Surreal immersive design that brings a whole new experience to commercial spaces – X+Living interview

Shanghai interior design powerhouse X+Living is one to keep an eye on for outstanding immersive design and differentiated consumer experience.

Founded in 2011 by Li Xiang, X+Living is an international interior design firm that goes beyond existing spaces and creates surreal designs curated from every angle, generating a unique experience for every visitor. 

Having almost ten years of practice in designing spaces for the commercial field, Li Xiang unparalleled style continues to leave customers in awe with every project. From indoor playgrounds, to restaurants, coffeeshops and bookstores, X+Living keeps innovating and bringing surreal spaces to life.

Being named one of the Most Creative People in Business 2020, Li Xiang talks about her aim as a designer, past experiences, challenges within design and future plans as the female leader of X+Living.

X+Living - Li Xiang
Li Xiang, founder of X+Living

Who is Li Xiang? How did the journey for X+Living begin? 

Li Xiang:To build a studio was not a sudden decision that flashed through my mind. Before I started my business I worked in China at the Construction Institute, in architecture.

At that time, most of our projects were conventional in concept and lack of creativeness. I wanted to have a voice in innovation, and to build something that contains my own values and spiritual ideas.

So I just quit the job and then founded my own studio X+Living.

Meland club

Why X+Living, why focusing on architecture integrating artistic aesthetics and practical functions?

Li Xiang: “In 2008 during a study trip in Germany the teacher took us to visit some famous architecture projects. This was the first encounter I had with Anish Kapoor.

At that time, I was upset and not attracted at all by the surrounding things until a huge rugby-shaped object appeared in front of me, and all my bad mood was suddenly swept away.

Why was it here? What was it trying to express? I couldn’t observe all of this “foreign intruder”. I had to concentrate and focus, looking from every angle to see it from different perspectives. 

This encounter moved me so much that I remember going back to China to continue my architectural design work and still being in deep shock during the endless and repeated paperwork.

In this shaped world, the appearance of a space that is different from reality indicates infinite inspiration and possibilities.

Even when I went from being an architect to becoming an interior designer, I still hope to create designs that are not often seen but make people hold their breath.

The profound influence should be far more than that. When people arrive to a space, they should explore it, remain curious, raise doubts, and feel subtle feelings rising in their chest: to forget depression and sadness, to embrace the unknown and surprise.

This connection extends to the beginning of every creation of mine.”

Would you like to see more surreal design projects? You might A journey into the surreal realities of Reisinger Studio

X+Living - interior design
Dujiangyan Zhongshuge

The ‘MIXc Kunshan’ project creates a dreamlike wonderland showcasing the cultural heritage of the Kunqu Opera. Which designers are you inspired or influenced by?

Li Xiang:I love Zaha Hadid’s work. Everytime I see her designs, I can’t help but enjoy her exquisite technique and thoughts.

Actually a lot of things in life can be my inspiration, traditional Chinese culture, endangered animals, beautiful landscapes… I like to integrate these things in my design works.”

Xi_an FAB cinema

Having currently more than 11.3K followers on Instagram, what is your relationship with social media? What has been the impact of social media on your work as compared to the “real” world?

Li Xiang: “It was not until June last year that I began to post something on Instagram, too late for a social media account to grow its followers I guess.

We didn’t intend to advertise our projects on the internet from the very beginning; most people abroad started to know me only from content published by other media like design magazines or websites.

I found it interesting when I started to post our projects on Instagram and got feedback directly from people, making me realize what are some of the trends in the market.

However, this doesn’t have a huge impact on my thoughts or design scheme for the next projects, but I have to say it helps me more or less in forming a more general and deep understanding of the current age.”

Parkzoo Hotel

The ‘YooYuumi Kids Club’ project portrays traditional Chinese paper-cutting while using western aesthetic lines. Which are the main values, core concepts or style inclinations that, above all, will always represent the studio and yourself?

Li Xiang: “This project is a parent-child restaurant, we needed to take care of both the adult’s sense of ritual and the entertainment facilities for kids.

We think it was a good solution to add a little architectural design thinking in it. We combine traditional Chinese paper-cutting techniques with western aesthetic lines, so that the furniture and wall shapes appear to be folded from the wall, elegant and childlike.

This design method not only highlights the three-dimensional feeling, enriches the level of the space, but also completes the artistic refinement and interest in the details. But since different projects have different demands and target groups, I can say we are not inclined to a certain fixed style of shaping.

Are you interested in the restaurants’ interior design? These are our favourite picks from the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2020 shortlist

YooYuumi Kids Club – photo by Shao Feng

X+Living has developed projects in a wide range of areas including business, hotel, office, retail, culture, commerce, among others. How do you choose the type of project to work on?

Li Xiang: “We can basically take most types of commercial projects like hotel, office, restaurant, retail store and so forth.

What may be different from some other interior designers is that I understand the commercial market and brand operations, and I’m better at using business thinking to deal with design.

What I create for clients is not just a beautiful space, but also a differentiated consumer experience which brings commercial value and a positive impact, rather than simply inject my style into the store.

I think a good commercial space designer should not choose the types of project. A thorough understanding of the business logic behind the design can help cope with more diversified and complex business design projects. And I’m very happy to accept the challenge.

Choangqing Zhongshuge

The ‘Shenzhen Neobio Family Park’ shows an ingenious arrangement of space by removing the floor slabs of the five floors and creating a supersized dreamland. What are the major issues or biggest challenges you have found in the design process? 

Li Xiang: “The biggest challenge was the scale of the space since it is very large. We needed to coordinate all functions and ensure that the aesthetic composition from each perspective is as perfect as possible.

In the atrium space, we needed to consider the consumers’ visual angle from both up and down, and also the horizontal angle of view on each vertical elevation, and then plan carefully to avoid any blind spots. In this way we ensure that consumers enjoy an immersive experience.”

Hangzhou NeoBio family park

Constantly creating innovative and unique spaces, what should we expect to see next from X+Living? 

Li Xiang: “The new flagship store cooperating with Meland Club brand will soon be launched this year; we hope to continue to create a different visual and consumer experience.

In addition, there are some retail store designs with different brands to be landed. We hope we will have more work beyond expectations appearing for the public.

This year we will have some action in product development. In the past, people could only consume or get close to our furniture in commercial projects. We hope to break this model and try to bring a whole new experience in home decoration.

If there’s a chance, have a look to our exhibition at Design Shanghai in November this year.”

Guizhou Zhongsuge
Loong Swim Club
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