CocoKacang Design Studio owner Amy Liang is renowned for inspiring and innovative ideas to bring spaces to life with a touch of nature

INTERIOR architect Amy Liang is one of Malaysia’s most sought-after designers for her skill at creating amazing and attractive concepts for trendy cafés.

She has won many hearts with her distinctive style, as is her ability to craft an ambience with a difference.

Liang’s projects include contemporary cafés. She creates a comfortable atmosphere and adds her signature green elements: plants or a small garden space are a “must-have” in most of her café designs.

She also adds her personal touch by creating bespoke furniture pieces that are customised accordingly to fit the interior design.

Amy, who founded CocoKacang Design Studio, recently completed designing two cafés in Kuala Lumpur – Three Years Old (TYO) in Jalan Sin Chew Kee and V88 Bar and café in Desa Park City – all done despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

At TYO, she converted an old house into a unique new café. The white walls and natural lighting in the minimalist-style house was optimised to create a calm and welcoming atmosphere.

Wooden beams and high ceilings gave it a spacious feel, while vintage windows rendered a unique feature. The outdoor space was, of course, designed with tall trees.

At V88 café and Bar, Amy custom-designed elegant and functional ‘flip-able’ tables at the outdoor space, to suit the café’s function during the day and “flipped” for use during bar hours at night.

$!Liang utilised a minimalist design and chic custom furniture at Three Years Old Cafe.

What inspired you to become an interior designer?

“My dream was to open a bookstore, so I thought by studying interior design, I could design for my own bookstore in the future when the day comes.”

How did your journey into interior designing begin?

“After I graduated as an interior designer from The One Academy, I felt that it would be nice to gain some experience before I open a bookstore or go for further studies or run a design studio on my own. I practiced in TRIDI Sdn Bhd and Juteras Design Workshop until one day, I thought that maybe I should give myself a try and start a solo studio. This happened at the end of 2015.”

What is your greatest joy as an interior designer?

“I feel that the most magical part of being a designer is watching things transform from thoughts to real life, and the most touching part is when I see people whom I don’t even know using the space or furniture.

“I remember the feeling when I saw the first piece of furniture that ‘came to life’ in my first project. It was a mock-up workstation. I purposely went earlier that day, as I thought it would be good to check it before anyone arrives. The moment I touched the table and pulled the drawer out, I knew designing would be my life-long career.”

$!The outdoor area of TYO

How do you craft a theme for your projects?

“I do not really have a concept or theme for my projects as I believe studying the surroundings and the nature of the business to define the character of a project is more important.

“V88 is a space that is connected to nature (dining by the Desa Park City waterfront park), and TYO is about nature interacting with people and space (part of the park). It’s a marriage or balance of outdoor and indoor, and natural and man-made.”

$!The open, airy design concept of V88 Cafe and Bar.

What did you consider when creating the ambience at both cafés?

“For V88, I was thinking ... what if the spaces were not just a place for eating, but also served as the community’s living room for people to meet and chit-chat with friends, family and to bring pets?

“I wanted to give it a sense of warmth with a design that is not too loud, not too shy, but just balanced so that people can feel welcome.

“TYO is a place that is enlivened by shadows in the day, and glows by night through the old and new windows.

“The shadows of surrounding trees are projected onto both front and side facades, bringing a poetic moment of light and natural shadows into the inner space.”

What were the unique features in both cafés?

“I will share two design thoughts for each of the projects, but I am not sure if these are considered as features. For V88, the perimeter benches serve to function as a visual threshold between the ‘public space’ and ‘private spaces’ as the whole dining area is alfresco and this could also help to define it as a pet-friendly area. Its transformable furniture design is meant to create different vibes, as V88 is a café by day and bar by night.

“For TYO, the main facade and entrance is located at the side instead of the front as it is a corner unit. We lowered down some external walls in order to get more exposure to the driveway and pedestrian walkway that is next to it.

“By entering through the side entrance, the counter area would be sandwiched within the courtyard garden and the front garden. It has reconfigurable furniture designed in a half or full moon form that opens up for different functions, as seats or tables.”

$!Bespoke cabinets, which is also flip-able

What challenges did you face when designing the cafés?

“For V88, it had a room for kitchen equipment, storage, bar counter, take away counter, merchandise display, cashier and facade. Thus, it was just too small to waste even a single inch. However, it turned out awesome as we still managed to work it out together with all the relevant parties.

“For TYO, I would say the biggest challenge was the coordination with the contractor, as a contractor with passion and patience is important for design details.”

How does converting a house differ from designing a commercial unit?

“For TYO, besides taking care of the ‘design brief’ from the client, we also wanted to celebrate the past and the existing or original features of the 100-year-old building that was constructed in the 1920s.

“The interesting part of this project was to figure out how to merge the old building features while transforming it from an old private house to a commercial café.

“For V88, we had to follow the guidelines from the landlord (Desa Park City). We had to design it according to certain requirements.

“One of which was, we were only allowed to place flexible furniture or moveable elements in the alfresco area.”

$!Liang made clever use of a few bespoke tables that came with a mirror top when designing V88 Cafe.

What do you think of your custom furniture designs?

“I look at my furniture designs as playful and creative works that may surprise even me, as I don’t limit it as just a furniture piece but as a part of interior design or architecture design.

“Through my journey of exploring, I found that design is not only about creating beautiful objects, but about recognising the little inconveniences in our everyday lives, and finding new ways or solutions to improve on it, even if it is about making it just a little bit better than before.

“I feel that observing our everyday lives is really an important element to inspire innovation.”

What is your future goal?

“I am open to anything, as everyday life and design have many parallels.”