Studio Zung principle Tommy Zung is an architect by trade, but that’s hardly all. He’s dabbled in the design world, in fashion, in hospitality, and more, plus he’s an avid surfer, skier, and snowboarder. Zung grew up among influential architects and thinkers—his father, Thomas T.K. Zung, was a partner and friend of none other than the visionary architect and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller—and his own twist on the profession has led to a studio with a multidisciplinary approach to architecture, design, and holistic living. Zung primarily spends his time at his firm in Manhattan, in the Hamptons, where he’s building high-end, artfully curated residences integrated with smart-home details, and at various surfing locations worldwide. We tapped him for a guide aimed at the design-minded.
If you ask Tommy Zung of Studio Zung what he does for a living, he’s often got a lot of answers. He’s formally trained as an architect and moves daily within the world of architecture and design, but he also has started a clothing company, designed a line of surfboards and skateboards, collaborated with a Danish company on a furniture collection, and made everything from custom doorknobs on out for the homes his studio has designed. Plus a few other one-offs along the way. Um, whew.
“I consider myself a maker,” says Zung. “I’m really concerned with design for the wellness of beings, and how design effects our nature.” And the work coming out of Studio Zung reflects that. “We’re not chasing architecture for architecture’s sake or design for design’s sake, instead we look at design in a more holistic way,” he explains. “We all try to surf, be outside, and look at art and architecture and sculpture and music and literature. I think that through the art of living well we’re able to create architecture that feels a little different.”
So where can you find Zung outside of the studio? We asked…and he had plenty to say.
What would you direct a design-lover who’s visiting New York City to see, eat, or patronize?
I’d definitely encourage a visit to architect Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub. From a spatial engineering perspective, it’s important. It’s a useful working structure that’s progressive and idea-prolific—and incredibly gorgeous too.
Then I’d say go to the Met Breuer—it’s a great building, so definitely spend some time there—but make sure to eat at Flora Bar. It’s a beautiful space and its rare to be able to eat indoor-outdoors within a museum.
Speaking of museums, definitely go to the Noguchi Museum. It’s rare to be able to see the place where the artist [Isamu Nouguchi] lived and worked, and its been transformed into a museum. I think it’s a spectacular museum space that’s wildly underrated.
Finally, De Vera is a spectacular store that holds its own. It’s timeless and nostalgic. Between the building and the products themselves, it’s just spectacular. Also, the new Roman and Williams Guild store is spectacular and one to keep on the radar.
What about in other countries or cities you’ve traveled to? What places are the most inspiring to you as a designer and architect?
Japan, hands down. It’s an incredible place. Even Japan’s 7-Eleven stores are the most efficiently organized, well-thought out spaces. I mean, for example, they’ve designed a stand for newspapers to go that’s a spiral so not only can you pull a newspaper out easily, it’s space-efficient, properly lit, and keeps everything in order. But it’s everything about Japan, it’s their whole approach—from efficient streetside drink machines to how carefully everything is proportioned.
Denmark is also incredible. It’s another place where people care about how they present things. Design is part of their life and they coin words—like hygge [coziness]—to talk about how they live. And they don’t overdo things or make changes just to make changes, which I admire.
Oaxaca, Mexico is another place I love going. I adore the way they organize all their different vendors in neat stalls; it’s all so well-run.
And Paris, always, for their approach to presenting things—from antique to modern, from country to refined, everything is well-done and sophisticated.
You’re well-known as a surfer. Where are your favorite places to catch a wave?
Oh, Bali, Tahiti, Hawaii, Mexico, Biarritz in France… I surf in New York, I surf in Los Angeles, I surf all the time. I go every couple weeks at least. It’s a lifestyle, it’s just how I work. In my studio, everyone surfs. Portugal and Chile are next on my list, I’d love to surf in both places.
What do you consider is the essence of “good design”?
It’s something that brings a true emotion to the experiencer. If you walk into a space and have your breath taken away, if you get more restful sleep because the light is so beautiful, if it sparks a deep emotion—that’s a sign of great design.
How do you define luxury?
I think it’s really about simplicity. It’s very difficult to make something that’s, say, beautiful, comfortable, and sustainable and still be simple. True luxury is when something takes an incredible amount of detail and thought and materiality and structure just to get something simple and purposeful. I do have an adversity to gluttony and wastefulness.