Tommy Zung is one of those designers that exudes style from every direction. Although he has an acclaimed architectural and design company Studio Zung, he’s had success in other creative fields such as fashion and food. As the son of the famous architect Thomas T.K. Zung who worked alongside Buckminster Fuller (think the Fuller Dome), Tommy was surrounded by brilliant minds. Using that creative upbringing but reinterpreting with his own point of view, Tommy has become an accomplished designer in his own right.
We love his work, especially his mixing of natural materials and wanted to find out more about how his collaboration with the stone quarry company Polycor has allowed him the flexibility to get creative with his projects. Here he is talking to us about his work and his perspective on design.
Let’s get to know you a little better… How would you describe yourself in a few words?
Trick question! A seeker, a dreamer, who practices architecture and design as a way to be in harmony with my environment.
You seem like quite a passionate person. What do you love about your job?
I love being able to visualize a form, imagine an experience and design it into a sensory space where one feels closer to themselves and inspired. I want people to experience life and feel deeply.
You come from a family of architects and design professionals – did it seem natural that you’d follow that path when you were younger?
It came naturally to me to see the world through a visual and experiential lens, but I rebelled against architecture by starting a clothing company in my garage in Laguna Beach. Looking back now, I needed that in order to find my own voice in design. That was my first experience as a multi-disciplinary designer.
Where did you agree with your father (Thomas T.K. Zung) on design and where did you want to digress? Did you see things differently?
In my younger years, I saw things differently than my father in terms of large-scale architecture, which is the type of architecture that he practices. As a youth, I judged him for this type of architecture. After some years, age and a little bit of wisdom, I realized my judgment was in truth awe, that I am not wired to design structures such as the first elongated Geodesic Dome, or the John F. Kennedy Center. My father dreams big like his partner Buckminster Fuller, hoping to enhance as many humans as possible with each project or invention. I am drawn and inspired by the intimate and subtleties, where a space touches people one by one.
What do you look to create when you design a space?
For space, I look to sculpture and sculptors in the human realm, and nature for the beautiful balance that is innately found within. For color, I draw from the fashion world and natural landscapes.
Is there a way that you recharge yourself creatively?
I surf, meditate, travel devotedly, immerse myself within cultures and stay as present as possible to all artistic disciplines and masters of their craft that I encounter – reminding myself, that I truly don’t know anything, therefore I must keep seeking.
You’ve designed clothes and have also worked as the General Manager and collaborator for the NY-based restaurant Moomba – what’s your perspective on how creativity and design are connected in various fields?
Creativity lives everywhere. If we are still, observe with our bodies, we can feel creative energy. Anyone who is accomplished in his or her field draws in creative energy to create moving work. For Moomba, creating not only the physical space but also the overall experience of the space – from the cuisine to the style and the service – was our key to success.
It was similar to designing fashion and showing on the 7th on Sixth runway shows. I was able to make waves in both of those disciplines by drawing from my time at architecture school and by realizing the patience it takes to build a building, start a fashion company, and open a restaurant. Also, it’s important to not just accept failure but also learn from it, rather than seeing it as a defeat. Our ego is limiting, so the freer you are the more creative you can be.
Tell us about one of your favorite projects. What about it makes it stand out from others?
I adore the Bridgehampton Residence. It was an extremely sustainable residence, both passively and actively. Also, the client truly embraced the fact that we wanted to obsess over every detail to achieve that perfect effortlessness. To do so we were able to fly artisans and raw materials from around the world to find that balance.
If you could eliminate one design element that you see in spaces over and over again, what would it be?
I would eliminate anything that is kitsch and unnecessary. I believe it simplifies the mind and puts value on quality rather than quantity.
We completely agree! We truly appreciate the attention to detail and quality, especially how you use stone as the focal point of your spaces. You’ve worked closely with the stone manufacturer Polycor on numerous projects – what about them makes you want to use them as a resource?
Polycor has some of the largest local quarries in North America, and more specifically near New York, which makes them a logical sustainable solution for us. At the same time, the diversity of their stone type, the quality of their stone and precision of their quarry cutting and manufacturing, coupled with their ability and willingness to produce custom slab designs and tiles, make them invaluable to us as a bespoke architecture and design firm. We adore and support artisans with lineage and Polycor has that story.
What is your process with working with them, do you begin online or is it all in person?
We begin the process by requesting samples of stone types and finishes that we envision for a project. We then send Polycor our design drawings and typically discuss in person the cuts, bevels, finishes of the stone prior to production and purchase. They always have invaluable insight that makes the process even more seamless and beautiful.
Why is stone so important in the design of your projects?
Each material holds an energetic quality to it. One does not have to be an architect or designer to feel it. You know when you walk into a space how it makes you feel. The energetic quality of stone is grounding and as well it holds different feeling with its type, color, and cuts. Every space deserves its specific stone, it may sound bizarre, but we look for the stone that the specific space asks for.
Check out our slideshow to see some of Tommy’s projects!