Trained in architecture, interior designer Joseph Sy keeps it simple After 30 years in Hong Kong, Manila-born Joseph Sy is well established as one of the city's most respected interior designers. About 65 per cent of his work is residential, and the rest is designs for restaurants, offices or other work, such as the Louvre Gallery in Ruttonjee Centre in Central, which showcases collections from the likes of Philippe Starck and Pierre Paulin. How did you get into interior design? I studied architecture originally, and for the first 11 years I worked for an architecture firm, Eric Cumine Associates. During those years we did very little work on interiors but - shame on me - I was also moonlighting for interior design firms, doing renderings of their designs. They would give me the floor plan, and I would use it to produce a three-dimensional picture of how the interior would look. That's the way I learned to do interiors - and how I learned to enjoy doing them. Then, my friend approached me with an apartment and asked me to design the interior. One apartment became two, two became three, and so forth, so I quit my job and set up my own business. Do you now see yourself as an interior designer or an architect? I don't think there's much of a distinction, really. I don't get to do much architectural work in Hong Kong these days, but I do some in mainland China. I design a lot of interiors in new buildings in mainland China, and a lot of them haven't really done anything on the outside of the building. It's like there is no skin yet on the building. So, quite often I will design something to dress up the exterior of the building. I also often do the same thing on old buildings. Who are your influences? One architect who has really influenced me is Tadao Ando, the well-known Japanese architect. He is entirely self-taught, but he has received many top international prizes. His designs are simple, very concrete. He likes to have water running through all his buildings, and that creates a sense of reflection and tranquillity. He also makes a lot of use of natural light - he has a feeling for natural light. There is nothing pretentious about his designs. Norman Foster is another architect I like. I love all the futuristic, hi-tech themes in his buildings. But they are not something I would use in one of my own designs. I'd say I'm more Tadao Ando than Norman Foster. Where does your inspiration come from? Inspiration can come from anything - when you go to a play, eat in a restaurant, see an advert. When I design, I recollect all the different things I have seen. The best time to design is at night, when I'm in bed. I close my eyes and it all becomes clear. That's when I get the ideas part of designing done. Do you have a signature style? I don't purposely have a style, but people say they can see it. If anything, it would have to be simplicity. Simple, but all the functions should work. I guess lighting would have to be my strongest point. I enjoy lighting and colour. But I'd have to say that I'm still learning, really. What was your favourite project? All projects are my favourite, especially those that are the most challenging. I'm always most proud of my newest project. The biggest project I have done was a restaurant in Nanhai. It was more than 100,000 square feet. That was quite daunting. I remember asking myself, can I do this? But really, 100,000 sq ft is just the same as 10,000 sq ft, multiplied. Size is sort of a challenge, but it is not really. Why should someone employ a professional interior designer? The question facing someone who is about to renovate their home is whether to get a design professional or just a contractor. What most people don't realise is that, in the end, the costs will be about the same. When you get a contractor, the cost for design is included in the price. But their motive is to make more profit, not necessarily to make a good design or outlook. When you get a designer, you pay a design fee and you get a good design. When you total it all up, the price is probably the same, but with a designer you get more value.