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Bespoke from the heart: Gary Lai

From an early age, Spatial Concept Founder and Creative Director Gary Lai marvelled at the creative. He wanted to explore different things and different sectors, and craved interaction with others. At the same time, he grew up watching his father and grandfather run their own businesses.

Gary Lai, Founder and Creative Director of Spatial Concept

So, when it came to designing the career he loves, he melded the two and watched the magic come to life. “It’s always been my dream to have my own studio. Fortunately, my dream came true nine years ago,” Gary says.

“I wanted to set up my own because I really enjoy interacting with my clients. Getting to know them allows me to design something specially for them.”

That’s the thing that differentiates Spatial Concept from its competitors. This leading Hong Kong design firm provides bespoke services to its clients throughout Asia– Pacific, the US and the UK. It’s not about providing a signature, house-style aesthetic; it’s about understanding each individual client’s desires and exceeding their expectations.

“There are a lot of firms in the market which have a certain style or a certain brand they use over and over,” Gary explains. “For Spatial Concept, the design is not about us, but rather it’s about our clients and their visions. We use our knowledge of design to create something special for the client – not for ourselves.”

In order to do this, the designers begin each project with research and a conversation. “Our design focuses on user experience and is always people-centric because, after all, every space that we create is for people,” Gary says.

“When we start each project, we do a lot of research on our clients, the brands and the site location. Then we listen to our clients and get them involved. Together with our market knowledge and innovation, we are able to create meaningful and striking interiors that connect space and people. Our goal is to exceed our clients’ vision.”

Our design focuses on user experience and is always people-centric because, after all, every space that we create is for people.

Thanks to Gary’s wealth of expertise, which spans corporate, commercial, hospitality and residential interiors, Spatial Concept is ideally positioned to offer solutions to clients across myriad sectors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this diversification has proven vital to the business’s survival.

“Not having all our eggs in one basket has helped us during this difficult time,” he points out. “At the moment, some commercial projects in Hong Kong have been put on hold. Being multi-disciplined, we have more opportunities with different types of projects. Our wide skill set allows us to focus not only on corporate interiors, but also hospitality and residential projects. We strike a balance between different sectors.

Gary Lai, Founder and Creative Director of Spatial Concept

“With COVID-19, we see opportunities to reshape environments and have been providing feasibility studies to our clients on how their spaces will change, utilising social distancing, remote working and new technologies to provide better health and safety.”

A challenge for Gary has been building a team with a wealth of global design experience. When Spatial Concept launched in 2012, Gary saw firsthand how different the hiring process was from the large design firms he had always worked for.

Without the reputation, it was difficult finding talented designers who wanted to take a chance on a boutique design startup. “It was a different ball game from the large design firms and the high-level hiring standards I was accustomed to,” he says.

“Finding the right talent and building a great team was hard. Luckily, I was able to convince a few ex-colleagues to join me in the beginning, which made a big difference. From there, I began to build my team and our reputation.”

The key to winning

While a great team and being able to diversify have been crucial to Spatial Concept’s success during the pandemic, its partnerships have also played a valuable role. “Trust is the most important thing when building strong relationships with partners,” Gary says. “Since establishing strong allies, we’ve been able to leverage our services, our offerings and also our cost to win more projects. At this difficult time, our partners and vendors have been helping us to provide even more attractive offerings to our clients – the key to winning.”

Almost a decade later, Spatial Concept has certainly made a name for itself. It’s won a number of awards and has been featured in dozens of publications for its remarkable work. “With each great project, we built our reputation. People started to notice and began coming to us. Many of our clients now are actually referrals,” Gary shares.

“I think once you build your brand, people will come to you.” While Gary and his team typically stick to their bread-and-butter projects, every once in a while something unique will come their way that they simply can’t refuse.

A couple of years ago, one such project was a sightseeing tram in Hong Kong. It might not have been incredibly profitable, but it certainly paid off in other ways. “What matters most is doing a project that is important to us,” he affirms.

“We had never done a transportation design, so this was a fun and challenging project to take on. In the end, the project was successful; we even won an award. It goes back to the passion we have. Even though we didn’t necessarily benefit financially from it, the project gave us great exposure and we got the chance to do something that excited us.”

Nonetheless, this passion is what leads to their success. “For me, it’s always been design first and business second,” Gary says.

“I believe in taking calculated risks and not worrying about making mistakes because that’s how you learn. I always tell my team, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what you do with heart. I think it’s very important to do things with passion. “I’m very proud of my team and Spatial Concept – people and a company with passion.”

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