Q&A – Clement Cheng | Interior designer: Public needs to be educated to ‘understand the value of design’


Interior designer Clement Cheng, who is also the owner of local design retailer Signum, recently opened his company’s second customer-facing store in the city, located near Jardim de Vasco da Gama.
After having left Macau to live in the U.K. for many years, the designer took the decision to move back to the MSAR in 2009. On his return, he was surprised to see the rapid development Macau had undergone. However, he also noticed a gap in the market for design products.
Working as an interior designer in the city he struggled to source items for his profession, so in 2010 he decided to open a shop selling the sort of products he needed for his line of work.
Cheng sat down with the Times last month to talk about Signum, changes in the general public’s perception toward design products, and what the government is doing about it.

MDT – Signum targets both the retail and commercial customer. How does your approach to these clients differ?
CC – For hotels and big corporate [entities], it is very easy because they understand the value of design. So we don’t have to do a lot of promotion to them. But for the general public it is more difficult because there are not a lot of genuine items in Macau – many [products] are fake. The retail client usually can’t tell [what is genuine and what is fake] and so we have to educate them. And that can be difficult because the [fake] items cost so much less and people wonder, ‘why does your project cost so much more?’
At the end of the day, we need to keep in mind that the R&D [research and development] is very [costly] in order to create these products. This is something that an international city should realize, because it’s not about replicating [an existing] product, but about the thought behind it – that’s what’s important. If the general public can’t accept that, then it means that they can’t really appreciate it.
In a way we want to educate them so that they understand what design is really about. Otherwise, it’s just an ornament. I think it’s much more than that; these products are meant to change the way that you live your life. That’s my belief anyway.

MDT – What criteria do you use to determine which brands you will carry?
CC – Quality is one of the main concerns, as is good value. Design-wise, of course I have to judge it by my own standards. Trend is definitely not something I have in mind [when selecting] brands for my shop, because I think that trend is too fashionable and I think design products should be timeless.
We are constantly looking for new designers. This year we have agreed to carry some brands from Taiwan, for example. So, we are constantly on the look out but it can be difficult because our shop is not really that big – we can’t carry everything. Sometimes, if the market changes, we might swap [out some products] for a season or two.

MDT – What about the other Signum locations? What demographics do they target?
CC – The shop near A-Ma Temple is really focused on tourism. The number of tourists has really dropped this year. Last year we had 80 percent of our customers come from the mainland, which was really surprising. Our Costa unit is a little different. When I moved to Costa, it was simply because the A-Ma unit wasn’t big enough. So we moved our interior design office from Barra to Central and then we needed a location to store our design furniture so we [opted] for Costa. But we don’t really open that shop to the public, it’s more for the contract market.

MDT – What are your thoughts on the government’s promotion of art and design?
CC – Well, the government talks about the [creative and cultural] industry, right? I mean that’s what they always talk about. I am not so sure about the government’s plans, because we don’t really get involved with that. They put us on the [Macau Cultural and Creative] Map, but I think they are more interested in self-produced products than our line of business. If you look into it, you will see that the government never really promotes interior design; they promote [other types] like product design or graphic design – that’s their main focus. Interior design is rarely mentioned. I don’t know why that is exactly.

MDT – What about the local ‘incubators’ for design start-up companies?
CC – There are a lot already in Macau. I mean, it’s a good thing to have these for local designers as they can have space [to work in] and they can communicate with other designers in an interdisciplinary way, and it will help them to grow. It’s definitely a healthy environment, [conducive] to the development of a young company.

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