Two decades ago, Ed Ng and Terence Ngan founded AB Concept in Hong Kong. Since then, they have designed incredible, unique, multi-layered interiors for some of the most beautiful hotels, restaurants, and homes around the world. Their cultural references and their narrative-driven spaces are changing the paradigm of what true luxury is all about. From painstakingly hand-crafted murals that pay homage to a country’s culture to mesmerizing patterns created to reflect the character of the architecture, Ng and Ngan take care to let each space dictate its identity. An inspiring compendium of their work across the globe, “AB Concept,” is currently available for pre-order at Assouline.
DOWNTOWN: How did you two meet, and how soon after did you decide to start your design practice?
ED NG: My journey has been very organic. I started at my dream design hospitality firm as soon as I graduated, then worked at an architectural design firm, and later became an in-house design consultant for a property development firm. That has enabled me to understand the industry holistically and from a different perspective.
I was very blessed to have met my partner Terence Ngan through a mutual friend. We realized that we had a lot of things in common even though we often take different approaches to the same aesthetics.
Not long after meeting, we decided to start AB Concept together in 1999. Since then, we have been working seamlessly on projects that include everything from fine dining restaurants to luxury residential and hospitality projects.
DOWNTOWN: For a Hong Kong-based firm that works mostly in Asia, we find it amazing your so well known in the U.S. Is there a certain project that you feel really put you on the map?
ED NG: Like the question mentioned, we’re based in Hong Kong, so naturally, a number of our projects are situated around Asia—in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and China—which basically covers most of Asia Pacific. For the past few years, we were also trusted with a number of projects in Europe that include: Mei Ume at Four Seasons London at Ten Trinity Square; Paper Moon Giardino at Milan; W Algarve in Portugal.
Currently, we are collaborating with Extell on a luxury residential project at 50 West 66th Street.
DOWNTOWN: Why did you decide publish your book, AB Concept, and how did you choose which projects to focus on?
ED NG: It has been two decades since Terence and I started AB Concept, so both of us feel that now is the perfect time for us to take a look at the journey that we have been through. We wanted to see for ourselves how we have progressed throughout the years, and most importantly, to move forward into the next two decades.
The book is meant to be a reflection of our journey; we didn’t really choose any project to be covered purposely. We wanted a tangible reflection of our thoughts and experiences from the beginning. We began with a heavy influence from Western culture that included a focus on minimalism. We then delved into our own roots in the East and then focused on our evolution in design. Finally, the book showcases our journey not only in design but in life. We are happy to be able to share that with our friends and our partners along the way.
DOWNTOWN: Is there a particular project that most speaks to each of you showcased in the book? If so, which one/s and why?
ED NG: I don’t think there was a particular project that resonates the most. Every single project has its own story. We’re just like movie directors: we take an incredible amount of time to learn about every project’s location and the history and culture of the place. We walk the streets, learning and listening. Then we, as the directors, translate what we learn into an experience. In that manner, each project is really a one-of-a-kind project. Each location has contributed to shaping us into the designers that we are now. Also, since we never allocate one project to one person, each project showcases an equal collaboration between the two of us.
One memorable project was the French Window. It was the first Western restaurant that we designed. Although it was the first of that type that we took on, we became recognized by a lot of hoteliers and developers when it was completed. Mei Ume at the Four Seasons London at 10 Trinity Square is one of our recent milestones. We took inspiration from the building’s history. It once served as a getaway for trading merchants from the East and West. It is a close representation of how both sides of the world influence our designs.
DOWNTOWN: What did you learn about yourselves when putting this book together?
ED NG: Whenever I am asked about whether there is a project I always view as our ultimate best, my answer is always, “the next one.” I think this also explains our thought process when putting the book together. Every time we work on a project, we learn something from it. We can definitely see our own evolution. It is a 20-year journey condensed together in 200 pages. Interestingly enough, our approach is constantly evolving, while the way to narrate a story through space has never changed.
DOWNTOWN: How has your relationship with minimalism evolved?
ED NG: We began our careers in design during a period of time when everyone was consumed with the idea of minimalism. But as our work progressed, trying to stay within the limits of a style with such strict rules of form became more and more difficult.
In fact, trying to conform to the tenets of minimalism became a a restraint on what we could offer our clients. It is almost impossible for a design to stand out when everyone is doing the same thing all the time. We then entered a self-discovery period where we began to “add” more into our designs. We start to explore the DNA of each project and what makes it unique. Therein came our interest in location and the history and culture of and surrounding the destination. Creating connections and illustrating a story within the design became our principal aim. We now design for what best suits a project rather than trying to maintain a fixed type of design.
DOWNTOWN: What draws you both to working primarily with hotel brands across five continents?
ED NG: One of the reasons guests enjoy staying in fine hotels is because they create a unique experience for the individual. Hotels are very location-oriented, so again, when we start designing them, we take the location’s history, culture, and traditions into consideration. Cities with a deep cultural context, a rich history, and heritage, are always of great inspiration. It helps us create strong, bespoke narratives that meld into the history of the city. Ultimately, we are creating an experience for guests that reflects the locale.
DOWNTOWN: You rarely take on residential projects, but your Hillside Penthouse in Hong Kong is pretty special. Why did you decide to take on this project, and what can you tell us about how you create such wonderful intimacy?
ED NG: Residential projects are always a very interesting yet challenging experience because there aren’t any restrictions or guidelines most of the time. While the ultimate goal is to always to create the ideal “comfortable” space, the word itself can have numerous definitions. For example, take Homantin Hillside in Hong Kong. It usually means there is limited space to utilize. This project itself is a rare spacious jewel in such a tight city; hence it became an interesting and challenging project to take on.
In that project, we wanted to connect the three-level penthouse together with the welcoming view from all three levels—and then unify each space. Each level has a patio, creating the sense of a villa in the sky. It allows the homeowners to benefit from the soothing pleasure of indoor living with outdoor foundations.
DOWNTOWN: Tell us about the dining and design concept in Dynasty Hong Kong. It is utterly mesmerizing!
ED NG: The inspiration behind Dynasty comes from the traditional Xiguan Mansions of Guangzhou, China. Small touches of Western elements and contemporary forms also decorate the space. We always start with a narrative, which is integral to our design as it then allows us to bring all the elements in line.
DOWNTOWN: I would go to Kuala Lumpur purely to see the restaurant you both designed inside the Four Seasons. It is magnificent—what was the approach and how did you reference the culture in the design?
ED NG: When we started on this project, it was never our intention to design a space with a preset concept. Of course, like all our other projects, we immersed ourselves deeply into the history and culture of the city for inspiration. We combined what we learned with the nature of the venue as well as making sure to incorporate the Four Seasons’ brand and tone into the design. In each space we designed—the Yun House, Bar Trigona, and The Lounge— a mini reflection of Kuala Lumpur’s is showcased.
Yun House—a high-end, elegant, busy and authentic Cantonese restaurant—reflects a part of Asian heritage that plays an important role in Malaysian culture and history.
The Lounge is a sophisticated, comfortable, yet energetic meeting place patronized by in-house guests and locals alike. It reflects the colonial history and the Western roots that took part in shaping the one-of-the-kind charming traditions in Malaysia.
Bar Trigona is the high-end bar hidden at the end of the lounge. Luxurious yet intimate and casual, the setting echoes the multi-faceted nature of Malaysia at present.
DOWNTOWN: Can you please tell us about that insanely beautiful mural fashioned out of thousands of ceramic circles?
ED NG: The mural you mentioned is part of Yun House, the Chinese restaurant. This mural is an inspired abstract artwork that forms a “dragon in the cloud.” It is made of over 20,000 pieces of ceramic discs, pieced together one by one. The design was actually inspired from the Chinese tradition to always include a dragon within the space in a very literal manner. We wanted to pay similar tribute to the concept, but in an abstract and contemporary way.
DOWNTOWN: What draws you to creating murals and did either of you have any prior experience in pattern-making etc.?
ED NG: Patterns, murals, and artwork are very interesting elements that usually represent a unique interpretation of culture. They can tell a story without a word and sometimes showcase their origin in terms of a specific culture. While we have not undergone formal education in regards to pattern-making, we are charmed by them. We still sometimes get surprised at how a combination of forms can make all the difference in a space.
DOWNTOWN: The mural fashioned from the idea of an imaginary Thai woman named Baw in My Tai Tai, is quite beautiful! How does it reference Thai culture?
ED NG: Most of the elements within the restaurant are customized and made in Thailand, in an effort to promote Thai craftsmanship and transmit the My Tai Tai story into the space. The inspiration behind this design is narrated through a character, Baw. It reflects her interest in Thailand’s natural scents and flavors, as well as her love of food and adventure.
DOWNTOWN: What are five things that always come into play when designing a space?
Just like our books says: culture, light, form, and the space itself. If we need to add a fifth element, it would most likely be ourselves as the storytellers ready to narrate the elements and translate them into an experience.
DOWNTOWN: Is there a country you have not yet worked in that you are hoping to have a project in soon?
ED NG: A country itself doesn’t come to mind, but there are numerous cities that we haven’t been to. Every city has its own charm. We have worked in cities such as New York, London, and Milan—and they all have very interesting and diverse elements that could not be portrayed in just one project. We are definitely looking forward to new, exciting and interesting projects—though we do not have a specific preference for where.
DOWNTOWN: If you could design a home for yourself anywhere, where would it be and what would it look like?
ED NG: It would be filled with what I love about the city. For instance, if I was to design my home in New York, would be a reflection of what I love about New York.
DOWNTOWN: When and where can our readers purchase your book?
ED NG: The book is currently available to pre-order at the Assouline official website and will be available in Assouline’s Maison this December.