STYLE AT HOME: There seem to be more and more high-end designers catering to lower-end price points. Why is that?
Alfred Sung: Thanks to magazines and specialty channels, people are more aware of what's happening in the world of interior design. The collective taste level of the country has gone up. That creates a need in the marketplace for beautiful home furnishings and accessories that don't cost a lot. Good design doesn't cost extra and colour is free, so manufacturing products at lower price points is really a matter of choosing the right materials. At Alfred Sung, we've learned to be creative about sourcing materials that save us money. In fact, we employ a person in Asia who spends all his time tracking down new materials and facilities.
S@H Can you give me an example of high-style, low-cost materials?
AS One of our bestselling items, our towels contain a mix of cotton and bamboo. Bamboo is a good example of a product that's extremely abundant and renewable but also very resilient. (In Hong Kong, bamboo is often used in place of steel scaffolding.) It absorbs moisture and takes colour well, too. By using bamboo in our towels, we're creating an environmentally friendly product that lasts longer and costs less to make. Veneers are another great way of upping the style factor, not the price, which is determined by how much of an exotic wood is used. For example, when you only require about one-eighth-inch-thick veneer, you can keep the cost down. We've just designed a line of chairs with a zebra wood veneer, and our new wood mantel has a walnut one. New technology and machines create these veneers under such incredible pressure that once they're applied, it's impossible to trip them off, so you get a stylish look without sacrificing quality. Similarly, on our leather club chair, which is our hero piece -- a signature item well accepted by the public -- we use high-end leather on the seat, and vinyl on the sides and back, where it can't be seen.
S@H How do you design for a mass audience without censoring the design process? Do you find that you have to play it safe?
AS We're tough editors and make every effort to maintain the integrity of Sung Design. Whether in fashion or in home decor, my style has always been classic with a modern twist, which is ideally suited to a wide-ranging audience. I've always had an aversion to fads. When I was designing clothes, I designed for the "real" customer. I wanted to create things people could wear without looking like fashion victims. Good taste is subjective.
S@H Does your experience as a fashion designer uniquely qualify you for home design?
AS When you're trained as a fashion designer, you know about scale, proportion and, especially, colour. Those skills are transferable to home design. But what happens in fashion usually follows in decor, so having a foot in each field helps.
S@H What do you think people should keep in mind when decorating their homes?
AS People are gaining confidence in their home decor skills. One of the things we continue to learn is how to create a context for stylish, low-cost products. our next challenge is to show people how to put items together in an inviting way. When we dress, we learn to layer. Dressing a room is no different -- it's good to add layers for interest. That's much easier to do when there are a variety of stylish pieces priced within your budget.
Style on a budget
Here are some of Alfred Sung's tips for creating the luxe look for less.
• In the living room, choose a sofa and armchair with timeless lines in a neutral palette. "That way, you can keep them for a long time," says Alfred. Then, dress up the rest of the room by layering cushions, draperies and throws in trendy colours. "And for low-cost drama and style, add a cool but inexpensive vase and tea lights."
• In the dining room, invest in white dishes. "They're elegant and versatile and will serve you well," says Alfred. High-end restaurants choose white dishes because food looks best displayed on them. Punch up your table with white plates in interesting shapes (square, curvilinear), embellished with colourful serving pieces.
• In the bedroom, achieve a luxurious finish with sateen sheets instead of percale ones; though they have the same thread count and price tag, sateen is softer.