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Small Home, Big Dream: Interview with Otto Ng, Co-founder of LAAB

Expert Insights | May 13, 2020


Otto Ng, co-founder of LAAB, a design and architecture firm based in Hong Kong, spoke with Spacious and discussed the company’s vision for interior design and more specifically, their Small Home, Smart Home project.

Earlier this year, the firm gained notoriety after successfully turning a 309-foot square apartment into a couple’s dream home.

How did they accomplish this feat? What makes LAAB’s approach to interior design and architecture so unique? What can they do for your Hong Kong apartment or flat? Let’s check out what the brilliant design director had to say…

provided by Otto Ng
Otto started LAAB three years ago. Image from interviewee.

Otto, you’re a native of Hong Kong, why are design and architecture so integral to this city?

“There are a lot of reasons I think, first Hong Kong is an interesting international city with many different cultures, from the west and from the east. On the other hand, Hong Kong is a problem itself. It’s very difficult to live here because of the high-density population. Design can solve a lot of things. Not only home design, but we also using the city and the land efficiently.”

When did you start LAAB?

“We started LAAB three years ago.”

What kind of projects does LAAB focus on? Is it interior design?

“We are recognized for our innovations in architecture, interior and art installations. Our portfolio ranges from home and workplace, to retail and public space. Our work is characterized by our simplistic strategies coupled with with forward-thinking sensibility that address the issues our urban life. We believe in the power of design to transform not only the physical environment but also the economic and cultural conditions of our society.”

The projects you’re working on, are they primarily in Hong Kong?

“Yes, residential and some important public buildings.”

When it comes to your approach to interior design, what sets you apart from other designers in the city?

“We have a wide range of interior design projects. Commercial projects including offices. We have a lot of at home projects, some are for specific clients… it’s pretty large.”

I saw your video that introduced The Small Home project. Is something that you’re continuing with?

Yes. When we take a project, we actually consider the challenge and the story behind the project. It’s up to the client, when we meet each other, we know that this is going to be very interesting and a very challenging project! We want to have a good working relationship with them. We can design efficiently and implement their [client’s] dream home.

How long did it take to do the project featured in the video?

“That project took us like nine months. Which is much longer than we usually work for Small Home projects.”

For future Small Home Projects, what’s the duration of time?

“Usually it’s two to three months. But for that one, almost nine months. The project took nine months to complete as we have spent a lot of time going through extensive research and multitude of design iterations to arrive at the final proposal. As the space is small, it could never accommodate a big construction team in the space. Every step of making was coordinated and taken care carefully due to the complexity of the project.

Park Haven designed by LAAB. Photographed by Stylo Vision.
Park Haven designed by LAAB. Photographed by Stylo Vision.

What’s the biggest difficulty with your interior design projects?

“Lack of time. In Hong Kong, time is always a constraint. More time to think, more time to develop, more time for a mutual understanding. Both space and time are luxurious in Hong Kong. Our projects are often characterized by their compactness and clarity to utilize space intelligently. Our space-time strategy helps space saving by planning different activities to happen in the same space at different time.”

Are the majority of your clients foreigners?

“We have a huge mix of clients when you talk about the age or origin. However, we have one common thing – most of our clients are quite ambitious, most of our clients like and appreciate design. They are also visionary people. They have a vision, they have some goals to achieve.

LAAB has focused on clients based in Hong Kong, while expanding our international exposure. We have recently received a design prize in Japan and another award in Taiwan. Our Smart Home project has garnered global attention through stellar media, including CNN, Huffington Post, Wired etc. It’s interesting to learn how people from different cultural backgrounds perceive our work.”  

Is sound control or noise pollution a problem in Hong Kong?

“It’s not really difficult to control sound. We usually have well insulated windows. With more complicated projects we will have some outside consulting.”

Are you working with developers, incorporating Small Home design into current or future projects?

“We are working on some Small Home projects… The lack of land is actually a geographical and economical issue. The only way to solve it is by design. With more careful design we can simplify typical living and make the houses more affordable.”

What about technology? Are you introducing any technology using renewable or clean energy?

“It can be very simple such as light sensors or motion sensors… we can have the air conditioning and lighting turned off when there are no people around.”

Small Home Smart Home designed by LAAB. Photographed by Sootage Visuals.
Small Home Smart Home designed by LAAB. Photographed by Sootage Visuals.

Any exciting future projects in Hong Kong?

“LAAB has recently delivered a few exciting projects, including the Future Clinical Lab at HKU Medical School in Pok Fu Lam for the celebration of 130 years of medicine in Hong Kong, as well as a cafe in T-Park in Lung Kwu Tan with sculptural furniture made of fender wood persevered from the dismantled Wan Chai Pier.

A photography gallery in Wan Chai, with a very unique and transformative experience is due to opening in early next year.  We are also commissioned for a number of public architecture in Hong Kong at a very prime location, where you will expect to see our explorative designs.”

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