Ben McCarthy’s Hong Kong based studio Charlie & Rose may be small, but it has already been responsible for many distinctive and noted F&B projects in the city. JJ Acuna has the story.
27 February, 2014
At Stockton, a new destination ‘speakeasy’ bar in Hong Kong’s Central district, we sat with the bar’s most sought after designer, Australian-born Ben McCarthy of the Hong Kong based design firm, Charlie & Rose. Since establishing his one-man office almost four years ago in this city, McCarthy has completed roughly 20 projects; of which all but three are within the F&B sector.
When asked how he’s able to stay on top of all his commissions with very few resources, McCarthy acknowledges that while he performs most of the work, he does get help when needed. “Two additional people help me occasionally,” McCarthy states, “But I think I’ve gotten to the point of being able to handle that.”
The reason for our meeting at Stockton, McCarthy’s favourite project so far, is that the Victorian-era bar represents his most recent distinctive style, and because Ben McCarthy works from home. “I’ve got an office being fit out at the moment, and in a couple of weeks that will be done,” McCarthy shares with a sigh of relief. “I’ll finally get staff on board full time, now that I’ve got enough work to warrant that.”
McCarthy’s career began when he first worked as a junior designer for Hassell in Australia, a position he found challenging due to its largely corporate and hierarchical nature. He then continued to hone his craft in London’s boutique interior firm, Candy & Candy. McCarthy’s time learning technical expertise professionally, followed by a more commercially oriented lifestyle portfolio, allowed him to be completely ready for solo work when Cantopop launched in 2011. Cantopop, now closed, was McCarthy’s first F&B project in Hong Kong, and is remembered as much for its Pop Art inspired interiors, as its tasty Hong Kong style street food prepared with a modern organic twist. Years later, Charlie & Rose has designed almost every other destination eatery of note in the city since; fitting out for ‘it’ restaurants such as Linguini Fini, Brickhouse, Stone Nullah Tavern, Fish & Meat, and K-Town Bar & Grill, to name a few places.
His style is notably more cinematic than others, with the ability to offer high design solutions, without forgetting the need to have fun, and keep it rough around the edges. “Hong Kong restaurants can be too polished, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to have fun”, says McCarthy when asked about his design perspective for the city.
Unsure of how operating a design business in Hong Kong will play out for the next five years, McCarthy’s strategy is to continue to take in jobs and thinking twice before turning down any projects. At 32 years old, he also understands his unique position as the go-to guy when it comes to F&B fit outs in the city.
“People are generally good to give you a go as a new designer in town,” says McCarthy of his experience here as a young designer. “My clients have been great to me. I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also been pretty lucky.” That said it’s a good thing Ben McCarthy has the talent to back up all that luck.
Charlie & Rose
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