffee table books filled with new design trends. The volumes propped open suggest the team study hard and the single-use plastic free ethos provides an insight into the environmental focus of KAZE’s design projects.
The open plan office is fairly minimalistic in terms of design with a mix of dark wooden desks and large glass windows that let in lots of natural light. While the monochrome colour scheme enables the raw materials that are scattered around the office to pop.
Desks are covered with brightly colored fabric samples, varying sizes of intricately detailed tiles and project sketches. It is mind-boggling to imagine how all these snippets of inspiration can possibly turn into a finished project. The different textures, colors, patterns, and shapes are the starting point for the designers to focus their ideas and start putting a design idea into actuality.
Each designer has a different style of working. A junior designer named Duong loves following new trends and finds ways to incorporate them into his work. Maria, a project designer is detail oriented. Part of her morning is typically spent researching ways to use historical styles while maintaining modernity. Other teams members contribute their individual senses of style and focus to create an environment that is always in “creation-mode”. KAZE is a boutique company of only 28-30 employees, this enables Fong-Chan to get to know her team on a personal level and get a sense of their likes, dislikes and work style.
When Fong-Chan walks into the office she immediately commands the room. Despite having a cute dog following her around, she is a no-nonsense woman. She knows what every single person in the office is working on and exactly what they will be doing next. Like any great mentor, Fong-Chan looks after her team and ensures to regularly spend time with each and every member, going through what they are working on the moment, challenges they are facing and provide guidance on how they can improve. She takes pride in teaching every single member individually and she will push and challenge them until they unlock their potential.
As we walk through the office and take time to speak to the team members, one thing is clear, Fong-Chan’s team finds her to be an inspired leader.
All of KAZE’s projects are created from a story, they are what gives a project meaning. These stories are inspired by the brief from the clients, the space and location of the project as well as real-world experiences the designers have had. Fong-Chan organizes annual design trips for the team to experience new things around the world and find new inspiration. Some of their most recent trips include Bangkok, Taiwan, and Milan. Without these trips, designers find inspiration from pictures on a computer and can’t really understand the emotions certain places can evoke or how they can awaken new senses, for example, the sense of achievement earned from reaching a mountain peak or tasting real gelato in Italy for the first time.
Back in the interior design studio in Ho Chi Minh City, these experiences enable designers to create incredible projects together. In a small company like KAZE, the office feels like a symphony masterpiece, everyone is playing their own instrument but when put together it makes a beautiful finished product. In one corner, the junior designer is sketching out multiple designs to work out the best places for the lighting fixtures to create the right ambiance for the project. On the other side of the room, the project designer is using miniature furniture models to understand the way people would naturally enter a room and where they would want to sit down. Down the small hallway, a headphone-clad designer is testing out the acoustics—he is listening to how the noise of ocean waves resonate against wooden walls versus concrete walls. The whole process is fascinating to watch and Fong-Chan is the perfect conductor.
Fong-Chan explains to us that KAZE has a “design language” and everyone needs to be able to speak it. This helps the KAZE team effectively communicate, brainstorm and develop ideas with each other as well as to understand all the ideas going on in Fong-Chan ’s head. For those who don’t speak the ‘language’ Fong-Chan spends her time managing their expectations, sometimes this can be with clients who don’t really know what they want and sometimes this can be with her own team who haven’t quite come to grips with their part of the project story.
Every Tuesday and Thursday the KAZE team gather for a coffee break to socialize and discuss their ideas. Fong-Chan explains that there is a real buzz in the office during these meetings. Everyone suddenly goes from working quietly at their desks to talking loudly in groups, getting excited about project ideas and working out how their concepts can be developed. This collaborative effort helps to solve problems and generate new ideas.
KAZE’s Friday afternoon workshops are a fascinating way to experience the ins and outs of what happens during a design process. Each member picks a designer or design topic and delivers a presentation on it, detailing the history, inspiration, and work behind it. The workshops encourage the team to learn new things, try new ideas in their work and delve into a new world of design they may never have realized existed.
Burning the midnight oil is not a strange concept at KAZE, although it may not quite be midnight, many of the team stay after hours to develop their design knowledge and experience to improve their work. They work hard to ensure their part of the project is just right. They all dedicated and strive for perfection. A passion for design is the beating heart of KAZE, as one of the top interior design studios in Vietnam, it is clear to see that only those who work hard and are passionate about their ideas achieve success in this demanding profession.
Article credit: City Pass Guide