Maxime Dautresme's company A Work of Substance has injected renewed excitement into the Hong Kong boutique hotel landscape with The Fleming, offering a quintessential cruise through 1970s design and a clever exploration of the city's nautical nostalgia
Maxime Dautresme is sitting at a table in Osteria Marzia, the Italian eatery at The Fleming, Hong Kong. He is all unflappable scruffy chic: a motorcycle helmet is tucked under one arm and a canvas satchel at his feet. But the cool exterior belies a perfectionist's streak that emerges as he makes his way through the hotel, where his design agency A Work of Substance has been engaged in a two-year project. The agency's creative director and co-founder, Dautresme admits to a healthy degree of fastidiousness. He constantly adjusts accessories and reorganises linens. He frets over a 14-hour playlist he created for the reception that's not playing. He wonders where the new iPod is. "I micromanage. I'm involved in all the parts." And just ahead of The Fleming's re-opening late last month, he had been micromanaging – but not without an equally healthy dose of self-aware humour.
The Fleming began life as a typical mid-rise block in the booming early '70s, lean on the kind of pricy glass now associated with Grade A offices and upscale residences. Though the building's history only goes back 40 years, it was on the harbour-front before later land reclamation, and that position was Substance's jumping off point for the hotel's reinvention. "The maritime feel was obvious," explains Dautresme. "For that maritime concept we looked at what needed to be done for a hospitality project, and the values that came out were of practicality – because this is a business hotel – of a celebration of culture without being a cliché, and of the social. To be a place to come and socialise."
He and his young team decided the way to approach a redesign was from the outside in, the only solid demand being that the final product incorporate a strong F&B element that would drive traffic and rejuvenate the street in the future. Dautresme credits owner John Hui with the foresight to plug a hole in the market currently dominated by just a few properties (such as The Upper House, Pacific Place). "He saw a shift in hospitality, where there was a need for a neighbourhood hotel with boutique appeal. It was a challenge to make that shift because they were running at 98 per cent occupancy," Dautresme notes.
This is an excerpt from the “Of sea, style and substance" article from the November 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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