You have a background in chemistry and economics; how did you become a television personality and design contributor to The Washington Post? “My career has grown in ways I never anticipated and I’ve now been on television for 15 years. It’s opened a lot of doors for me, including into product design. I have a line of fabrics, home fragrances, home décor and lighting. While studying pre-med, I came to realise it wasn’t for me. The hardest part wasn’t admitting it to myself, but telling my mother. To her credit, she encouraged me to follow my passion. Right after I finished my master’s in architecture and an MBA [both from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, the United States], I got an internship at an architectural firm where the head of interior design had a hunch about me. In 2000, I won an award and that got me the attention of a production company. I was invited to audition for a new show. I decided to do it because, prior to the show, great design was only available for people on the top rung of the socio-economic ladder. That show [Trading Spaces, which aired from 2000 to 2008 on TLC and Discovery Home] really changed the landscape and was very successful because it was about how to beautifully design a space with almost no resources.”

How would you describe your design practice? “I focus on everything to do with the home, whether it’s the exterior, interior or products that go into the home. It’s really easy to design something that’s affordable or durable or beautiful – but it’s really hard to design something that’s all three.”

How do you balance what your client wants and what a space needs? “As a designer, your ears are so important – you need to listen. If I am helping to make your home a physical manifestation of you, then I need to listen in order to do my best to reflect that. I tell my clients not to replicate what they’ve seen in a magazine or showroom. When someone walks through the front door [and loves what they see], that should be the ultimate pay-off. You only get that if you’re willing to have that honest conversation with yourself about what you love.”

What are your inspirations? “For me, travel is enormously important as it’s an opportunity to see how people solve the same problems but in different ways. In recent years, as part of my work as a Unicef ambassador, I’ve been to 49 countries – the more extreme, the better. The other thing I tell young designers is to be well read and plugged into what’s happening around the world. This makes you aware of your surroundings and impacts how you design.”

Do you have any design tips for people living in Hong Kong? “It’s more compact here than in other parts of the world so you have to plan your space and utilise it for the way you live your life. Small pieces in small spaces litter the landscape; you should opt for fewer, larger pieces. Also, if you’re space challenged, choose a monochromatic colour scheme so your eye easily travels around the room and gives you a sense of more space. I encourage people to have only things around them that they love and are passionate about because if you don’t love it, it leads to less joy in your space.”

Louise Wong