Agnes Ng of HBA in Singapore is not one to venture far from home. Hotel designers are itinerant by necessity, racking up frequent-flier miles like fabric swatches. But Ng tends to stay local. Which is to say in and around Asia—where she has worked on some of the most luxurious hotels in all the world. Born in Malacca, one of Malaysia’s smaller 13 states, Ng says she draws much of her creative juice from the city—from its history, vibrant culture and colonial architecture. “It has so many different legacies, and is surrounded by nature,” she said. “There is this exposure to nature and freedom, and that is where the creativity arises.”
Ng received her education in design from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore. Prior to joining HBA in 2005, she worked for both architectural and interior design firms, including a three-year stint at Eco-id Architect, where she was responsible for conceptualization, finishes and color scheme, detail and tender drawing, as well as site supervision in some residential, hospitality and commercial projects in Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok.
While Ng’s formative years serve to this day as a source of inspiration in her work, she said she continually draws from her surroundings on a daily basis. “Inspiration can be found in every single moment of the day, in every corner, in every object that crosses your sight,” she said, adding that it can also be anything from travel, art or fashion. “They all add spice to the project.
“Other than the daily intake of inspiration, every time I start a new project, I get myself and all the team involved into understanding and researching the location where it’s set, the local culture, and the people. I believe we need to understand the environment, and respecting the local culture is important.”
It’s worked for Ng, who was made a partner at HBA this past December. Her portfolio of projects is as impressive—and very much confined to Asia. They include five Four Seasons hotels—in China: Guangzhou and Shanghai; and in Goa, India; Kyoto, Japan; and Mahé, Seychelles. She also lent her design eye to the W Maldives; Grand Hyatt, Shenyang; and the Crown Plaza in New Delhi.
And like a seasoned pro, she’s reluctant to name one project she’s worked on that stands out. To her, real success is in the eye of the beholder. “Every project is very unique and particular to me,” she said. “I’m proud of the work as soon as I see my client and the guest happy.”
A quick glance at Ng’s roster of hotel projects shows that the majority lean toward luxury. And while that is the case, it doesn’t mean that designing them is anything quite different than designing a limited-service hotel, for instance. “The design process is similar,” Ng said. “Luxury is about giving care to the guest, which will be supported through the creativity and design. The main intention is to fulfill both the operator’s and the client’s aspirations, as they are the ones who define how the process will evolve.”
While there may not be as many differences designing between hotel segments, there are differences when it comes to residential, a niche that Ng also excels in. She has designed residences in Singapore, Indonesia and China and said, “When designing a residential project, you are meeting one specific family’s requirements and desires.”
For hotels, “You have to ensure that a range of guest expectations are met,” she said. “Every single individual has requirements to be fulfilled, so a delicate balance needs to be accomplished.”Which isn’t an easy task, particularly with today’s savvy, demanding global traveler. The designer in recent years has been forced to keep pace with a more formidable and perceptive traveler. “As the guest becomes more and more exposed, the designer has to be aware of new trends, latest technologies and materials at all times—every small thing that will make the difference,” Ng said.
Ng, not unlike many hotel designers, sees technology as complementary, not focal, to the final product. “Technology can be an amazing addition to the project,” she said. “However, it only makes sense when it is perfectly blended in with the design, and not dictating or constraining its outcome.”
While Ng’s hard work and discipline have been the catalysts for her success, she compliments HBA CEO Ian Carr and partner Connie Puar as mentors. “They encouraged me all the way, gave directions, and were not imposing, allowing me space to dream and develop my vision,” she said.
Her advice for fledgling designers: “Be determined and have confidence about the path you want to follow,” she said. “Always give as much care to each project as possible.”