Designer Alain Wong’s concept of a “home sweet home” is a place to rest, relax and recharge.
To that end, the design priority is functionality first, decoration second. It’s minimalist but not too minimalist.
For many Hongkongers who have to dig deep into their pockets to buy a property in a city that consistently tops surveys for “unaffordable housing”, the philosophy of making the most out of space makes sense.
But then, of course, the definition of the right design also changes with the homeowner’s status in life, and reflects who they are and what they like.
When Wong was a child, soccer was probably the biggest thing. Like most youngsters, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to be, doing a bit of this and that, until one day he walked into a bookshop.
“I still remember it’s a fairly old bookshop. There I saw some gorgeous books on home design, and I was hooked.”
Coming from a grassroots family, Wong used to sleep on the couch. To further his studies in the United States after finishing a local design course, he worked part-time as a security guide and a kitchen and bathroom designer. In 2009, he set up his workshop Comodo.
His studies in the US and exposure to various theories and trends gave Wong a whole new perspective to interior design and the use of space.
Design and architectural classes didn’t teach Wong everything he needed to know. He supplemented what he learned in the classroom with field visits. He observed and talked with people who did the actual work, including plumbers and electricians.
“I kept asking the builders and learned so much from them.”
He found that this was an important aspect of his education because what looks or feels great design-wise may not always be technically feasible. Something as simple as installing an electrical device may not work if it’s not compatible with the power supply.
Design is a lot more than theories, technicalities and drawing floor plans. A good designer also has to do a lot of talking and listening, and do them well.
Wong has to understand what customers want.
Sometimes, there is only one major decision maker. In a luxury home project, for example, the owner is a cycling enthusiast and he basically calls the shots. Naturally, the bike becomes a major element of the overall design, and the color scheme is unmistakably masculine.
But in other cases, the husband and wife may want different things, and the challenge for the designer is how to balance their requests. For families with kids and grandparents, safety is crucial.
One cannot design without communicating with the contractor since the greatest design idea cannot be realized without someone actually doing the plumbing, wiring, tiling, painting and carpentry.
“Contractors and workers have their own language, but I have got used to it.”
Wong never talks down to his blue-collar partners. “Respect is the key” to win their cooperation.
Anyone who has done renovation will know how hard it is to find a trustworthy builder. Wong makes it a point to nurture working relationships.
“That is the way to ensure quality finishing.”
To arrive at better solutions, Wong is always on the hunt for fresh ideas, and that means devouring lots of books and trade magazines to keep himself updated on the latest trends, new products and smarter home décor techniques.
He gave one example. Traditionally, workers hand-mix the grout (the thing we force into the tile seams to hold the tile edges together and keep away debris) to match the tiles. The problem with this approach is the unevenness of the color.
To achieve something better and more lasting, Wong looked for an alternative. In the end, he found an Italian company that makes a wide range of colored grout, which also does a good job of resisting moisture.
“What you read may not be instantly useful, but over time, the ideas sink in”, and suddenly, it clicks.
A relatively big residential project would take one to one and half months for the design phase and five to six months for the construction work.
Wong usually shows customers a couple of drafts to start with, followed by 3D graphic presentation at a later stage to finalize the design.
In a city where housing costs are forbiddingly high, making every inch count matters to most home owners.
To squeeze out all available space, tailor-made floor-to-ceiling wardrobes are usually incorporated into his design. Beds are usually bespoken too, in which lots of storage space would be built into the base.
For other mobile furniture such as chairs and tables, Wong would source them from different labels.
Establo, a Spanish furniture showroom hidden inside an industrial building in Aberdeen, is one of Wong’s favorites. Those who care for mellow color, simple lines and quality material will want to drop by and have a look.
Wong sees a bright future for his business as Hongkongers are now more willing to invest in improving their homes.
In addition to repeat customers and referrals, his work, often with a design style that caters to the young, has also attracted big developers like New Word Development.
But at the end of the day, Wong said the essence of a home is not its size, or how luxurious or stylish it is, but the people living in it.
“My house could get a bit messy with all the baby things, but I feel perfectly alright with it,” says the new dad.
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