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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - And the designs they are a changin'

And the designs they are a changin'

LOCAL architectural and interior designers are seeing increased risk-taking among their clients – one step at a time.

Citing sleek furniture, clear glass windows, and an increased desire for mixed-use space, local interior designer Frida Hulten said her usually traditionalist clientele has shown a willingness to branch out.

“We’re seeing more 90 degree angles, clean lines, and normal glass instead of blue, shimmery glass,” Hulten, a designer for Phnom Penh-based The Room Design Studio said.

She said more Cambodian clients were requesting mixed-use living and kitchen areas, parquet floors, flat roofs, and smaller bathrooms – designs that have been popular in western countries for a number of years, but are only now beginning to make an appearance in Cambodia.

“The Khmer clients who decide to go with a more western style are returning to Cambodia after 20, 30, 40 years. They know what they want and they prefer the western style,” Hulten said

A native of Sweden, she opened The Room Design Studio with her sister Sara in January 2009 and has noticed a gradual shift in taste among her clients over the years.

Recent design projects include the Skyline Apartments, the new riverfront drinking spot and brewery, Kingdom Breweries, and the first cigar lounge in Phnom Penh, The Cigar Shop.

According to Frida, Khmer clients are usually cautious and tend to pair small changes with a neutral colour palette and solid wood furniture, at least in the standard service apartment buildings.

“The colour scheme is the same,” she said of the requested designs.

“Light colours-- white, beige -- soft colours. For people with children – light blue, pink walls.” She said people with private villas exercise greater freedom with interior colour choices.

“Clients are traditionally conservative – people are careful in their investment,” Bernard Wouters, design director at the architecture firm Archetype Cambodia said and compared the designs that have traditionally been in demand to a Toyota Camry!

“People know they can get spare parts for the car, they fit easily, it’s reliable, and it fits the taste…people have tested [it].”

Wouters described the renovation of Van’s Restaurant, by Phnom Penh’s post office, as a prime example of risk-taking. The restaurant, housed in the former Indochina Bank Building, recently underwent a renovation to return it to its original 1898 glory.

“For me, that’s an extraordinarily brave move,” he said. “Knowing that it’s such a costly process…it requires far more than knocking something down and building it all over again.”

Wouters agreed with Hulten, saying he believed “people are a little braver today than five years ago.”

The skyscrapers being built in Phnom Penh are the ultimate example of this gradual embrace of modern design concepts, Wouters said. He pointed to the Canadia Tower, which went through 10 years of planning and construction before it was finished recently.

“In the original design the building was not very modern, it was very traditional,” he said, adding that the completed tower was “fully glazed – not the way it was designed,” and simplistic, whereas the original designs called for a much more elaborate building.

Wouters said that until recently designs from the 1980s were the most popular among Cambodian businessmen because they were “a strong symbol of the cityscape” in cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, and clients “believed that’s the way to achieve the future.”

But now they were embracing minimalism and more geometric designs with clear glass windows as the prime example of modernity.

However, “all clients ask for something different, so we cannot compare,” cautions Hulten, who says some continue to look for Chinese-inspired designs and a Feng Shui aesthetic.

“Everybody has the right to have a taste and maintain what they individually believe in,” Wouters said. “We use design, and we are happy to accommodate them.”



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