"One first has to dream big in order to achieve something big"
If you have been to Naumi Hotel on Seah Street and marvelled at its space design, you would have admired the work of Patricia Ho and her team.
Ho is the founder and design director of White Jacket, a design consultancy firm specialising in hospitality and food-and-beverage projects. Established in 2010, the company has worked on international and boutique hotel brands all over Asia, including the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and Indonesia.
“Our very first hotel project was the New World Makati in Manila,” Ho relates. “It was a very exciting commission because it meant that our dream had become real.” The project, which followed the hotel’s decision to rebrand itself, involved giving the property a major facelift and a more contemporary look with an Asian appeal. “It was a $50-million project and there were two of us working on it at the start,” the 38-year-old recalls. “I remember all the late nights that we had to put in and going out for supper virtually every night. When everything was approved and completed, the satisfaction we felt was enormous.”
For a relatively new entrant to the industry, this opportunity was exactly what White Jacket needed. “It was all the more fun as it was a renovation instead of building from scratch, since with renovation, you get to see things done in phases. It allowed us to build our portfolio fast and gave others the chance to see what we were able to come up with,” Ho adds.
Ho’s passion and eye for design can be traced to an early age when, as a young child, she enjoyed painting as well as making and creating things. Her academic path eventually brought her to a crossroads between fashion and interior design. Eventually, she chose the latter because of her love for architecture. She enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic, where she became increasingly interested in the design industry. “Sometimes, you need to explore a bit before you fall in love with what you do,” she says.
Prior to founding White Jacket, Ho worked as a design director in Wilson Associates, one of the largest design firms here with an international footprint. Being the youngest design director on the team (she was 28 then), she noticed that the industry was dominated by males much older than she was, many of whom were also expats. “I wanted to change that and lend a younger feminine voice,” she shares. “I wanted to create a design studio that is recognised as a Singapore company that can compete with international firms from the US or Europe. It would be an Asian voice in the international design scene.” It’s obvious Ho does not lack ambition, drive or optimism. “One has to dream big in order to do something big. I am passionate about life and living — you either give it your all or don’t do it at all.”
Leading a team of 20, Ho spearheads all the design projects that comes out of her studio. She likens her role to that of a movie director: “I direct the storyline and create the scene, and I have a group of highly talented and dedicated designers who have their own roles to play. As a design firm, what makes or breaks us is our talent, so we also have to think about how to attract and retain talent.”
White Jacket has won multiple accolades over the years, including the 2015 Asia Hotel Design Awards for Best Suite at Naumi, and an interior design prize in the 40 Under 40 category at the 2015 Design Leaders of Today and Tomorrow awards in Hong Kong. “When I started White Jacket, my mission was to create award-winning designs that would earn us recognition in the industry. I knew right from the start that I wanted every project to be award-winning,” says Ho. “So far we have completed four projects, and all of them have either won awards or were finalists in international design competitions.”
White Jacket’s strength doesn’t just lie in crafting beautiful spaces but also in curating experiences for people. Ho explains, “Instead of just generic or soulless interior spaces, the spaces we design create strong and vivid memories for guests as they evoke emotions. People crave experiences and well-executed design resonates with what people want. That is one of the biggest differences between us and commercial designers — we pay attention to the entire experience, beginning with customising furniture pieces, lighting, etc.”
The company is currently working on numerous projects in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and China, among other in the region. Ho is also looking into expanding the business to include a lighting design consultancy and possibly the manufacturing and retail of its bespoke design pieces such as furniture, decorative lightings, rugs and accessories.
When asked about setbacks, Ho says she takes everything in her stride. “It’s important to see rejection as a challenge, in the way that people might have had higher expectations and felt we could have done a better job. We don’t see criticism in a negative light but as something that takes us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to do better.”
The most important thing is to keep one’s passion alive and believe everything is possible, she adds. Entrepreneurship entails being ready for growth and challenges. “You really have to believe in yourself. And don’t just think big – think bigger.”