They were complete strangers before August last year. Today, designers Winston See and Ernest Loh are fast friends.
It’s not surprising since they clicked upon meeting and also looked out for each other through a mentally and physically challenging period.
See and Loh are Malaysia’s representatives in the latest design reality TV series entitled The Apartment: Rising Stars Edition, which premiered on March 18 on AXN.
In its fifth instalment now, the 10-episode series features 12 qualified and aspiring designers from Australia, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines as well as Malaysia.
In the series, participants are given different design challenges to complete within a set time using limited resources.
Interior designer Loh and architect See stand a good chance of winning the grand title of design superstar plus US$100,000 (RM443,250) in the show, judged by renowned interior designer Laurence-Llewelyn Bowen, award-winning hotel and furniture designer Jamie Durie, and American television personality and home product designer Genevieve Gorder.
Star2.com caught up with the duo recently to talk about competing in the show and how they have grown as designers since then.
When asked about the good chemistry evident between them, they both laughed in agreement, adding that they share similar thinking and perception in life.
“There are people you meet for the first time and you somehow know that you are going to get along well,” said Loh, 26, who currently freelances as an interior designer.
“If there is a private villa that I am working on, he is coming along with me (to do the interior design)!” chipped in See, 30, an architect with his own firm.
However, during the show, the Malaysian designers had to learn to get along well with the other contestants too, quickly realising that it’s all about putting their creativity together and their differences aside.
Said Loh, “More than doing design and planning, I think it’s about finding the right rhythm to work with your team mates and people you can really trust who will not bite you in the back.”
The hardest part of the competition for See was interacting with other participants as well as carrying out the challenging tasks given.
“It was about being diplomatic and finding a way to talk to each other without offending anyone. It was about getting used to the challenging environment there, where you have 15 hours, limited resources and a tight budget to work on,” said See, who described himself as a competitive person.
Both of them garnered many valuable lessons from their experience, especially from the judges.
“I found a lot of similarities in terms of my professional creative work with Jamie Durie. His principles are very much similar to mine where we focus on designing to context and also bringing in sustainable elements. He inspires and motivates me,” shared See, who holds a Masters in Architecture from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Loh, who holds a Degree in Interior Architecture from a local private university, added, “When designing a room, whether it’s for an on-screen client or to impress the judges, I learnt that we always need to know who we are trying to impress in the first place.
“I think from Jamie I learnt more of the practical and technical side of things. Laurence was a really good design critic and he would understand the concepts we were trying to introduce. Genevieve is very in tune with today’s pop culture and I learnt a lot about that from her.”
The show has also pushed both of them to think out of the design box and to dare to be different.
“It’s definitely about taking a step out of our comfort zone. Before The Apartment, I was seldom ambitious with my colour choices and tend to keep things very subdued and in a neutral palette, but after the show, I found a lot of new creative ways to do things,” said Loh.
Taking the time to really understand what clients want is what See will reinforce in his work from now.
“The show really made me realise how important clients are. Many of us spend a lot of time talking, but not enough time listening. We need to spend time listening to what clients really want, instead of focusing on putting your mark on a project,” he said.
See’s interest in architecture was first piqued when he started playing popular PC game The Sims back in secondary school.
“I remember I used to put in the cheat code and build houses over and over again!” said See, whose two elder sisters are also architects and played a role in influencing his career choice. A third sister is in the fashion industry.
Growing up, Loh said his childhood was filled with creating structures; from playing with Lego blocks to building a five-foot long potato launcher after his PMR exam.
By his late teens, he knew he wanted a career that wasn’t boring and decided on interior design.
Loh’s biggest inspiration comes from the late Steve Jobs, who said something at the 2005 Harvard Graduation that has stuck with him till today.
“He said, ‘Always be curious and always be hungry’. That applies not only to interior design but to all our life’s endeavours. So that has always been a big influence in my life,” shared Loh.
When asked about his dream project, See who looks up to Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, said it was to design a resort villa.
“I want to create a space that really affects people’s emotions.”
As for Loh, his dream is to design a lounge or work space for a Bond villain.
“It’s cool, right? It’s a challenge to do something uncommon,” he said.
Some design tips from See are to take the time to do proper planning when remodelling your house and to not hesitate to incorporate your personality into your space.
“Nothing is worse than wasting your hard-earned money simply to meet deadlines. You’ll be surprised how planning can make the entire process more enjoyable and might save you more time than you think.
“Do not be afraid to incorporate your personality in your home. If you want a bat cave, do it! If you want a kick-ass swing in the middle of your living room, do it! Always ask yourself why when you’re making your decisions. If you don’t feel good about your decision, that means it’s not the right one,” he said.
Loh emphasised the importance of old furniture and understanding art history.
“Never look down on traditional or old furniture pieces because there is always value in the uncommon. Right now it may seem irrelevant and out of date, but in due time, with cycles of trends coming and going, there’s always aesthetic value in something uncommon.
“So over time, especially if you know your art history, you will be able to pair up old furniture in a way that is modern and relevant,” he said.
The Apartment: Rising Stars Edition airs on AXN (Astro Ch 701) every Saturday at 8.05pm.