What Makes A Space Beautiful: JJ Acuña
For this designer, true beauty is in its authenticity
Sometimes, in order to define what real beauty is, for ourselves, one must look within—truly look—and assess its contents. As its meaning is relative from one person to another, what’s inside could be a reflection of what’s on the outside—the raw, the bare, the authentic. And whether others may perceive your type of beauty differently from theirs, how beauty strucks you is what matters more. It’s your way of seeing the world, and it’s in your hands on how to make what’s beautiful for you work for yourself and the people you offer it to.
In their line of work, creating a “work of beauty” is essential. But outside of it, how do they really see its significance? How do they incorporate it in their lives? What do they consider as beautiful? These, and a number of breathtaking visuals of their personal masterpieces will introduce to you the kind of beauty that reflects from their very eyes.
For you, what makes a space beautiful?
“I think a beautiful space is a space that allows itself to be the truest and most honest version of itself. Spaces like these aren't usually too stuffy with design, or decor, but have the right amount of those things. Beautiful spaces do well with just natural daylight and the right amount of greenery. For me, a beautiful space is a space where one can breathe, sit well, live well, and move inside it well. It's hard to design that, but I'm glad our clients understand that that's what we, as a design studio, generally strives for. When we miss the mark, our client thankfully nudges us back to that general direction to create a beautiful space with levity.”
How do you incorporate beauty in design in your everyday life?
“I'm not saying we're perfect—there are days when the house is just messy and all we want to do is lounge around and not clean up our messes. But when we get over that lazy period, we stand up, look around, and make an assessment of our personal private and work spaces. First of all, is it lit well?; if it's not, we move lamps or light around so we can operate in this space well. Do I like that art I'm displaying? Is there the right amount of color or pattern around that I'm comfortable with?; if not, then we make adjustments. Then it becomes a little project. We change pillow covers. We move trays and books around. The project is never complete, because we as people are never complete—we are always evolving—so as we evolve as people, the spaces we're in will always evolve with us. The most important thing is the beauty in a space is a reflection of the beauty inside you, within you. So if the space isn't beautiful, you need to just make an internal adjustment to make your space beautiful as a reflection of how you feel inside at that moment. It's a work in progress.”
When do you say that a design is beautiful?
“A beautiful space is like a beautiful object—the beauty is in the eye of the observer or creator, so it's completely subjective or relative. To others, spaces can be geometrically balanced but I may find it not beautiful but too contrived. Some things that people find grotesque may be beautiful to others. I think, personally, the spaces that I’m generally drawn to are spaces where it feels there's been a human touch; the bowl isn't seated in the right place, or the tile is just a smidge different color hue than the pillows; where something is off, askew, or slightly imperfect, which means that there's a personal curation or authorship evident in the creation of a space. I find myself quite quirky, awkward at times, and imperfect—probably why I'm drawn to that kind of space—which I think could be a beautiful thing. Overly designed spaces where there's too many things going on in every nook and cranny may be beautiful to the designer, but to me, I wouldn't be able to breathe. Why can't a space just be the space it was meant to be? The best interior designers allow the existing site to take on a character—and not stuff it or hide with make up and lipstick.”
What is one work of yours that you consider as most beautiful? Why?
“I really love our latest restaurant project, Hansik Goo, because it was a challenging space to work with. When I walked in initially, I felt the ceiling and beams were too low and the floor plan felt a bit awkward and too long. In addition, we had to design a space that allowed the simple and honest platings of Award Winning Korean Chef Mingoo Kang of Mingles to shine at fine dining price points. The chef is very down to earth, so we were fine with designing fine dining in such a job site. But because the platings are very lowkey, grounded, and earthy, we had to make sure our furniture were fine dining comforts but simple, elegant, and not overly designed.
In the end, we decided to tell this story about the Sky, the Earth, and the Bounty—the three elements that help make food on this planet. We have a Sky zone in blue tiles, we have the Earth zone in copper metal, and the Bounty zone in various shades of green with a hardwood walnut tree as a table. We wanted the space to relate back to traditional Seoul, since we're serving Korean food, so we decided to create this cool travertine stone and poured-in-place terrazzo floor to remind us of the traditional Hanok homes wall structures. We also added contemporary artworks and contemporary lights to give us a touch of Seoul's contemporary attitude as well. Warm timber touches keep things very light and airy.
So now, even though the ceiling is low, you can walk in and feel like there's more than enough space for people, more than enough space for the food, more than enough space for everything—creating that beautiful space that takes a lot of work and back and forth between designer and client. There was a lot of editing, and it's a fine line we really have to walk to make sure everything is just right and isn't too overbearing on the experience of the guest and the operator.”
How has beauty changed through the years?
“I think things that are really beautiful are beautiful because they transcend time. Things that are timeless are books, sculptures, handcrafted furniture, or heirloom rugs that are passed down from generation to generation, greenery, how the space invites in natural light. I think, definitely, tastes can evolve over time or what is considered trendy and cool. But when we talk about beauty, we are talking about the elements within a space that really speak to different people over many generations. For sure, whenever design involves the making of something by hand—that bespoke handcrafted touch—these kinds of things stay beautiful for a very long period of time.”
What is a beautiful thing that has inspired you?
“Because JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio is generally a lifestyle and hospitality design studio, we are usually inspired by food, hospitality, and travel. Usually, we love things that are really old, that have been around for decades—even hundreds of years. Recently, I've seen beautiful architecture and textures in Turkey and France that have really touched me emotionally. There are many places in Europe that really value holding on to tradition and the past. They don't destroy and rebuild as much as we do in Asia—they really care about holding on to the heart of their creations. That is true beauty to us.”
In the gallery below, JJ Acuña lets you in his projects that he considers beautiful:
Works by JJ Acuña
Works by JJ Acuña
Hansik Goo restaurant
Photo Credit: Xu Liang Leon
Tate Dining Room