Lu Yongzhong is the man responsible for that design. After 20 years teaching interior and industrial design at Tongji University, Lu quit academia and opened a furniture design studio and brand, Banmoo. His designs are contemporary and Chinese, and are certainly something one aspires to own, given their high price tags. The owner of the Fu family of restaurants convinced him to take on a restaurant project, and step outside his comfort zone.
I sat down with Lu Yongzhong at his studio and showroom in Xujiahui, and we spoke about his approach to designing Fu He Hui.
On a furniture designer being picked to do a restaurant
We are involved in the greater world of design. “Big design”. We’re not limited to one industry. We’ve worked with private people on houses, we’ve done museums, we’ve done the offices for fashion magazines. So it’s not so strange that we’d do a restaurant as well. Why did the owner choose us specifically? You’d have to ask her.
On the timing of the project
The owner had been in the restaurant business for more than two decades, dealing with government officials, and rich, picky diners. The chef was eager to take on new challenges. And it felt natural for the restaurant to open in Shanghai, which embraces all types of culture.
On the stereotype of a vegetarian restaurant
There is definitely a stereotype for vegetarian restaurants in China. They are usually closely associated with religion. But a restaurant should just be a place for eating, instead of preaching or teaching.
On incorporating Chinese elements and reflecting modern society
We had to be subtle. On the first floor, we used three patterns for wall decoration, instead of using the more common full-moon-shaped gate. The first is the pattern of broken glass or ice, which in Chinese culture is closely related to the “hard days” students spent in ancient China, which usually lasted more than a decade.
The second is the pattern of ancient coins, which suggests wealth, because students would typically become government officials after their “hard days” and that’s when they would become rich.
The third is the pattern of brocade, a fabric exclusive to the royal class in ancient China, since once you get rich, you want to move up in social status. In today’s China, I think a lot of people are going from the second stage to the third, from being just rich to trying to become aristocrats.
On how the atmosphere has influenced the type of customers
At first, the majority of diners were elderly vegetarians or people who prefer vegetables to meat and fish. But now there are young people with Hermes bags, dressed in luxury brands. There are both foreigners and Chinese, old and young, people born after the millennium, monks and Buddhists. I think it’s because we didn’t have a very precise positioning from the beginning, we weren’t trying to appeal to certain types of people with Buddhist statues. The atmosphere created in our space is more inclusive and inviting.
On how the material reflects Chinese values
I’ve been to the vegetarian restaurants in Beijing, and the design is very heavy. We wanted to abandon luxury materials so we chose walnut as the main color, combining it with different shades of black, white and grey. On one hand, walnut is very environmentally friendly. On the other, it has a beautiful pattern and a low-profile style, which is similar to the personality of Chinese people in general.
On how design reflects equality
All the private rooms are the same size, though the number of seats in each rooms varies. That’s because we want to realize the Buddhist idea of equality. So, if there must be “preaching” in a vegetarian restaurant, that’s how we “preach”.
We also wanted to restore the order, to quiet Chinese down. We intentionally made the tables larger in small rooms, because we want leave as little space as possible, so people have to slow down in order to move around the room. We cut the floor tiles into very small sizes, which slows people down — they tend to take bigger steps on larger tiles. We don’t want to be efficient; we want to tell people to kill time.
As a designer you need to both be a “mountain” and “water”. You need to have your own principals (mountain), and make constant changes (water).
On how his opinion about his design has changed over the years
When I just finished the project, I didn’t think it was so good. Now, three years later, I don’t think it’s so bad.