Earlier on in its 22-year history, the luxury interior design and architecture firm AB Concept was happy to tackle a wide range of projects. But more recently, Co-Founders Ed Ng and Terence Ngan came to an important decision with Principal and Managing Director Johnny Li: it was time to be even more selective.
“We agreed that we don’t want to work on those ‘not bad’ projects anymore,” says Johnny, who took on the role at the international interior and architectural design studio in 2019. “Only damn good is good enough for us from now on. Instead of unconsciously delivering design package after design package, we wanted to commit ourselves only to the most beautiful and exquisite projects that we can be truly proud of. Passion projects – projects where every single design detail is carefully crafted and curated.”
Johnny is an admirer of the elegant and intricately designed temples of Thailand, which he says display some of the best workmanship he’s ever seen. He attributes that to the fact that the craftspeople who made them were truly devout in their religious belief and, therefore, felt deeply about the meaning of their work.
“Great leaders don’t simply tell their teams what to do.”
With those Thai artisans’ devotion in mind, Johnny aims to create the best work environment he possibly can, ensuring his designers have a deep appreciation of the value in their work. “I ask our colleagues to give their best and, in return, I dedicate myself to providing the team with the best platform for their work,” he shares.
“I don’t just mean the studio premises, the facilities, the remunerations and benefits. It’s also about having a blissful yet aggressive working atmosphere, trust, respect, delegation and ownership in the team.”
AB Concept works across the residential, hospitality and commercial sectors. In the coming months, the firm will take on a several-phased renovation of the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, the first renovation since the hotel first opened its door 15 years ago, as well as projects for the W Algarve Resort & Residences in Portugal, the Grand Hyatt Kuwait and London’s One Thames City, among others.
Because the company only chooses the most inspiring projects to work on, its designers love immersing themselves in their work, knowing that what they are creating is truly unique and bespoke.
It is also taking on projects in new markets, such as the world’s largest Marriott-branded residences at Grand Marina Saigon in Vietnam and the Paper Moon Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Other clients include Rosewood, W Hotel, Kimpton and Waldorf Astoria.
Operating out of offices in Hong Kong, Karuizawa, Taipei and Milan, AB Concept has clients in 16 countries and more than 30 cities, including London, New York, Tokyo, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.
All this geographic diversity means its projects do not have a signature aesthetic; the company puts its mark on buildings and their interiors in ways that transcend the visual. Johnny and his team place emphasis on making a space unique and magical, rather than replicating a single aesthetic across the board.
“We bring our ideas to life in layout, materials, furnishings and detail, with acute attention to how spaces work optimally and simultaneously feel special,” Johnny reveals. “We take touchpoints seriously – this is where people feel good design. Attention to every detail, seen and unseen, brings integrity to our practice and projects.”
This focus on detail and uniqueness is why AB Concept’s designers compare their jobs to that of a master chef. “Like a chef, we explore different ingredients in combination to create an experience more powerful than the sum of its parts,” he explains. “As with cooking, design is a passionate pursuit and an expression of love. It can awaken our senses in a moment, and can leave an imprint on our minds forever.”
Johnny and his colleagues see design as a lens for the human experience, at all scales and across cultures. With every piece of work they do, they focus on how design can shape how people feel and behave, as well as how they perceive and remember people, places and cultures. “We are interested in what design can do, not just what it looks like. For us, design is a valuable and evolving tool – a science and a craft combined,” he says.
Top global talent
AB Concept’s team is geographically diverse. The company selects its talent based on whoever is the best fit, regardless of where they happen to be based. “As a boutique-size studio, we’re lucky enough to have frequent opportunities to work together with the topmost talents and masterminds from all over the world,” Johnny enthuses.
“Even internally, our design teams are formed regardless of geographical location. We simply put the right people in the right place based on their capacity and personality.”
One of the most important roles Johnny sees for himself as a creative leader is to be provocative. “I believe in the law of attraction – when you’re eager enough to achieve a goal, the people around you will also be motivated by your passion,” he stresses.
Being passionate is one way Johnny stays close with his team. His own creative energy sparks more interactions and a better exchange of ideas, evoking and inspiring creative ideas among team members while reducing hierarchical patterns.
“Great leaders don’t simply tell their teams what to do,” he points out. “Instead, they build a great team that embodies the culture of collaboration, innovation and transparency. They have the patience to show the way and explain how to get there. Together, we all give our best, contribute and strive for success as a whole.”
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