For Koh Li Tim, it is the design elements of a hotel room that could either make or break your stay. “It’s the space you interact with the most, and it can be such a joy or such a pain,” he says.
“Even non-designers are able to pick up on it when things are amiss,” he says. It’s fair to say, that we’ve all probably had our fair share of hotel rooms that are just not quite right, whether it be bad lighting, obtrusive furniture or even ghastly colour palettes.
As a Director at Environment Design Consultants (also known as EDC International), Koh spends a lot of his time thinking about the little details that make an ideal room. He leads the business development of EDC and is involved in conceptualising the design behind the consultancy’s projects.
Established and headed by his father, Vincent Koh, the design philosophy at EDC is more than just aesthetics, it is also about delivering a design experience in its entirety. This approach can be observed through their portfolio of high-profile clients such as The Park Hyatt in Ho Chi Minh, the Avani by Anantara in Bangkok and Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas in Johor.
There are some big projects in the works too, including the soon-to-be-opened Anantara Resort in Ubud in Bali, a Grand Hyatt in Kathmandu, Nepal, a new Hyatt in Jaipur, India and a New World by Rosewood in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
“We would be drawn to working with more hotel management groups around Southeast Asia that we haven’t yet bagged under our umbrella,” Koh enthuses when asked about the types of projects he’s drawn to these days.
While EDC works on properties of all sorts, the design consultancy specialises in hotels and their super spatial planning. Their relationship and recurring work with the hotel brands they’ve worked with, allows the team to understand each brand individually, which in turn, allows them to bring intrinsic value to these properties.
An automotive designer by training, Koh says it has always been premeditated for him to assist his father in the family business eventually. He believes his background in automotive design has equipped him with the design framework that allows him to channel his creative flair across all design backgrounds.
“I suppose, both overlap in the sense that they are specific to human functions and interactions,” he says.
This same functional and holistic approach can be observed through the interiors of the Park Hyatt Saigon, a project he credits as the most challenging and the one he’s most proud of.
The Park Hyatt Saigon is a great example of beauty and functionality: its timeless decor and opulent furnishings against clean white spaces blend perfectly with the modern comforts you’d expect from a five-star hotel.
But the project was far from simple: All the materials used for the design of the hotel had to be locally sourced and the furniture was commissioned to local Vietnamese craftsmen, who were at the time new to an eclectic European style. Then there was the financial crisis, which resulted in a pause in construction from 1997 to 2003.
Yet, despite the constraints faced by the design team, the Park Hyatt Saigon has since won a number of awards including the Asia Pacific Property Awards and was shortlisted in the Asia Hotel Design Awards (AHDA).
For Koh, being able to design a space is not only about meeting the clients’ vast needs and desires, but also about being able to simultaneously elevate the hotel brand. In turn, he believes this will set a precedence for future properties.
“This disallows us from focusing on our own design preferences and styles, as well as market versions of what’s popular stylistically,” he explains.
You can sense the design philosophy behind EDC is to ultimately offer something different from the cookie-cutter hotel experience, and they do so by translating good honest design into their spaces.
“Spaces need to be warm, intimate in planning, comfortable and uncluttered,” he says, adding that the goal is to create a space that is calm and restful.
While tastes may differ when it comes to decorating, Koh is convinced that good design boils down to the proportions of a room. “It comes down to the proportions of forms, shapes of objects and everything in relation to the space at hand.”
If he were to pick an example of a livable hotel space, Manhattan’s Ace Hotel would be the first on his list. “Every old and new design element here is purposeful and sufficient. It’s fun without being kitsch, showing restraint,” he says. “Sure, it’s no Four Seasons, but it has so much character that it feels like home. If I had my own hotel brand, this would be it.”
Quite the aesthete, Koh’s sharp eye for design translates into his personal style too (his most recent purchase is “some insanely good architectural Mathieu Blazy for Bottega Veneta.”). Last year, he debuted a collection of fine jewellery with VLT, a line of elegant, vintage-inspired pieces.
“I’m sincerely pretty critical of my own person, which lends to restraint if anything,” he says of his style influence.
“You’ll never see me take anything quite too far, neither will I allow for the mundane to be placid – this has worked out to be my personal style, I suppose. And I find that ironically really, really fun.”