"Property investors and buyers once believed that interior design should be included in the construction fee and didn't think about paying for it," says Clifton Leung, creative director of Hong Kong-based Clifton Leung Design Workshop.
"In the last 10 years, people have begun to appreciate design more and recognise our services, as well as the value of innovative ideas. Interior design has developed into an industry and has split off from construction."
Leung states that the strength of the local property market, which, according to the Land Registry, recorded 14,300 transactions last month, has heightened the need for designs that add value. This has accentuated the need for skills and artistic vision that break the mould in a market that, Leung says, is embracing better materials and ideas as properties sell for higher prices.
"People are aware that they need something long-lasting that can be lived in or rented out. They don't want a living space to be like a show flat. They are buying expensive properties that need to be maximised," he says.
"Designing space is our priority and that might mean shortening a corridor, working out the cabinetry, [deciding] how many hangings are needed and decorating the walls. But, ultimately, we need to conceptualise. Designers always need to offer different experiences. We need to have a well-rounded knowledge about properties and we need to fit our vision with a client's vision."
Leung, whose upmarket studio is recruiting two interior designers and one project manager, says the market has become more personalised as it focuses on lifestyle in the home, with clients looking for something tailored rather than ready-made luxury designs traditionally provided by developers.
He is seeking designers who are not only able to draw, but can also think on their feet and oversee construction projects. Leung offers training to prepare employees for a rapidly-evolving market. As the market matures, creative solutions in interior design have become essential.
"There are many factors a designer needs to bring into account," says Pal Pang, director of Hong Kong-based Another Design, which deals with a wide range of projects in the city and abroad, including interiors for individual investors, showrooms for companies and show flats for property developers.
"I get one chance to create a space for developers with a show flat. If I do two or three, they might need to sell a few thousand apartments out of that. Those designs need to convince the public and investors to buy them. As creative people, we need to be able to convey a message that quickly makes an impression," he says.
Unlike interiors for rented properties, the emphasis for showrooms, shops and show flats is to help build a brand's value. Pang likens such a creative process to theatre design in which concepts and materials tell a story. He cites the example of designing a car showroom for Jaguar, in which the environment needed to highlight the product and be artistically engaging enough to introduce it to potential customers.
"I created a dark space, gave it a matte finish and made the lighting bring out the shape of the car - that's where creative design ideas are effective," Pang says, adding that interior designers need to gain hands-on experience which makes a difference. "I urge designers to explore new ideas, watch films, go to art events and anything that creatively opens their minds, hones their skills and helps them create new concepts."