Ed of the pack

The founder of AB Concept explains his design for life

The last thing Ed Ng wants to be is a photocopier. The man who founded the design firm AB Concept is determined to continue striving for uniqueness and to never repeat himself, and his desire to do so helps set him apart.

Schooled and trained in Hong Kong, Ng says the only way to succeed is to truly love and be enthusiastic about what you do. In his line of work, what is needed to reach the top is a real passion for design rather than just running a firm like a business. As long as there is that passion, he says people can continue to strive for that X factor that sets them apart. If that is not the case, then they begin to draw from previous designs.

Ng talks enthusiastically about how design firms have evolved rapidly since AB Concept set up shop in 1999.

"Deliverables have become a lot more demanding in the last decade, and I believe all design studios have had to adapt their business to meet these new demands," Ng said.

"In my first company, we had only a designer, draftsman and librarian. Today, AB Concept has over 62 staff and that includes designers, 3D, CAD [computer-aided designers], furniture and management teams. All are specialised in their field and everything is kept in-house _ this is how we reach that level of customisation and bespoke quality for every project we undertake.

"The way we work with architects has also changed. Previously, you were just given a space, whereas now we work together with architects to decipher how we want that space to work."

As co-founder of AB Concept, what were some of the biggest challenges that you had to face in the initial stages of setting up the company?

Design is all about portfolio. Before you have a sufficient portfolio, there will be a number of challenges. But recruiting the right calibre of staff, getting the right clients, the right projects _ that's put us up there on the map.

Tell us what drew you to the occupation of interior designing.

I started off working in hospitality interior design, then also on the owner's side _ so I have seen every side of the industry, which makes me very sensitive to what each party wants. At school, I struggled to choose between fashion and interiors, but ended up choosing interiors because I feel that it fits my personality better. I like to take more time to really develop something. I have a big interest in spatial creation for hospitality, because after you create it you can enjoy it yourself and share it with friends. Of course, fashion is always my second interest and an integral part of my life.

You have been schooled and trained in Hong Kong. What brought you to Thailand?

Thailand is one of the only places in Asia that has not been colonised, which makes the Thai people very pure and grounded to their roots and culture. Thai design has an untainted beauty, which is reflected through passion and sensitivity to aesthetics not extensively seen in other parts of Asia, with the exception of Japan. Thailand has an uncontaminated culture, and the people have a deep understanding and respect for their history, which is so important when it comes to design.

The more I travel, the more I fall in love with the Thai people's personality, and naturally I want to spend more time there. I have already made Bangkok my second home, as I travel between my Bangkok and Hong Kong offices regularly. In fact, a few of my close friends are Thai, and we have some Thai staff in our Hong Kong office also, which means I can constantly surround myself with the beautiful Thai culture.

What do your designs reveal about the person you are?

Constant refinement, as I grow in age and maturity. My designs are a reflection of my journey _ the early years being more bold and experimental with a lifestyle approach, and in the last few years more refined and detail orientated, using materials and colours that have more layers and richness.

What are some of the challenges of working with high-end clients?

High-end clients are usually very well travelled and have seen a lot of the world that we haven't. How can you impress a client and tell them what is better when they are richer than you? How can you have the authority to tell them what is good? As designers, we must maintain a sensibility or know-how, have trained eyes that look at the world with a much stronger aesthetic sense. Once that is there, you can decode the formula for the creation of beauty, effortlessly.

How differently would you address the needs of a client with a medium budget?

When faced with a medium budget, as experienced designers we need to know what people's attention is normally drawn to. We can share our expertise and teach our clients how to spend their money smartly. Instead of substituting fine materials for cheaper and lower quality ones, we place the focus or accent on the more important features that the eye is drawn to.

Every design is like a checklist. Some items are extremely important and cannot be compromised, while others can. The budget is simply a guideline that determines how far we can go down that list of priorities.

What is your design philosophy?

The three pillars of AB Concept's philosophy are architectural, couturier-like craftsmanship, and sensual. Every project of ours must satisfy these three pillars.

Architectural precision means an instinctive architectural style that is expressive in its form and practical in its function. Couturier-like craftsmanship means intricate detailing, luxurious materials, rich textures. Sensual interiors means designs that inspire, engage and intuitively evoke a sense of place and timeless elegance.

What is your advice for up-and-coming interior designers?

Be selective, and not greedy on the types of projects you take on. There is a certain lifespan for a designer and the amount of time you have is the same, so use it wisely. You could be working on hundreds of projects and they cannot take you anywhere if you are just feeding yourself. Identify the good and evil, and choose only those projects which you can completely immerse yourself into because they are the milestone projects that will shape you as a designer. These projects will become the gateway for your career, and open doors for more great projects in the future.

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