Max Dautresme, co-founder of the design studio Substance, spent his childhood travelling the world. “When you’re a child you’re a sponge and you discover new flavours, new scents, new atmospheres all the time,” Dautresme muses. “But now when I have to stay somewhere for a long time, I can have a hard time doing it.”
After spending his adult life hopping between cities (he’s previously worked in Paris, Miami and Shanghai, to name a few), Dautresme has now been in Hong Kong for six years and chosen the city as a base for Substance. The studio handles everything from branding to website design to interiors, and has worked for clients including the Financial Times, Black Sheep Restaurants and Mandarin Oriental.
One of Substance’s most recent projects is The Ocean, a restaurant owned by Le Comptoir Group that’s perched on Repulse Bay Beach. “The brief for The Ocean was to build something that would embrace its location,” Dautresme explains. “The actual environment around Repulse Bay is spectacular, with the mountain and the beach. And so we studied the ocean; the ocean as it is there and the ocean in general. And from the brand identity to the furniture, it’s all about inspiration found in the sea, whether it’s the rhythm of the tides, the water itself or the species found on the floor of the ocean. So, for example, the chairs are inspired by coral reefs – they’re made of woven rattan.
“The restaurant is very long and we put in glass walls, so that the space was directly connected to the ocean. And this is quite abstract, but as night comes and the lights go down, it feels like you’re going deeper into the ocean. And the private room, with the jellyfish aquarium and dimmed lights, is like a completely immersive deep-sea experience. With the lighting generally, we considered those surface fishing floats that fishermen use when they fish at night and those deep-sea shes that have their own lanterns.”
Now that The Ocean is complete, Substance has plenty of other projects in the pipeline. The team is working on the rebranding and redesign of The Fleming hotel in Wanchai, the brand identity of The Mills – a fashion museum being launched by the Nan Fung Group – and is designing its first private home. “The other projects are quite confidential,” Dautresme says, “so you’ll have to wait and see.”