Cover Nelson Chow (Photo: Supplied)

In this edition of Tatler’s Secrets of Success series—the all-access pass to the city’s most notable business magnates and entrepreneurs—Nelson Chow reveals who his biggest mentor is, and why architecture studios have a bigger responsibility than just design

As the founder and principal of NC Design and Architecture, Nelson Chow has worked on some of the city’s most notable projects: from private properties to large-scale commercial designs. While his work is well-known, his background in fashion is not. Before moving full time into the architecture and design space, Chow completed a certificate in men’s tailoring in 2005.

After beginning his career in New York City at renowned design studio AvroKO, Chow moved back to Hong Kong in 2009 to join Edge Design Institute. In 2011, he launched his own practice and in 2013, he won a competition to reimagine a McDonald’s flagship outlet in Shenzhen, leading to work for the fastfood chain across the globe. Chow has since worked with Louis Vuitton on the brand’s Objets Nomades exhibition, and created outer space-inspired nightclub Faye in Lan Kwai Fong.

Chow’s work straddles mass design and niche luxury, yet he brings the same innovative, open-minded approach and instinct for challenging the status quo to each of his projects. Here he reveals his secrets of success:

Describe what you do in one sentence.

I design interior spaces that create an emotional experience with a lasting impression.

How does your business make a difference?

We make a difference by creating and moulding spaces that play to each of our senses. Our spaces engage people both physically and psychologically. In many ways, I see interior architecture as a medium to design experiences—from form to function and through lines and curves. By contrasting simplicity and detail we create unique and curated spaces. Storytelling is at the heart of our design, giving meaning to every decision we make.  

To what do you attribute your success?

We really try to understand the client and their needs, and tailor-make a narrative that enhances their lifestyle. Each project should be specific to the client and have its own visual identity that tells a unique story. A successful design requires us to think holistically, so each project exists at the intersection of art and architecture.

What are the top three ingredients for a successful business?

Don’t be afraid to be different. Think outside the box. Create unique solutions.

Do you have any mentors? If so, who are they and what is the best piece of advice they have given you?

I have had many mentors throughout my life. The most influential of them all would be [senior project director at New World Development] Edwin Chan. He has taught me to keep an open heart and explore ways that residential buildings can rise to modern challenges, increasing the quality of life and contributing to a more sustainable future. 

What qualities do you look for in a potential employee?

Leading an interior design and architecture studio carries many more responsibilities than just design. I look for passion and enthusiasm in employees who also have an open mind and are excited to learn.

What has been your biggest career obstacle to date? How did you overcome it?

I don’t think I can pinpoint a single event. Being in a competitive business, I am constantly faced with challenges every day. One of the challenges that needs a lot of attention is striking the perfect balance between our design aesthetics and our client’s needs.  

Do you have any business regrets? If so, what?  

Thankfully, I don’t have any big regrets as I take every setback as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

How do you plan to develop your business over the next five years?

We are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves. Recent efforts are geared towards rebranding our studio. We’ve moved into our new office on Hollywood Road, and our website has recently been redesigned. We are also working on publishing a book to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. 

What is one surprising thing about you that most people don’t know?  

Most people don’t know that I have a menswear tailoring certificate from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Tailoring, much like architecture, is all about structure, and this training helped me to look at the finer details. The ability to design at different scales is very important to achieve a successful interior project.  

Nelson Chow is an Asia’s Most Influential honouree from 2021. Discover the changemakers, industry titans, and powerful individuals who are making a positive impact on the region in the Asia’s Most Influential list from Tatler.

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