Beyond Interiors founder, Bronwyn Blue. Photograph: 7Days
Australian Bronwyn Blue founded her design company Beyond Interiors five years ago. Since then she has been living on and off in Cambodia. The company has grown over the years and a re-branding will be launched next week to incorporate new design, production and a showroom.
What Khmer art do you incorporate in your design ideas?
I am always very impressed with the simplicity of Khmer carving. You have repetitive patterns of very simple and specific shapes like the lotus bush or the ox tooth.
They can be combined in many ways. I did not learn anything about these formulaic and strictly traditional ways of producing art in art school. It is a fascinating heritage that is unique to the Khmer culture. This also applies to Khmer silk weaving, which is a very complicated technique. Usually these textiles are used to depict the Ramayana in pagodas. Using these repetitive patterns in design creates the infinite possibility of reinventing yourself.
The boldness of the shapes that are used in the textiles and carvings can create a simplified and efficient working atmosphere that is exciting at the same time.
What is the most obscure design artefact a customer asked you to create for them?
I would not call it obscure but rather unusual. We did a life-sized Barbie doll, a full princess with diamond earrings, crown and ball gown. You can find the doll in Monument Books on the second floor in the children’s toy store. For that doll we found crazy custom jewellery. In Cambodia you can find all sorts of over-the-top stuff and play around with it. It’s not exactly my style but it was fun!
There are different tastes in different cultures. Is there something like a universal “good taste”?
Intrinsically personal good taste is what feels right. Follow that with courage and flair and don’t apologise, then you can do almost everything.
From architects to fashion designers around the world, having a personal style is not necessarily playing it safe. Take the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles that was designed by Frank Gehry for example. It is unusual, not necessarily beautiful, but definitely stylish. Personally, I like simplifying and taking things out. Some would call that Feng Shui but I think it is a good way to make an environment comfortable. Over-design does not help in creating comfort because a space is not just a space but the combination of use and experience.
You say everybody can have a unique taste that is sincere and possibly very different from someone else’s taste. Don’t your clients and your taste ever clash?
Usually customers come to us so that we can offer them solutions and they don’t have crazy ideas. The ultimate goal is to create an environment that feels right and that develops in a collaborative process. Ideas from both sides flow into the whole design product and usually it’s a success. I am really happy with what we have produced so far.
Your business is expanding right now. What are the challenges?
Originally we started to create a platform for as many local producers as possible. There is a lot of local talent in Cambodia. Local producers are very strong at carving, for example, and this form of art is very unique. But just going to the market and buying a carved Buddha statue is not design. There are corporate and private clients and it is challenging to translate their needs to the market. We integrate customers and products in the supply chain and offer a hybrid product. This is why I originally named the company Beyond Interiors. Now that we are in the process of expanding it is important to keep it real with the people we employ. We have to remember that we are moving forward together and make sure that everybody sees the big picture.
Is it difficult to be a female businesswoman in Cambodia?
I respect my male counterparts and they respect me. I think business is gender neutral because common sense and practicality are present in abundance. It is fascinating how Cambodian women create income sources and networks in this country and I learn a lot from them.
You’ve built a big a company in Cambodia. Will you ever be able to leave the country?
I already spend a lot of time outside the country because I trust my team and its skills. When I am not here my employees can turn to their co-workers and supervisors and discuss their problems. But I would be naïve if I believed that I could stay away for too long. If I was gone for too long the flair of the business would change and my signature would vanish. A business that can be run by anyone is a hobby, not a business.
To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at [email protected]