Built by design

WHILE most interior designers are absorbed in aesthetics, Matthew Lim believes in delivering practicality and experiences through design. Determined to follow in this direction, he is resolved to make a difference in the industry.

“The direction that I wanted was very different from what I had with my previous company which I worked for a year,” he said.

“They are strong in terms of design concept but they don’t emphasise on practicality which I think is more important. That is why I went on to start my own company.”

Matthew Lim Associate Design was founded in early 2014 with design as its core strength. Offering design consultancy and design as well as build services, his company has recently ventured into helping clients craft their business model.

It now provides a complete proposal, from what clients can do with the space they have which would bring value to the community, to how they can gain funding from investors and how they can expand their business.

Lim said: “We started this practice where I train my team to look into design from different perspectives; from the client, landlord and investor points of view.

We want to do more detailed work beyond interior consultancy, and that is how we can make ourselves different.”

With multiple awards and international projects under his belt, Lim said the highlight was securing an international project which won them the Silver award at the A’Design Award in Milan, Italy.

At that time, he wasn’t thinking of going international, but a Singaporean client was truly impressed by his concept proposal and appointed him to do the 26,000sq ft Samba Brazilian Steak House in Cambodia.

“It is to-date the most award-winning project, and we got that project during the first year of setting up the company. I can say we were very lucky that the client trusted us,” he said, adding that from there, they went on to do projects in Myanmar, Vietnam, China and Singapore.

How do you keep yourself up-to-date?

“I like staying in different, high-end hotels and the reason is because four- or five-star hotels boast international standards. I look at the detailing in their design and decoration, lighting ambience, how they treat the finishing and how they deliver an experience. This is where I learn the most and where I draw my inspiration from.”

What are the challenges you face?

“The two biggest challenges are budget and timeline. There are many projects facing budget cuts and when that happens, it causes some restrictions in terms of finishings. Sometimes you might not even get good workmanship.
“Also, some clients don’t understand that it takes time for us to develop the design, from generating ideas to drawings, and combining different materials to see how they reflect together. Design is art and it takes time to produce good work.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“When a project is completed and the client is satisfied with it, that is the most gratifying feeling as you can feel the trust being created between you and the client. It also builds up my confidence when I see people enjoying the space we have designed.”

What is your advice for young interior designers?

“If I had the chance to go back, I wouldn’t have started my company so fast. If I had worked for an international company for four to five years, I would have learned more in terms of how to run a company.

“I went through many trials and errors which are very painful so my advice is to work for a company for at least five years before starting your own company.

“But you have to make sure why you want to start your own company. Don’t start a company for the sake of making money; you will end up being similar to your competitors.

“I always believe when you start a company, you should know why you are starting it. If you are providing the market a solution that it is lacking, then you have a standing point.”

Tell us about the exciting projects you are working on.

“One is a three-acre land in Langkawi where we are designing a stacking container space to be converted into a tourism spot which has F&B space and community gardens. The other is still at the pitching stage where we are designing a 30,000sq ft private lounge, bar and event space in Kuala Lumpur. If it is a success, it will become the most iconic bar in Malaysia.”

What is your ambition?

“I don’t want to be just an interior design consultant. What I really want to do is development. I want to develop a township that will redefine the market.
“I realised many developers build for the sake of development, but supply has surpassed demand. They have not thought of developing places that can enhance living quality and give better designs to the community – and that is exactly what I want to do.”