6 of Asia’s greatest interior innovators

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From gorgeously crafted objets d’art to sweeping architectural constructions, a talented crop of tastemakers and visionaries are shaping spaces across the continent

Asian Insiders

In March 2016, more than 7,000 guests gathered at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands for the third annual Maison&Objet Asia fair, an extension of Paris’s vaunted design and lifestyle showcase. To those in the industry, the event is the equivalent of glitzy fashion weeks in New York, Paris or Milan. Only here, couture-clad waifs, read curated collections of furniture and upscale décor served as the source of all the fawning and fascination.

Notable at this year’s expo was the calibre and quantity of Asian talent on display. Maison&Objet’s expansion into the continent three years ago signifies not only the presence of a mature market, but also an overall paradigm shift. Interior architects and designers from Asia have always been important, but seldom have they enjoyed the level of creative freedom and global prominence that they have obtained in recent years.

Some of the designers basking in the current limelight are the heads of established, multinational architectural firms that tackle projects of staggering scale.

Ed Ng, one of the two co-founders of Hong Kong-headquartered practice AB Concept, excels at conceptualising interiors for five-star hotels that are contemporary, yet deeply rooted in local traditions. For the W Beijing Chang’an in the Chinese capital the firm created a geometric interior inspired by ancient Chinese philosophical principles that incorporated modern elements such as an LED-illuminated catwalk.

Interior architects and designers from Asia have always been important, but seldom have they enjoyed the level of creative freedom and global prominence that they have obtained in recent years

Another standout firm catering to luxury hospitality clients is BLINK Design Studio. Under the guidance of founder Clint Nagata, the company has helped hotels such as the Melia Bali and the Regent Xi’an create unique interior spaces with a cohesive narrative. Though the two hospitality brands have distinctive styles, they are similar in that they make sure each piece of the final product adheres to a coherent, rigorously thought-out concept. The bland pan-Asian decor of generations past is long gone, replaced by specific and fully realised nods to individual aesthetic traditions.

This conceptual precision extends from the macro to the micro level. After all, sweeping interior spaces would be nothing though without the objects that fill them, which is where furniture wizards such as Kenneth Cobonpue come into play. A native of the Philippines, Cobonpue’s statement loungers, loveseats, sofas and tables use indigenous materials and weaving techniques from his home country to dramatic effect.

Apolite Table Lamp by Denny R. Priyatna
Apolite Table Lamp by Denny R. Priyatna

Many of Cobonpue’s collections are grounded in either Asian nature or culture. Acacia is a series of rattan tables that derive their distinctive shape from the form of the baobab tree while Dragnet’s ottomans and chairs resemble the coarsely knotted nets of Filipino fishermen. A combination of exquisite craftsmanship and brand storytelling make these works enormously compelling to the international market.

Worthy as these globally lauded luminaries are, some of the most exciting developments in the region are coming from a new generation of designers, many of whom were educated abroad and draw on a broad range of stylistic influences. Denny R Priyatna, Melvin Ong and Sittichai Ngamhongtong all earned recognition at the first Maison&Objet Asia back in 2014 and have continued to produce slick, intelligently realised home accessories. Some of their creations speak to elements of their cultural upbringing while others move in bold, entirely original directions.

Fearless, timeless and wildly diverse, the results of their works are redefining how the rest of the world will view Asian design for years to come.

First: Kenneth Cobonpue, Philippines

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After a stint in Bangkok she is now based in Germany where she combines writing with consultancy for an emerging fashion brand. She has contributed to a variety of publications, including Travel + Leisure, The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller India, Cathay Pacific’s Discovery, Slow Travel Berlin, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among others.