Q&A with Ng Ci En, Hock Hoon: What is the basic form of a space or object?
Hock Hoon began life as a carpentry specialist, before transiting into an interior design firm. Can you elaborate on how this occurred?
It’s quite a long story; I shall start with the founding of Hock Hoon by my dad, who started working on custom carpentry in 1992. He asked me if I wanted to help him manage Hock Hoon after I left a partnership in a woodworking business in 2019. It was an excellent opportunity to kickstart my plan to start a studio practising design. I could create a new brand doing design, or remain as Hock Hoon. I chose the latter, despite some opposing opinions, as it was hard to relate “Hock Hoon” to an interior design studio. The name is meaningful to me as it reminds me of my dad’s teachings and attitude towards good craft, which laid a strong foundation for our growth in the coming years.
Should I continue?
My partner, Soh Xin Hui, who practised in a few renowned design consultancies, joined me not long after. It was a huge challenge to transition from carpentry to design. Most of our existing clients engaged Hock Hoon for carpentry, and didn’t require design services from us. We designed every piece of carpentry, even a shoe cabinet, and documented and shared photographs of the details on our social media accounts. The turning point came when our friend referred his colleague to us. She had just bought a condo unit and hoped to engage us to design her new apartment.
Our story continues from there, and it certainly has been quite a different route from any design practice.
How does your expertise in carpentry enable you to better perform your role as an interior designer?
My dad’s workshop was like my playground since I was 11, where I spent most of the time during my school holidays. I learned basic carpentry skills, like nailing and glueing, and often made shelves for my toys. I was fortunate to be able to follow him to site meetings with clients and participate in the fabrication and installation processes.
As I grew up, I learned to appreciate the beauty of natural materials, their assembly and details. I learned about their relation to the human body and the extensions that form spatial elements.
My father’s influence guided my career path and my decision to transition from carpentry to interior design. The skills honed in the workshop have been invaluable as I pursued my interior design education and practice. My keen eye for detail, nurtured over the years, has enabled me to craft and visualise intricate spatial constructs in the projects I work on.
You’ve said that you are drawn to the beauty of austerity. Why?
There is beauty in extreme simplicity. I often question myself and the team: what is the basic form of a space or object? Why do we design space in a certain way? Do we need the element in the space? What are the factors that were considered during the process? Culture? Functionality? Others?
Before we start anything, I will look at functional needs and how the occupants will use the space in the context of residential design. If we dig deeper, together with the site, we will be able to find hints of how to design further, intentionally. This way, the spaces we create will be unique to the users of the space – but always with a pared-down, clutter-free aesthetic.
Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire? Why?
Kengo Kuma, Keiji Ashizawa and Norm Architects. I love how they bring scenery into interior spaces through different techniques of framing, and the visual impact they create with simple lines and textures.
What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia?
I’m going to list one from Singapore and two from Japan instead:
Ng Ci En is the Creative Director of Hock Hoon.