By Christy Lau
Passionate and driven, Founder and Executive Design Director of ASC Interior, Anita Srisakulchawla is a woman who isn’t afraid to take risks, turning a childhood dream into a successful business venture.
When Anita Srisakulchawla founded ASC Interior in 2003, she never would have expected her company to become one of the leading interior design firms in Asia. Originally a family business, ASC’s portfolio has grown to include some of the most well-known names in the hospitality field. Among her many prestigious clients are the Mercure Hotels, Hyatt Place, Best Western Plus, and the Oakwood Residential Sukhumvit Thonglor, which won the Oakwood Best Property of the Year Award.
Her designs seamlessly blend the old and the new, combining unique cultural elements of the property’s locale, while still staying true to cutting-edge contemporary designs. Proof of the lure of her innovative and creative compositions is her latest project Hyatt Place Bangkok Sukhumvit on Sukhumvit Soi 24. Having just been unveiled to the public, and despite still being in its soft opening, Hyatt Place has already received hotel bookings, even welcoming guests at the time this interview took place.
All in all, 2017 has been a great year for ASC Interior as they just recently won the Asia Pacific Property Award for the luxurious Mercure Karawang in Indonesia, and with the rave reviews already pouring in for Hyatt Place, there is no doubt that 2018 will be another exciting year for Anita and her team.
What got you into interior design?
In high school, I did a lot of decorative art sculptures for IGCSE. In those days it was different, as they didn’t have interior courses at school, so we didn’t have much of a choice. For my bachelor’s degree, I went to Mahidol University for computer science, but I wasn’t happy with the course, so I changed my major all of a sudden. Luckily, my dad supported my decision and that is when I transferred to the US to take up interior design.
What inspired you to open up ASC interior?
I think I was sitting too still. After I came back from the US, I went to work for a Thai interior firm for a couple years. When I got married, I told my husband I wanted to work again and he said why not. So I opened the firm, and started handling a few properties for my husband who was working in real estate. Back then, I wanted to do something for myself and have fun. You never know where it takes you, and here I am, 15 years later.
What makes ASC Interior stand out from competitors?
We have a very strong and detail-oriented group with team leaders who are very experienced with hospitality projects. We also have great clients who continually recommend new projects to us. For the past 10 years, we have taken jobs all over Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh and India. 80 percent of our clients are hotels, and we do get residential and commercial projects as well.
What is one of the most exciting projects you worked on?
Definitely the Dream Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 15! That project was bought by a friend of my father-in-law. At the time, there were no other boutique hotels in Bangkok. It was fun because it was a brand from New York and the concept was East meets West. The owner came for the first presentation and told us we could do whatever we wanted. We had a full budget as well. It was a designer’s dream come true. We got to play with every kind of material and it went beyond our expectations. Later in 2010, we won a property award for Best Hotel Interior Design in Thailand and the Asia Pacific. We were competing with Hilton Pattaya which had just opened for three months. All of us put our soul and heart into it, and it paid off.
Do you prefer hospitality or residential projects?
For me, I like everything. As a passionate interior designer, you have to love all of it. You can’t pick the client or the project. But I have been fortunate enough to be given certain creative developments like the Dream Hotel.
Where do you source most of your furniture?
Locally! We make-to-order a lot of our furniture because some are not easy to source. We also specially make pieces when the brand’s original selection, including the fabric, sizing and colour, is not matching with our designs.
How does the interior design process work?
We create a concept study first. We think about how it will look. We think of the location, the story and the background of the place. We don’t just study the site; we come up with a story for it and consider colours and themes.
Next, we speak to the owners to understand their requirements. They want their brand identity to be represented through our work, so we have to translate their requirements into the space. After all, we complete the final touches after the engineers and architects are done with their work. Once, we had a client who built a hotel in remembrance of her late son. Every corner reflected this sentiment and we furnished the place with personal pictures taken by her husband.
After this, we get the clients and operators to approve, and then the architect will begin work on it. It is quite a lengthy process. For example, Hyatt Place in Bangkok was in development for five years.
What is the best part of being an interior designer?
Understanding the client’s needs and requests, and finding the perfect solution for them. It is a challenge and sometimes as a designer you have to realise that in order to achieve the design you want, you have to let go of certain things to achieve better results overall. But yes, the best part of my job is learning how to turn the client’s dream into reality.
What is your favourite style?
My taste changes every hour! But currently I love what I refer to as ‘relaxed luxury,’ which is a design that uses furniture that is not too formal, but still gives a sense of luxury. It would be the kind of place you can walk into and feel comfortable sitting in, as opposed to pure luxury which can often feel unapproachable.
What different backgrounds and skills do your interior designers offer?
We offer everything from graphics and procurement to sourcing and product design. We did a pop-up store for a stationary brand, The Paper Bunny, including the display units. We also completed all the art for the pictures in frames, as well as the signage for Hyatt Place.
Where does the inspiration come from?
Inspiration is everywhere. It can come from our travels, the food we enjoy, the books we read or the movies we watch. For example, for one project, I used a print I had seen on a lady’s jacket in one of my favourite series. I wanted the same pattern as a mosaic print on the counter-top, so I took a screenshot and sent it to my team.
What materials do you normally focus on? Anything unique?
We try not focus on one particular material and instead explore all kinds. For many years, I have been particularly fond of wood. I try to mix it with a lot of other materials like bronze or stone to give it a contemporary finish. As for unique materials, we do use a lot of textured paint, bronze and stone. We use more wood in our residential projects, while for hotels, we use more durable things like tiles, quartz and fabrics.
What are some of the challenges in running an interior firm?
Every day brings a new kind of challenge. The hardest is when you’re blocked and you don’t know how to tackle a project while working on deadline. Another one is when we have conflict within the team. When this happens, we really have to take a step back and deal with it maturely. Lastly, every project lasts three to four years, so it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
What are some of the latest trends in interior design we can expect to see more of?
For us, we talk about it every day because we have to stay up-to-date with what is new and trending. Recently, we have noticed a lot more curvature in design layouts, for instance curved sofas and curved tables. There are also a lot of baby pinks, yellows and gold metals being used.
How do you manage to balance work and family life?
I have three kids. How do I manage? (laughs) My company has basically raised my kids, as they are always in my office. My first child was on-site when the Dream Hotel project was happening.
Do your kids have any interest in being interior designers?
My youngest one joked and said that I am going to be an architect and steal all of mummy’s clients.
What is your advice for aspiring interior designers?
Be passionate. Be curious. Be persistent. Push for what you want and be confident in your ideas. If you believe in your design, push for it. Always fight for your design!
What are the future plans for ASC Interior?
We want to expand into China and that is already in the works. We picked China because we have some upcoming hotel projects there. We want to be one of the leading Thai firms with a bigger reach internationally. Right now, we are looking for the right candidate to handle the initial documentation for China, due to language barriers.