Twenty-year-old Hong Kong design studio AB Concept steps into the spotlight with its collaboration on the Lasvit Flux Collection and charts a new course for itself
It's a spring afternoon, and Ed Ng and Terence Ngan, co-founders of Hong Kong-based design studio AB Concept are getting ready for a busy year. Parked in a gallery space above colourliving in Wan Chai, the duo is showing off its new collaboration with glassmaker Lasvit, the Flux collection light fixtures, which have already debuted in hospitality spaces worldwide. But this afternoon is also about celebrating 20 years of home-grown design and looking ahead to the next 20.
As a designer from Asia, I can bring in a new perspective, a different aesthetic and for many guests or customers of a store that may be exciting
Since its foundation in 1999 and subsequent years crafting some of the city's most memorable interiors (Bo Innovation) and innovative products (Tai Ping carpets), AB Concept has carved out a reputation for textural, sculptural and sensual designs that marry form with function, and also tap Ng and Ngan's Hong Kong heritage. "I think we've worked hard to get to this position, and our clients come to us because they're looking for something different," says Ng.
Ng, a graduate of the University of Toronto, and Ngan, an architecture alumni of Hong Kong Polytechnic, came of age in the Scandinavian-mad 1990s, and while neither denies functionality as a cornerstone of good design, the pair bucked the Nordic trend and opted for a 'more is more' philosophy. For lack of a better word, AB Concept does not fear decor. From a Repulse Bay penthouse awash in striated marble and brightly coloured dining room seating to classical continental opulence in Milan (Paper Moon) and glittery glam at Bar Trigona in the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur; and from Chinese modernism at the W Xi'an, Yun House's (Four Seasons KL) blend of Malay and Chinese cultural motifs to London's repurposed 1922 Beaux Arts Port Authority building that is now Ten Trinity Square, featuring the pan-Asian Mei Ume (also a Four Seasons), AB Concept likes to dress up its spaces. It's a diverse portfolio to say the least, but Ng believes they've earned the attention of big-name brands for another simple reason: it's a global world that people want to experience.
"People crave new experiences and influences," says Ng of what draws their clients. "As a designer from Asia, I can bring in a new perspective, a different aesthetic and for many guests or customers of a store that may be exciting. This is a global age, of global design influences, and we at AB Concept are a part of this global mix."
It is this experience that is at the heart of Flux, two years in the making and designed as a piece of art intended to create atmospheric, ambient lighting. The hand-blown lamps were inspired by nature, and "light reflecting off the ocean, at sunset, by walking on the beach", explains Leon Jakimič, Lasvit's president and founder. "I'm sure it was a nice beach. They're the brains behind this amazing collection. It's not just a light."Flux demonstrates the attention to detail that has become a hallmark of AB Concept's interiors in its multiple layers, references to Asian ceramics, organic lines and sophisticated hints at movement – which is not to say there was no learning curve. "[Flux] was interesting for us, because whenever we do a product collection we have to learn a lot from scratch," adds Ngan. "It's stuff we use but we have no idea how it works or how it's made. It's almost like a masterclass and it's why we enjoy this kind of collaboration… every time we work with these companies it's very site-specific, but when it develops into a commercial project it becomes something quite different. You don't know who the 'client' is and you don't know where the lamp is going to end up. That's the fun part. It's about looking beyond – beyond geography and space."Lasvit's Flux isn't the only product AB Concept is currently working on; forthcoming ones include Cooper & Graham bath fixtures and work for a French crystal manufacturer to be announced soon. Does this signal a move away from interiors for the future? Not necessarily, but going down the road both Ng and Ngan are open to responding to client needs as they present to them. "We don't choose projects as much as we choose clients," says Ng. "They make the project, not the other way around. Their vision is very important. I don't care if you want us to design a faucet, a toilet or a restaurant. We enjoy working with our clients. Aqua Group's David Yeo, for example, is a visionary, so we knew it was going to be fun."
He's referring to The Chinese Library, Statement and The Dispensary in Tai Kwun the trio of F&B outlets in the high-profile regeneration. Both were excited by working on the Tai Kwun arts space, and around the heritage building's grand central staircase, its verandas and pitched roof. "That's the most beautiful, iconic part of the building," enthuses Ng. "For Hong Kong designers a [historic building] is a jewel." Another first for AB Concept this year was designing the W Xi'an in its entirety. Specialised versus comprehensive architecture and design – the 'outside-in' approach – continues to be a subject of debate among designers, but Ng and Ngan fall on the side of totality, at least for this W, believing architectural and interior design partnerships give rise to greater creativity and balance."I'm always joking about how he's a control freak focused on organisation whereas I'm about emotion," begins Ng with a laugh. "I think it's an important balance. Terence's architectural background certainly helps. [He's] into details – stitching, doorknobs, you name it. I'm stronger with materials and he's better with space planning. I think the logic between the two areas is similar, just on either a macro or micro scale," he adds. "We still need to demarcate high-energy areas, chill-out areas, consider functionality across the board. We must be primarily concerned about form, space and function, and the logic is the same and the process is the same."Ask Ng if AB Concept needs to grow more to secure its legacy and the answer is a firm 'no'. Pointing out that at one time the studio was indeed larger, the hands-off approach that came with a larger firm didn't appeal to either of them. "Terence and I want to enjoy the design process. What we found when we grew to a bigger scale was that the work got out of reach. I think now we've found the right scale for us."
There is room for new solutions, new interpretations and in particular the creative incorporation of tech into modern luxury design. I'd love to see the next generation of designers pushing boundaries more. And not just in Hong Kong. Everywhere.
Currently on the design bucket list are unconventional spaces such as a yacht or winery, and they'd love to try their hand at a resort, while AB Concept continues to blaze a trail for young designers in Hong Kong and Asia. As judges of Perspective's first A&D China Awards last year, the pair sees technologies and channels such as social media as catalysts for radical innovation and a flourishing design climate in the years to come. "We often hear from young designers that competition is tough and the market saturated. That's not true. There can never be enough really creative people who truly understand luxury design," argues Ng. "The current young generation is the first to live in a truly connected world full of technology that gives them a perspective that my generation did grow up with. There is room for new solutions, new interpretations and in particular the creative incorporation of tech into modern luxury design. I'd love to see the next generation of designers pushing boundaries more. And not just in Hong Kong. Everywhere."