The Language of Design


Creating spaces that epitomise luxury, whilst delivering trendsetting design solutions is no mean feat. Julia Millen spoke to Wan Zainal Abidin Shazali, Design Director at WaMa designs about stepping up to this unique style challenge

How do you go about bringing global design to local spaces?

It’s all about context. Depending on the design, we adapt the brief to suit the local climate, culture and lifestyle. Having said that, it’s interesting to note that design and appreciation of beauty is pretty much a universal language. I’ve found being schooled in architecture in both Asia and in the UK has been invaluable with cross-referencing design knowledge and adapting it to each local environment.

As a seasoned globetrotter how have your travel exploits influenced your creativity?

My extensive travel certainly enriches my creativity and broadens my design knowledge. It’s wonderful to attend trade shows and conferences and visit notable projects overseas to keep abreast of current design trends. I think as a designer, it’s a life-long learning journey, whether it’s enriching your knowledge by reading or just getting out and about and soaking up what’s around you. Since the pandemic, I’ve signed up for many online conferences and have been tuning in to regular online interviews with notable designers. Amazingly, I feel that I’m absorbing much more knowledge at the moment.

How’s your work influenced by your base in Brunei and projects across Asia?

As Brunei is a small country, I’ve been fortunate enough to engage in a diverse range of projects, whereas in much larger countries, a company can easily forgo this in favour of specialism in a single sector, say, commercial developments for example. It makes us well rounded in our experience, because we’re able to pursue a more diverse selection of commissions, which in turn gives us wider exposure.


How do you ensure that design stands the test of time?

We’re not just led by trends. We believe that design has to be functional, too. The simpler things are, the more they will stand the test of time, so functionality over aesthetics is key. I recently watched an interview with a prominent interior design firm in the US, and they cited an example of back in the old days some buildings would have windows that could not be opened. Now, especially during a pandemic, it’s important to apply designs that facilitate cross ventilation, automatic doors, which can prevent occupants from touching handles and distanced worktables to accommodate social distancing. Now more than ever, designers should be putting more weight on the functionality of spaces before adding aesthetic touches.

How do you incorporate wellbeing elements into your design?

I always tell my team that it’s important to listen to the client and really take on board what they’ve said. By understanding the client’s objectives, we customise each design to suit their lifestyle and work patterns, thereby promoting their sense of wellbeing. The way we style commercial and residential spaces will influence our clients’ state of health and emotional state of being. We have to ensure that there’s adequate sunlight for workspaces, huge windows so end users can view and connect with nature, and we use colours that are proven to promote mental well-being. It’s certainly a sign of the times that wellness focused design is of great importance. In our recent award-winning project for Pantai Jerudong Specialist Centre in Brunei, we applied all these elements and more to promote a healing environment for patients in a state-of-the-art hospital.

What’s the greatest threat to creating quality living environments for future generations?

In one word - space. If people have limited space to play around with, then that obviously impacts our ability to deliver certain designs. It narrows down our conversations, and therefore the potential designs that we can come up with for implementation. As it is, we’re already seeing smaller homes in larger developed cities, and living in a cramped environment, is certainly not good for the mind and soul.

How does your own home reflect your unique style?

Well, I’ve collected a lot of things over the years, that don’t necessarily go together. They’re just things that catch my eye on my travels, objects that I like and designer furniture pieces that I collect, in a mix of different styles.

I like to combine modern pieces with furniture that I’ve designed myself and I favour an eclectic look. Also I’ve always felt it’s nice to have a story behind every piece in your home. They make for good conversation starters.


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