Co-Founder and Chief Executive Designer of Malaysia-based Blu Water, IDr Lai Siew Hong is the creative lead in award-winning projects such as The Edison George Town (Penang), EQ Kuala Lumpur and Hard Rock Hotel at Desaru Coast. He graduated from the State University of New York with an Associate Degree in Applied Science Interior Design, but returned to Malaysia, where he worked in a multidisciplinary design studio specialised in hospitality design. Siew Hong is also the President of the Malaysian Institute of Interior Designers (MIID). Asia Designers Directory interviews Siew Hong to find out more about his design ethos and the future of hospitality design.
Award-winning Blu Water has been established for a decade. As the co-founder and Chief Executive Designer, can you tell us about the journey in the past decade and the future direction of the firm?
Blu Water was created entirely focusing on hospitality; the practice includes the design of hotels and F&B establishments. The studio encompasses a team of 30 talented designers who believe in re-thinking the design process to align with the rapidly evolving needs of the hospitality industry. We are also passionate about curating bespoke design solutions tailored to our clients’ needs, desires and budgets.
We aspire to shift the perspective of self-realisation and the studio is driven to reduce negative environmental impacts for purposeful design that’s affordable, sustainable, and original through the art of collaboration. The aim is to create design solutions that drive responsible design and provide a positive human experience with human-centred sensibilities. This partnership will create impeccably designed spaces with meaning and soul, bringing fresh perspectives to the world of design.
Throughout your career, you have received numerous local and international awards. What is your design philosophy and how do you describe your design style?
I would describe my style to be modern contemporary with artistic perspective and timeless sensibility. In each of our projects, we take a unique approach to creating memorable hospitality experiences with purpose. Each space is designed to engage people from the moment they arrive, in the same way a theatre captivates an audience. We produce a ‘script’ for each project based on an in-depth understanding of the setting and it’s local culture and heritage, before assembling a material palette to create the space and define the scene. We want our work to tell a compelling story and take people on an emotive journey with a beautiful narrative that allows an audience to escape everyday life and walk away with a deeply personal and memorable experience.
Prior to Blu Water, you spent two decades in a multidisciplinary design studio in Kuala Lumpur specialising in hospitality design. You have also accumulated numerous awards for hospitality projects. Has the pandemic changed the design brief for hospitality projects? What are some new design considerations be it for hospitality, offices or public spaces?
The global pandemic creates a new context for hospitality design. We need to rethink the way we’ve simulated the comfort of home and open up spaces in a way that alters the ratio of sociability and privacy. We need to reinvent and renew the idea of creating healthier environments and work towards a better world.
Proper material selection is essential. While materials can add aesthetics and comfort to the environment, porous materials and non-cleanable fabrics may be replaced with smooth, impermeable surfaces and bleach cleanable fabrics. The goal remains to create a warm, inspiring space, but pragmatic considerations should now take precedence over pure aesthetics. Natural light and fresh air are essential to wellbeing and must be maintained or improved to foster a positive emotional status of the guest.
As the newly-appointed President of the Malaysia Institute of Interior Designers, what is your vision for the interior design scene in Malaysia and how is the council trying to achieve that?
We, at MIID are spreading the effort to bring the interior design profession in Malaysia to the next phase, from education to training , quality to execution. We nurture the next generation of design talent in Malaysia with the aspiration to further grow the interior design profession to greater heights. And it all starts with nurturing interest amongst the younger generation who will be the faces of the future.
It is essential to educate both designers-to-be as well as interior design practitioners about the in-and-outs in the field of interior design as a professional practice and to keep them abreast of industry trends.
We do so through on-going learning and development initiatives for the current pool of registered Interior Designers whilst educating aspiring interior designers. In a joint effort with Lembaga Akitek Malaysia (LAM) – a statutory authority, ultimately, the goal is to ensure that their services as interior designers or interior design firms are registered under LAM’s governance to abide by ethical and fair industry best practices. We believe that professional interior design leads to a better life and a sustainable environment for the future and we are ready to take on the arduous tasks and challenges that lie ahead for the interior design fraternity in Malaysia.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Despite the challenges in the past 18 months, Blu Water has completed a few hotels and won a number of awards. There are several notable mentions including the award-winning luxury hotel EQ Kuala Lumpur with six F+B outlets, Courtyard by Marriott Penang, Capri KL, Amari KL and Amari Penang.
Our upcoming hotels are LonePine Penang by Tribute Portfolio, Sheraton Kuching, Club Med Borneo, Capri Georgetown, Hilton Kuching, Grafik Resort Cebu, KYO Service Residence Niseko and two luxury boutique hotels in Penang.