People profile: Director Jon Grant talks about Interior design, working in Asia and future design trends

Jon Grant

Tell us about your education and early career, particularly how you ended up in Shanghai

My family didn’t expect me to go to university – they were surprised! I studied Interior Architecture at Reading College of Art & Design, before working freelance in London while sleeping on a sofa. I struggled – I went to an internet café every day trying to find work.

I saw an article looking for two interior designers for Shanghai, and convinced my old college friend, Scott Compton, to interview alongside me. We were interviewed in a Holborn pub, and one hour later the business owner wrote a cheque to pay our air fares to Shanghai! During my first years in China, I worked with Toni & Guy as well as on headquarters for Adidas, Heineken, Otis, TNT, Saatchi & Saatchi and many more.

I moved on from office fit-outs to F&B interiors, having learned the art of business development - drinking and more drinking! I made contact with an F&B company called Element Fresh – now one of the largest in China – through my interest in bamboo flooring. We created a café/restaurant design concept for them, then evolved the concept into the incredible success it is today. The speed of projects, and thus my career progression, during those 10 years in China was phenomenal.

What prompted your move to Thailand?

I needed a new challenge. When my wife became pregnant with our first child, we wanted to experience a new culture and work environment.  I had been working on mall renovations with Chapman Taylor in Shanghai, and proposed the idea of opening a South-East Asia studio focusing on mixed-use retail developments. Bangkok has a very good retail scene and I had worked on luxury residential projects on the islands, giving me contacts – so we established an office in 2012. The office has developed into a strong team of 25 people.  As the market shifted, so we did too – moving emphasis from retail to hospitality and workplace, building a strong business working with clients such as Omnicom, Google, Mandarin Oriental, Singha Estates, Tesco and IKEA.

You’re back in London now?

Yes. I set myself five year plans – after five years in Bangkok, I had built a good reputation and client base, my wife was expecting our second child, and we wanted to return to the UK. Focus on the UK, Europe and the Middle East would provide better understanding of cultures, design and business, so I returned to build Chapman Taylor’s Interior Design business, catering for projects of all sizes. I’m currently working with IKEA, a luxury Fitness First gym at ICON Siam in Bangkok, another exciting Bangkok project (watch this space!) and the ISG head office at Manchester MediaCity.

Why did you choose interior design as a career?

It was the only thing apart from football I could do! I have worked on architecture as well as interiors, but architecture is a long game and I’m an impatient person – interiors suits me because I can’t sit still for five minutes! I like the quick turnaround on interior projects. You experience designing, working with clients, managing, problem-solving and handing over to see if it’s well received!  It’s rewarding seeing an idea become reality.

Who are your career influences?

My old design director, Ivan Timko – his level of hand-drawn detailing was phenomenal. He taught me time management – an understanding of the value of punctuality. If we were five minutes late – when we were young, we might possibly be hungover coming into the office – he would tap on his watch! Being on time shows respect. I’ve been around many inspirational characters – great designers, risk-takers, grafters, good salesmen and excellent football managers. They have all inspired me, but most importantly they have kept me grounded.

Tell us about particularly memorable projects you have worked on.

Element Fresh restaurants in China – it taught me design and fine-tuned my understanding of how to deliver projects. With restaurants and cafés, for example – customer experience, kitchens, how food worked back and front-of-house, table spacing and the whole operational side. That was my grounding in interior design, from concept through to completion. Tweaks of just millimetres could really help the business thrive!

I’ve also been very lucky to work with companies of the calibre of Google and Mandarin Oriental. Working for Google on their workplace interiors was a pleasure because of the creative freedom they give you. We won lots of design awards for our work with Mandarin Oriental, and they were incredibly professional, treating everybody with equal respect.

Do you have guiding principles when approaching a project?

A poster on a wall at home says “work hard and stay humble”, and that is one of my core design and life values. I believe that the service you give a client has to be greater than just a design solution. Can they pick up the phone, call and have a conversation with you and can you solve a problem for them there and then? That’s good design. I have a philosophy of being realistic – providing strong, creative solutions which can actually be built rather than just remaining a pretty picture.

What do you perceive to be the challenges facing future Designers/Architects?

Gaining experience is always tough – you have to be patient (which wasn’t my strength). It’s a long game, and the level of commitment needed on each stage of each project can be draining. University doesn’t teach the graft and hustling involved, so the first five years is really getting to grips with that. From there on it’s a breeze! 

About the Author

Jon Grant (BA(Hons) Interior Architecture)

Director, London

Joining our London studio in July 2017, Jon has returned to the UK from running our Bangkok studio. When he was in Asia, Jon worked on both Architectural and Interior design commissions across the region in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia.  

Jon has over 15 years’ experience working in Asia with design expertise in high-end interior design projects across the hospitality, F&B, residential and retail sectors.

Areas of expertise:

Interior Design / Architecture / Retail / F&B / Hospitality / Residential

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