As businesses boom in Phnom Penh, more offices, shops and hospitality establishments are popping up over the city with unique—and at times—experimental designs that blend a wealth of styles from traditional to modern. From coffee shops in BKK1, to restaurants, bars and boutique hotels, interior designers aim to create a balance of ambiance and functionality.
After a client seeks out an interior design company, the first line of business is compiling a list of what the company envisions a space to look like.
“The team makes up a layout – which can take anywhere from a week to three weeks, and then they play a game of tennis—some clients take a week, some can take a lot longer, and its just backwards and forwards until they are happy with what they actually want and the layout we’ve given them,” says Bernie Durkin, general manager of Phnom Penh interior design company Yellowtree.
During the construction of the bar Che Culo! in Phnom Penh, partner of the bar and architect by trade, Daniel Jury, oversaw the construction until its completion. He described the laborious framework interior designers operate in during the creative and collaborative process.
“A large part of being an architect is listening and being able to collect and consolidate information from various sources into something cohesive and legible,” said Jury.
During the construction of Che Culo!, all construction and management partners came together to create a concept that incorporated the key design elements, which was reviewed, adjusted and refined to fit the final design requirements.
The stage of conceptual design is the most important in establishing trust between the client and the designer, as well as ensures that the client will be satisfied with the final project and that the designer can get a clear idea of what they can create.
“By creating a design brief, it forces the client to address what they want and don’t want for their project,” said Jury. “It also will set up a set of parameters the designer can work to.”
In order to create the vision the client has, references from magazines and the internet influence the clients idea of what they are looking for, said Bianca Moeis, principal architect for G holdings, an interior design company based in Phnom Penh. It is through a conceptual design that a proposal can sprout.
Once the proposal is approved, the designers must focus on every detail so that they can create a true image of what the space will look like.
“After they approve the concept, that’s when you move to the mood bar,” said Moeis, explaining that a mood bar focuses on the colors and aesthetics of a room. “When we put all the materials together that would be inside the room you see the place and you see the colors… we put everything together.”
The conceptual design stage is of upmost importance as it makes or breaks the deal with clients choosing an interior design company.
However, a problem in the industry is that many clients don’t see the value, or understand the work that goes into the tedious design process.
“In Cambodia, it is normally harder to apply fees,” said Moeis. “Their mindset is still ‘it’s just a piece of paper, why should I have to pay for it?’ Right now, since there are a lot of international companies, things have started to change. They are willing to pay, but still not that much.”
This is a problem Durkin sees within his company as well. Sometimes, companies ask for a 3D graphic before willing to pay for any work, a request that has become a rising trend in the industry, he said.
However, with the rise of competition, many interior design companies have no choice but to create a conceptual design that may or may not be compensated.
“We do believe that we produce good quality work, and you have to pay for that. People have this perception that we can produce these things very cheaply, but we can’t. Not to our quality standards,” explained Durkin.
Moreover, designers may lose their clients altogether, not only due to competition as clients shop around but to the lack of legislation that protects intellectual property.
“I have had people take my designs and say it’s theirs,” said Moeis. “Cambodia doesn’t have any laws or regulation on intellectual property. So that’s why it is a very difficult market.”
Another factor that makes it difficult for local companies is the lack of a skilled pool of local talent amidst international competition.
Moeis, who is currently redesigning the General Department of Taxation, and previously designed the luxury Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville, explained how local companies spend time and money training their staff, a high rate of turnover plagues the industry. Often, once workers have attained a certain skill level, while harnessing the necessary technical abilities, many often take that knowledge to other companies.
“Eleven years ago or so, we were only one out of five or six companies [in Cambodia], now, we are maybe one out of 200, because there are so many international companies coming in as well as locals starting to build their own companies,” said Moeis, adding that many new developments, such as apartment buildings in the Tonle Baasac and BKK1 areas are designed by international companies.