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Design mastery: Andy Chua

When Andy Chua, Executive Director of commercial interior design practice D’Perception, was eight years old, each weekend he’d visit building sites with his father, who was CEO of a large Singaporean development company. “I fell in love with construction and interiors, and became captivated by beautiful architecture,” recalls Andy.

Andy Chua

“I felt a real connection.” This sense of belonging ran deep for Andy, who followed his heart and pursued a successful career in commercial interiors. In 2005, Andy joined D’Perception, one of Singapore’s largest privately owned practices, and was co-charged with reinventing the company and creating a platform to carry it forward into the future.

“Over the past 20 or 30 years, interior design was all about creating beautiful offices,” Andy says. “Today, interior design has gone beyond decorated offices; interiors is now an engineering science. “It’s an exciting time we’re living and working in. We’re seeing generations merging, with gen X slowly phasing out, and gen Z and millennials emerging. Blending the generations has an impact on both the physical layout of office spaces and accommodating their behavioural differences.

“The younger generations don’t want an assigned seat,” he adds. “They want more choices of places to work depending on what they’re doing. They don’t want to think, ‘I’ll be sitting at this same desk for the next five years.’ “We need to accommodate co-working and flexible working arrangements and create activity-based-workspaces (ABWs),” he says. “A generation gap is entering the workforce and offices need to cater for the differences.”

External factors are also influencing future trends in interior design, as seen in Singapore with the Smart Nation Singapore initiative, which is creating an economy powered by digital innovation, including IoT, robotics and automation. “Our study team looked at Smart Nation and thought, ‘How does this affect the interior design business? What technology can we bring into the office that reflects the principles of Smart Nation?’ “We need to stay a step ahead and lead our clients into the future. Reinvention has always been the ethos of our business.”

Future-proofing the company is an imperative for Andy as he builds the next generation of D’Perception leadership, who share the same values and success drivers as the existing management team. “Pushing employees to take their talent to the next level has been challenging,” Andy recalls.

“We don’t want our team to think of D’Perception as ‘just a job’. Our Succession Plan offers career progression opportunities for second-tier directors who are mentored by the top management team,” he explains. “We issue shares to these employees so they have ownership in the company and in the direction and future of D’Perception. There is a progression pathway that employees are encouraged to take, to move upwards.

“Our people are our asset,” states Andy. “One of our important responsibilities is transferring knowledge and experience to the next tier who’ll then do the same. What results is an organic and meaningful mentoring process.” D’Perception currently has 200 employees in Singapore alone and is spread over seven regional offices across the Asia–Pacific region.

With 28 years of business experience, the company now has an annual turnover in excess of S$50 million (US$36 million) – and 60 per cent of its business comes from repeat business.A clue to Andy’s management style is in his job title as ‘Corporate Dynamo’. “I’m passionate about our team and mentoring our next level of management, but I’m also a no-nonsense, get-things-done guy,” he says. “Outside of work is when I really yahoo with the team,” Andy laughs. “We have the best time on our team-building days.”

‘Team’ extends to the strong relationships nurtured with D’Perception’s family of vendor partners. “As we grow, we won’t leave any vendor partnerships behind,” states Andy. “We share useful market trends with them and advise how they can keep pace with the market.

Andy Chua

“We also advise changes in direction or focus for the company so they can come along with us as our partners,” he adds. “We know they helped us to be successful so we’re doing the same for them. Our goal is for mutual growth, and strong positive relationships are critical for this.”

While the science of interior design is king, the hero will always be passion for beautiful elements and thoughtful functionality. D’Perception has successfully blended the sensible and the sensational to form an unlikely partnership that works. “In the creative business, sometimes practicality has to give way to design,” Andy suggests.

“Marrying the two – although difficult – can work, but it’s a challenging process to get there. We’re design-driven yet practical.”With Andy, the astute businessman is tempered by that eight-year-old boy who was enamoured of architecture and design at his father’s construction sites. A passion for design is Andy’s touchstone and he seems to look at life through a different lens.

“We’re design-driven yet practical.”

“I like all things beautiful,” he says. “I see design in everything. It could be a clock, a lady’s shoe, art, a building – everything has design elements if you open your eyes.” In the little downtime Andy has, he likes to recharge his physical and creative batteries through travel, escaping to remote locations like the Arctic Circle, Christmas Island and Antarctica where he can find peace and stillness among nature.

“In tranquillity I find myself and I find ideas,” reflects Andy. “I think better and see things in a different light. In the business of city life, you can miss things. “Design is subjective and will always be perceived differently by different people,” he adds. “We want to give clients the best design, solutions and value for money while still respecting their design preferences.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the company in the next 10 to 20 years,” he adds. “If we’ve done our job well, D’Perception will be in the younger hands of those we have mentored to incorporate passion and creativity into the science of interiors.

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