CTRL Space founder Chris Stevens on Pinterest, surfing and the key to strong design

With nearly 20 years of hospitality design experience, Chris Stevens has undoubtedly made his mark on the urban design landscape. The founder and director of creative-led interior design studio CTRL Space, Stevens has led his award-winning team to create some of Auckland’s most recognisable and assured spaces, including Lilian, Ampersand Eatery, and New York Grill.

With an approach that centres around a strong design narrative, well executed simplicity and modernist flair, Stevens’ superior skill contributes exponentially to the ambience and success of any project he puts his hand to. Here, he opens the door on his icons and influences.

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Lilian in Grey Lynn, Auckland by CTRL Space

My personal style signifier is less is more — quiet restraint.

My design style can be defined as simple, classic, modernist. I am a huge fan of the mid-century modernist aesthetic and while I do not always get to see this style realised in our commercial projects, I do insist on the doctrine of “form follows function” in all we do.

I believe every project should be subject to the same level of interrogation as the next, so my work is always influenced by the brief. I also draw influence from all aspects of creative fields including old movies and music. Moreover, I will always try and draw inspiration from places I have actually been to or things I have seen or experienced.

The strongest of designs come from a conviction to the end results. I see so many projects diluting the initial concept in favour of trying to be all things to all people — it’s important for clients to back themselves.

I love the design work of Fearon Hay, their aesthetic is noble and classic and they are one of the few local firms with a truly international style.

The product or item I specify the most varies in the varied nature of our projects. Where appropriate, we will always go back to the classics such as Bentwood chairs from the likes of Statement iD.

New York Grill in Westfield Newmarket, Auckland by CTRL Space

The three essential elements I consider when designing are: Experience, how will people respond to the space and how the design influences that experience. Tactility, any element or material in a space that someone comes into physical contact with needs to be honest and true to the concept. Longevity, spaces are becoming increasingly expensive to fit-out so they need to stand the test of time. I also believe there should be an obligation to environmental considerations of spaces; construction waste constitutes nearly a quarter of all landfill volume, so we need to be designing for second and third life uses.

My two favourite furniture pieces are the Eames Recliner: obvious but it’s a classic. I was lucky enough to be given one for my 40th, my children are not allowed within three feet of it. The Le Corbusier No.B9 Bentwood cafe chair is also a true hospitality classic and so elegant.

My favourite space to design is the bar/restaurant area in a hospitality project. These spaces are so filled with tension and opportunity as to how the customer will respond to the space. I love nothing more than seeing if one’s design intentions are well received by the public, particularly when alcohol gets involved!

The Calile Hotel in Brisbane

An unforgettable place I visited was The Calile Hotel in Brisbane — a truly amazing hotel with every single touchpoint carefully considered from a single-minded design aesthetic. The materiality is something else.

An object I would never part with is my Bang & Olufsen BeoCentre 9500. A true design icon of the 1990s, it’s still an amazing sound system — the only piece of technology I want to have on display.

Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe

One piece of design that inspires me is the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, which was the starting point to my own personal design journey. It embodies every aspect of that architectural movement and resonates with me (and my current personal project).

My design icon is Terence Conran, another 1990’s icon and his ability to shift from interiors to architecture to product was amazing and still is. He is a true design powerhouse. Ed’s note: Terence Conran passed away after this interview took place.

One book all people passionate about design should read is Buildings and Interiors by Roman and Williams. A beautiful book with amazing interior perspective sketching, and such a level of design detail.

My favourite room in any home is predictably the kitchen. It truly is the heart of the home and always where the best people at the party are to be found!

The Riley Hotel Paper Crane, Cairns, Australia by CTRL Space’s Brisbane office.

I recently discovered Pinterest. Honestly, I rejected it for so long as being a default ‘design by Pinterest’-type approach (which I am not a fan of) but since starting to conceptualise my own home, it’s a great tool. You can really find yourself down some rabbit holes!

If price was not an issue, the one artist whose work I would collect is Banksy.

If I wasn’t doing what I am, I would be doing something ocean related. I surf whenever I can and am allowed (which is fortunately quite often), so basing myself around the sea would be a second choice. 

I have a collection of shoes — more than my wife which she reminds me of every day, and surfboards — which my wife thinks are all exactly the same (I can assure you they are not!).


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