As the new W Algarve resort takes shape in Albufeira, Essential spoke to Ed Ng, the interior designer behind the project
Many reasons would lead Ed Ng to getting involved in a new project by innovative hotel chain W Hotels Worldwide – after all, the Hong Kong-based interior designer has built a thriving working relationship with the group, which materialised in resorts such as W Bali – Seminyak, in Indonesia, and the futuristic W Xi’an, in China, which opened in late July of 2018.
But when W, part of Marriott International, invited him to design the interior for their new resort in Albufeira (the group’s first in Portugal) the designer had his own motives for accepting: “I have a Portuguese friend and I went to the Algarve with him and his family when I was still studying at university. I remember eating grilled salmon on the beach and I have good memories of the historical centres. When the name Algarve came up in association with the W project, I immediately thought, ‘of course, this is a project I would love to take on as a designer’,” he told us while video conferencing from Asia.
Ed Ng is one of the great international names in interior design, with a career spanning over two decades. In 1999, he cofounded AB Concept with his partner, architect Terence Ngan, and together they built a sound business with offices in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taipei. They have already worked on countless renowned residential and commercial projects for clients such as Four Seasons, Rosewood Hotels and Mandarin Oriental.
The W Algarve project is a 250,000sqm resort with 134 rooms and suites and 81 residences set in a privileged location on the Albufeira coast and for the interior designer it is synonymous with challenge. “It’s a massive challenge because it’s not the closest place to Hong Kong,” he said, laughing. “That said, this project gave me a totally new perspective.”
Something that helps minimise the distance is the excellent work relationship the designer maintains with his partner and which is the driving force behind AB Concept. “I am very lucky to have Terence as a partner. He doesn’t like travelling, but over the years we realised this was a blessing, because I can be on site while he handles everything in the office. We need to go to the location, work with the team and understand what happens in the vicinity [of a project],” he said.
The time Ed spends alone on flights around the world allows him to sketch (he confesses he always carries a pencil) and think about new ideas. Technology does the rest: “I send screenshots of my sketches to Terence and he immediately understands what I mean, and, as an architect, he also finds solutions. Our communication is very easy.”
Convinced that “the Algarve has all the substance needed to build a world-class resort”, the designer admitted to being surprised that the W group had not arrived sooner in the south of the country, considering the New York luxury hotel chain’s stance, which targets a younger and more modern audience. “Given the demography of the region’s visitors, W fits in perfectly. They should have been there years ago, [the Algarve] is a W destination par excellence,” he assured. “There are so many young people in the United Kingdom and all across Europe who don’t have the luxury of these landscapes, there are many energetic travellers and there is a lot of party energy here. It’s all about offering this festive energy to more sophisticated and demanding travellers.”
W Algarve, which is set to open in 2020, will be the third W Escapes resort in Europe, joining W Barcelona, in Spain, and W Verbier, in Switzerland. This portfolio, which is described on the hotel chain’s website as “epic experiences, bold hotels and the most sought-after locations”, currently comprises 12 locations worldwide, from idyllic sunny and beach destinations to welcoming ski resorts.
Without revealing any details about the décor, tones or even materials that will be used in his project for W Algarve, the designer did confirm, however, that he will stay faithful to his style, which is markedly sensual and with several layers, in a blend of lavishness, freshness and modernism. While most hotels in the region embrace its relaxed vibe, Ed Ng is determined to create something never before seen in the Algarve and which, above all, tells a story, since so much of his work with this hotel chain is “moved by a narrative”.
He lifted the veil a little about the infrastructures that will be part of the resort, such as WET, a pool and deck concept from W which usually involves an oasis of luxurious sunbeds and an extensive cocktail menu, as well as a 3,000sqm-plus spa. “The spa is massive and well-being is something that discerning travellers also seek,” highlighted the cofounder of AB Concept. But the main news revealed by the designer involves the resort’s restaurant concepts.
According to Ed, W Algarve will have “two world-class restaurants”: the Italian Paper Moon, by Pio Galligani and Enrica Del Rosso, for who AB Concept has just designed a flagship restaurant in the heart of Milan; and a Jean-Georges, by famous French- American chef and author Jean-Georges Vongerichten, head of several restaurants around the world. Although the first is more Mediterranean and the second more fine-dining, Ed Ng said that his mission was to conceive two restaurants “with personality, so they could be seen as stand-alone restaurants and not belonging to a hotel”.
This is a task that AB Concept should be able to complete easily, considering their long record in the food business. In addition to Milan’s Paper Moon, AB Concept also designed the décor for Mei Ume, the restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, which opened last year; the restaurants of the recently inaugurated Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, (including the impressive Yun House, a sophisticated Chinese restaurant); and the second Vogue Lounge in the world, also in Kuala Lumpur and expected to open this autumn.
In both restaurants at W Algarve, as well as in the rest of the resort, Ed will keep his signature image, blending designer pieces with others made specifically for certain spaces, as well as little treasures produced on a small scale by artisans, who give a real soul to their projects, such as the kimono-maker he found in Japan and who produces unique fabrics.
And, even though AB Concept also works on luxury residential projects – like the ultra-exclusive project he developed near Central Park, New York – Ed reveals he gravitated towards commercial interior design for egotistical reasons. “The more luxurious and refined a residential project is, the more discreet it will be. It became a matter of design ego, of wanting to show off something I did.” It seems like the Algarve will be the perfect showroom for that.