Leong Hon Kit and Si Jian Xin (Photo: Yen Meng Jiin)
Design Firm Wynk Collaborative may not have millions of followers on Instagram, but they don't need to. Not when the spaces they've created – the tech-enabled grocery and dining concept, habitat by honestbee; cocktail bar The World Is Flat at Changi Airport Terminal 1; and the lobby of The Projector cinema – have already been widely photographed, posted on the social network and become 'like' magnets all on their own steam.
Walk through Habitat by Honestbee with us here:
Still, partners Leong Hong Kit and Si Jian Xin say that designing Instagram-friendly spaces was never on their agenda.
''If we did that, we would really have lost the plot,'' says Mr Leong, 38.
Mr Si, 37, adds, ''We design spaces that people want to visit, and the results are such that these places attract a lot of Instagram 'likes'.''
The firm formed in 2011, and while they began with designing home interiors, they are now better known for commercial spaces – largely F&B joints and offices.
On their design philosophy, Mr Leong says, ''if you strip away the colours and the materials, we are really functional designers. We look at how people use the space, and how to design a space to help businesses.''
Mr Si adds, ''our ethos is to make spaces experientially variant and fun. We leave it to visitors how they want to use them.''habitat by honestbee has been their most significant project to date, not only for its size, but also the complexity. ''It was almost like we were masterplanning the space and not just designing the interiors,'' says Mr Si.
To design habitat by honestbee, they had to think about the future of retail, how to integrate technology into grocery shopping and dining, and at the same time not make the space feel too foreign.
With F&B joints, they say that while the food is still the main selling factor, having outstanding interiors help too. ''Especially now when people remember restaurants not only through their taste buds but their phones too,'' says Mr Leong.
He proudly declares, ''all the F&B projects that we have designed are still standing even after their first lease has expired.''
Their foray into designing F&B spaces started with Standing Sushi Bar at Raffles Place in 2014, where they took inspiration from a Japanese fish market. Happy with the results, Lim Huinan and Howard Lo, founders of Empire Eats hired them for their next outlets including Tanuki Raw and The World Is Flat. Wynk is currently working on another three more projects for them.
''After five years of working together, we have developed a tight rapport and understand each other's working styles and preferences,'' says Ms Lim. ''Over the years, they've learnt to strike the delicate balance between design integrity and budget constraints. We really like their originality, which is why we continue this relationship, and strongly recommend them to our friends.''
Mr Leong reckons that their popularity stems from the way they do more than just design a space. ''We consider branding, marketing, user experience, comfort and technology for our clients,'' he says. ''Choosing nice materials is the easy part.''
For example, noting how Singaporeans dislike bar stools, they used conventional chairs at the counter of Tanuki Raw, but created a sunken space behind the counter so staff can still engage with diners.
The duo also check our other F&B outlets to see how they're run. ''It is important to have a holistic view, so that we can incorporate it into our next project,'' says Mr Si.
First published in The Business Times.