Toronto Life Article
Warming up modern
By Sarah Hampson
Architect Po Ku has carefully proportioned his new house to blend in with its north Toronto neighbours. Inside, he lets loose.
Po Ku is not as cleanly graphic as his name. I was expecting a rakish, art-directed character, one who takes on the project of personal appearance with as much zeal as he would an empty room. You know the look: a wardrobe that speaks only Italian, hair in clean, blunt lines, nifty Josephson glasses. This man, after all, is the force behind the modernist visions of Quess Furniture and Quintessence stores, as well as a growing interior design practice. A demonstration of visual impact is somehow expected. But Ku is just a regular Canadian dad. He wears a waistline that's not what it was, a haircut any comer barber would happily execute and, on this stay-at-home day in snowy March, a haphazard choice of clothes. Coffee cups in hand, we talk at the kitchen table.
In this way, Ku is just like his house: an exterior moderated to ﬁt in; an interior rich in imagination and surprise. Monster homes dwarf bungalows in this hodgepodge neighborhood at the north end of Avenue Road, but Ku‘s house stands next to smaller ones on the street like a big, handsome brother. The interior of the house captivates the visitor, and so too does its owner, who wants to explain what drives his work.
Honour and Ethics pop up regularly in his design vocabulary. Control is another important word. And l soon realize why. Ku, you see, started his professional life as a chemical engineer. You read it right: the designer of this delicately beautiful interior, where shadows of calligraphic ironwork and silhouettes of stylized furniture dance playfully on warm yellow walls, once designed chemical processes.
“Chemical engineering is very abstract. The process is beautiful," he explains, giving emphasis to every syllable of his adjective, “but the outcome, oh my, it was horriﬁc! Such colossal environmental damage. I couldn't take responsibility for that." The epiphany sent him back to college to study architecture, a discipline he felt would allow him to build more useful things. (Later, I learn that Po means “something of value" in Chinese.) Prophetic, or what? Such sharp turns in direction mark his life.
His journey to success as a designer is a path of self-discovery, with some wide detours along the way. back to college to study architecture, a discipline he felt would allow him to build more useful things. Later, I learn that Po means “something of value" in Chinese. Prophetic, or what? Such sharp turns in direction mark his life. His journey to success as a designer is a path of self-discovery, with some wide detours along the way. Born in Hong Kong, Ku was sent overseas in 1969 when his parents feared that the Cultural Revolution would sweep down over the city. At 18, he ended up alone in London, the swinging capital of all that was groovy and far out. He hated it. “Everyone in Hong Kong searches for a safe haven," he offers as explanation. “There is no security in that city, so you dream of getting out and ﬁnding it somewhere in the world." After one year in London, he went to university in New Jersey in search of stability. On the day before Woodstock, the campus was empty and he had no idea why. Then a visit to the library sold him on Canada. There he saw pictures of a virgin country: white with snow, a great body of untouched land. He ﬁnished his engineering degree at the University of Alberta, then, after that eye-opening ﬁrst job at a chemical plant, went to the Nova Scotia Technical College to study architecture. He later returned to boom-town Edmonton to work on public housing, hospitals and government buildings, hired as a conceptual architect. He worked as a behind-the-scenes technical guy, doing all the dry stuff like calculations to make sure the buildings would stand. Another detour? Perhaps, but he rationalizes this progression with what sounds like an ancient Chinese proverb: “Before you can do something really wonderful, you have to do something you don‘t like."
Ku walks me around in his wonderful, newborn house. It is only ﬁve months old. And since it’s the ﬁrst house he and his wife have owned in Toronto (they rented for six years), it's like a ﬁrst child, carefully raised and groomed for display. There is much to admire. The stair case ﬂoats up the middle. Rooms hum with gold accents. The space is calm and controlled. A safe haven. Within these walls, Ku emphatically expresses the oxymoron of his style: warm modernism. Not every aspect of the house oozes design obsession, however. There's a General Electric dishwasher and a Panasonic microwave. The bathrooms have ordinary sinks and toilet bowls. Ku is not a design junkie — his criteria for purchase are surprisingly practical for someone “easily distracted by visual stimulation. Infatuation with things visual is why his wife hates to let him drive. He explains: “Oh, l’m looking everywhere, at cracks in the pavement, patterns in the clouds, people’s shoes.” Shoes? “Shoes are a great inspiration for me,” he says, as I pull mine out of view. “They are so pure in form.” We move to the dining room and slip into a comfortable pair of chairs. Mine looks and feels as good as a Manolo Blahnik evening slipper. Ku has certainly mastered the art of chair psychology: l feel drawn in, comforted, gently held. Chairs and tables make up most of his furniture collection, now mainly exported to the U. S. and Asia. A skim through the Quess catalogue reveals, among others, a tiptoeing chair, a table with iron pantaloons and a small chair dressed in Arabian splendour, complete with silk, tassels and harem pants. “Chemical engineering?" I query this time, my head shaking. He shrugs and offers to reﬁll my mug.
May 1993 Toronto Life Photography by David Whittaker
Dolce Magazine Article
PO KU : A Living Legend
WRITTEN BY SIMONA PANETTA
Born ready for the building industry. Po Ku has been constructing exclusive architectural masterworks across Toronto for over 20 years. He learned the ropes early on, vising job sites in Hong Kong with his father, a renowned luxury custom homebuilder who built for French and British residents across Shanghai in the 30s.
“Its in my blood. I’m just continuing what my father started.” - Po Ku
Like father like son! Ku is a classicist living out his late father’s legacy by skilfully building luxury custom homes ﬁt for royalty.
“It’s in my blood l’m just continuing what my father started,” says Ku, who brings history to life by specializing in classical, Tudor, gothic and traditional homebuilding styles, some of which date back 2,500 years.
“When you drive by a house that I've built, you won’t be able to tell whether it's old or new. I don't want my houses to look like they were built today I want them to look as though they were built in the 20s.”
In 1984, Ku founded Quess Homes and Furniture after attaining degrees in chemical engineering and architecture from acclaimed Canadian universities. The name of his company derives from the word Quintessential — the most essential part of anything.
A creator at heart, Ku’s inherited talent and wide education play a vital role in every project he‘s assigned, whether his clients yearn for a French classical home or old Victorian touches.
“We show them pictures, drawings, photographs of all sorts, designs and ﬁles, because it’s impossible to ﬁgure out these things with words,” says Ku, whose homes can cost up to $7 million and more. Known for his expertise from start to finish, Ku has the means to achieve architectural feats for clients who search for the unique in their endeavours. “The detail in my work starts with correct proportioning, the use of facade, the materials and joining brick to limestone…. All these things come together so precisely that at the end, my idea of the perfect job is that house.”
With a deep appreciation of beautiful buildings and as an aﬁcionado of the Jazz Age, Ku keeps his designs traditional by constantly exploring architectural styles that he can apply to today’s world. “The most beautiful designs and architecture came with the Roaring Twenties,” says Ku, who ignites his passion for design by travelling to artistic cities such as Rome, Paris and London when he gets the chance. “I did a lot of research on old Grecian and Roman architecture. l draw my inspiration from those periods in time l get bored when l have to start drawing straight lines,” says the ambitious Ku, whose love of classical Greek and Roman designs inﬂuenced the 1999 launch of his furniture line.
Fitting your home with luxurious details inside and out, Ku applies his skill in putting things in the right sequence and his knowledge of all architectural periods with ﬂair. “I keep abreast of what’s happening in the world of architecture today. This is where l wanted to be,” says Ku.
Best Interior Design Apartment Canada
The International Property Awards recognize and pay tribute to residential and commercial property professionals from around the globe.They celebrate the highest levels of achievement by companies operating in all sectors of the property and real estate industry. An International Property Award is a world-renowned mark of excellence. Po Ku Design Build was the winner of the prestigious Best Interior Design Apartment Canada Award for the Art Deco Apartment At the Four Seasons in 2014.