Published September 12, 2009


It's a kind of magic

Interior designer Cameron Woo strives to take small spaces to greater heights. By Lim Sio Hui,00.html?

TURNING a mere 67 square metres of real estate into the height of luxury sounds a little like a tall order, but one that interior designer Cameron Woo accomplishes with ease.

Back in 2006, the Singapore-based Australian transformed a barely-there showflat that was the equivalent of the size of a 3-room HDB flat into the hottest seller at The Metropolitan, a 382-unit, high-rise condominium in the Bukit Merah area, a project that he counts as one of his biggest successes.

The two-bedroom space, dressed to the nines with glamorous mirrored walls and overhead displays, was presented by developer CapitaLand as a new-generation solution for nuclear families who could purchase adjacent units for their loved ones.

Says Woo: 'We took what was probably their biggest liability (their smallest apartments) and turned them into one of their biggest assets: we communicated that an 800 sq ft space can feel large and actually work.'

The project, which won his firm, Cameron Woo Design, the CNBC Arabia Best Residential Interior Design Category for Asia-Pacific back in April this year, will represent the region in the international awards held in November.

But his four-year-old Singapore firm remains in the spotlight this month, as they are featured in the just released Andrew Martin Interior Design Review book, an annual compilation of the world's best works by the New York- and London- based industry leader whose design awards have been dubbed as the 'Oscars for the interior design world'.

The only company from Singapore to be selected, Cameron Woo Design made 2009's compilation (volume 13) with two condominium showflat projects: Seafront on Meyer and Scotts HighPark. Scotts HighPark, the luxury address at the former Melia at Scotts hotel site on Scotts Road, stands out with a duplex apartment in the now fashionable 'bungalow in the sky' concept.

With the large double-storey windows that throw open the view to its generous stretch of veranda, one could get lost in the generous 200 sq m three-bedroom units, but Woo has turned the space into a storyboard for each inhabitant's private oasis.

He takes the modern classic approach: facelifting simple furnishings through the classical ideas of layout, balance, proportion and scale. The entry to the master bedroom is what he calls a serene sanctuary: a grooming area in the home which leads to the bathroom from one side and the bedroom on the other - 'it's still one space, because you can see right through the other areas'.

Upholstery plays a key role in creating Woo's signature style: custom-designed rugs, bed linen and other tactile elements give each space its own personality, and there's an extra-high bed and night-light stands for the princess touch.

A more recent condominium project is Trilight, which pushes boundaries with what Woo calls an 'urbanista' concept. Â It's created for a 'Singaporean Carrie Bradshaw, a *** in the City girl about town'.

Here, the space restrictions have taken the designer outdoors for inspiration: motifs in the tactile space are taken from the willow tree or animal skin patterns, and the dining area lifted from outdoor bistros, with a sofa that doubles as a dining settee. There's a wall of photographs of female icons, an airy bathroom that maximises the lush view, and a friendly layout that allows one to watch the children's bedroom from the study.

'What I feel I am doing is that I am an editor of the client's personal style and aspiration. We're fine-tuning what the interior space is about,' explains Woo.

'We're always trying to make things look glamorous. How can I make things look extraordinary, and not ordinary. How can I feel elevated, spiritually and physically. We want them to feel special, it's just for them.'

It ties in with his personal advice for homeowners trying to create their private sanctuaries. 'Invest in what makes you most happy. If you love cooking, invest in your kitchen. If you love music, create a room that makes it absolutely perfect for you. You need to prioritise. If something makes you peaceful and gives you that balance, create a room that helps do that for you.'

Concepts like Trilight, and envelope-pushing environments like Scotts HighPark are some of the reasons why he set up a branch in Singapore in 2005, two years after starting his firm in Sydney and after doing up legacy houses for Sydney and Melbourne's high society.

'Singapore is a great place to do it. We work in a space that is fast, and we have to be innovative. There's so much competition. If you're not innovative, you die,' he jokes. 'In Asia, there are also fantastic condominium concepts that you don't see anywhere else - roof gardens, mid-sky gardens and other communal areas, and sky bungalows with pools even for individual units. It's the natural thing in Singapore with the density here. But we want to do it in a more eco-conscious, sympathetic and people-friendly way, we don't want to end up like a concrete jungle.'

His combined staff strength of 12 in both the Singapore and Sydney offices go beyond design concepts but embrace the marketing of the property as well, a service that makes his firm stand out. 'A lot of people forget that design is very intellectual,' shares Woo.

'They think we're going to talk about colour, layout and cushions - that may be true, but that's just one aspect. We see it in a very business way. It's not just about the interior; it's about design as a whole. We have to work out the marketing and then a design strategy. We help developers identify their unique selling points and translate that into what that means to their buyers. It's a collaborative process; we don't ever just pick up the pencil.

'Somehow or other, the interior designer has to make everyone happy - we're the conduit through which everything is pulled together. We have to create magic.'

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