The Knack

Ten Pro Tips For Decorating Your Home

From clever lighting to investing in art, here’s how to furnish your home with style

Designer Mr Ed Ng and architect Mr Terence Ngan are the have a flair for creating spaces that pack punch. Over the past two decades, the Hong Kong-based duo behind AB Concept have transformed restaurantshotels the world over, cutting a high-design dash across most of the world’s great cities. Their trick, if you can call it that, is to adopt “a narrative-driven approach” that “fuses traditional and modern elements” or, in other words, bringing together old and new and giving their constructions as sense of place. They have been wildly successful at it, too. Name a city and you will probably find an AB Concept bit of design. From the Yun House restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Kuala Lumpur to the former Central Police Station in Hong Kong via the new W Hotel in the Algarve, Portugal, they are past masters of their art. Now their work is being celebrated in a striking book by Assouline, which showcases their work. MR PORTER asked them for 10 tips on decorating your home in a stylish way.

01. Light up

“There is no such thing as too many lights,” says Mr Ed Ng. “Clever lighting is essential in making a home. LED bulbs make the light warmer and deeper than traditional tungsten and create a better atmosphere. Mid-century lights contrast well with modern sofas. I buy my lights from vintage shops. Mirrors can also enhance light and shade. They can be used in two ways, decoratively or architecturally. They essentially serve as an extension of perception of space and thus must be placed strategically, which is not always easy. Use them to borrow the natural light and project it into darker areas. This should be done with great care because you don’t want to overexpose areas that should remain dark by design.”

02. Buy art

Art is the one thing you should always invest in,” says Mr Ng. “It is what will spark joy in your home, to borrow a phrase from the Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo. The right painting or sculpture provides a centrepiece for a room, which means there is no need for over-complicated furniture or strong colours on the wall. Just let the art shine. When I go to the Algarve [to work on the W Hotel], I always go to Lisbon to buy some pieces. The last time I went, I picked up a large piece of sculpture for my mountain home in the woods of Karuizawa in Japan. It is made of timber and, because it has a hole in the middle, I placed it by the window to frame and accentuate the view. I feel like the timber is living a new life there.”

03. Play with contrast

“Contrast is important in bringing new life to a space,” says Mr Ng. “Modern, cream sofas and clean lines are enhanced by antique armchairs, coffee tables and decorative lighting that catches the eye. To make an impact, pick up on history and then add a fresh, relevant element. That is what we did with the Lalique showroom in Shanghai. It’s a 130-year-old brand, but we brought it into the future by mixing pieces.”

04. Vintage is your friend

“Vintage shops are wonderful and ensure that your house will look distinctive with one-off pieces no one else has,” says Mr Ng. “But make sure you take a moment to ask whether you should take something home before you buy it. Can you see it in your house? Inspiration is everywhere. In a Milan villa I discovered a valet cabinet. In the old days, you put your laundry in one side and servants took it out the other, cleaned it and put it back on your side. It was made for elegant living.”

05. Speak to the location

“Play to the strengths of your surroundings,” says Mr Ng. “For instance, my house in Milan is decorated with Italian antiques, inspired by the old villas I love there. My favourite room is the living room in my Japanese mountain house in Karuizawa. The whole building is designed around the view and the fact that when you arrive you can smell the cedars.”

06. Find a focal point

“Pick one thing you love and develop from there,” says Mr Ng. “It can be an antique fireplace, or a work of art. Then go from there. If you centre on that, the rest can be minimal. I like walls to be neutral so that everything else stands out. Off-white and shades of grey work wonderfully with my art.”

07. Tailor the space

“Think about how you will use the rooms,” says Mr Ng. “We had a banker client who gets up at 6.00am, so in addition to the master en suite, we built a bathroom inside a wardrobe so he didn’t disturb his wife. If you want to entertain, consider that experience. You may want spaces to mingle. Maybe you want a beautiful garden pavilion or a beautiful weathered oak table to sit around. Plan how you want spaces to be used.”

08. Break rules

“I don’t generally follow trends,” says Mr Ng. “I have noticed that there has been a clean, minimalist trend for many years, but now that is changing. People are appreciating the artisanal movement and using more eclectic designs. One client used 10 types of fabric in her living room and it had such an impact. It’s like, you can’t go wrong if you just cook a beef steak in oil, but adding ingredients can make it distinctive. Your home offers a similar chance to aim higher and dare to express yourself. That gives you the wow factor.”

09. Evolve

“A home is a living object,” says Mr Ng. “Don’t be scared to add and take away from it, rebuilding if necessary. It will evolve with you and tastes will change. Move with that. I work very fast. If I see something I like, I will want it immediately, but sometimes I make mistakes, so I force myself to go back and tweak things.”

10. Everything in moderation

“Don’t over-furnish,” says Mr Ng. “It is better to have a slightly emptier space to start with than for it to look too full and clumsy. Do justice to every piece you buy. If you love an object it shouldn’t be put in the corner. In our restaurants and hotels, it is important to tell a story, to impress and engage. It’s different for homes. It is about yourself and what you like.”

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