Robb Reader: Yung Ong on offering American-style furniture at Proof Living

Yung Ong

Yung Ong is man on a mission–making a career switch to take over his family business, becoming the operations head at Proof Living

Editor’s note: Read more Robb Reader stories here.

A law graduate from the University of Nottingham, Yung Ong was all set to take the bar in London in 2003 when he made the impromptu decision to return to Singapore and learn more about the family business. Since then, as director of operations for Proof Living, he has made high-end residential furniture his focus.

I was introduced to American designer Barbara Barry’s Bracelet chair at home, in the mid-1990s. It was upholstered in custom fabric and my mother was a huge fan of hers. That’s one of the reasons we decided to offer American-style furniture at Proof Living, which is a little bit of a departure from what is popular in Singapore. But we have developed a large market for it here.

We are a product of our environment and all the homes in Singapore tend to be fairly new. The interiors reflect this and I feel there is a bit of a cookie-cutter tendency. Almost every home has the contemporary look, with very few traditional touches like antiques or heirloom pieces. Singaporeans also usually go for more muted colours, but you do need a pop of strong colour once in a while.

I can appreciate most design styles, to a degree. I’m trying to be more disciplined with the interiors of my home. Even if you’re going for eclectic, it should be one type of eclectic, or else the overall look can start to look very confused. I lean towards an industrial modern feel.

I love pieces that look vintage, with a salvaged kind of feel. In my home, I have a shelf from Italian brand Riva 1920 that I use as a room divider. It measures 6m in width and has a cut-out that I use as an entryway. I only saw a line drawing of the piece before ordering it, but I thought it suited me. It has a sense of drama.

Hotels inspire me the most. I love the Ace Hotel in Manhattan’s NoHo area. It has really cool interiors, inside an old building that’s been refurbished. That modern look within an old landscape, that’s a juxtaposition I really like. Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan is also memorable. It’s built on a cliff, and you descend into the hotel from the top of the cliff via a flight of stairs located in the middle of an infinity pool.

I like to look at the visual displays of products when I’m travelling, especially in top retail destinations like New York. On a recent trip there, I discovered this barbershop called Rudy’s. It was retro but also super hip, and the design was very well-executed and didn’t feel forced. I also like Balthazar restaurant in Manhattan, not for the food but for the atmosphere.

I go to Chicago three to four times a year to attend furniture fairs. My favourite restaurant there is The Publican, which has a Korean head chef. Most people go there for the typical brunch items like maple-smoked bacon, but I like to order bibimbap.

I think of fashion as similar to what we do. Furniture is just fashion for your house. I like the tailored cuts from Dolce & Gabbana.

I first saw the work of artist Walter Spies at a Sotheby’s auction in the late 1990s, and I’ve been a big admirer since. I’m also a fan of Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan’s work and have bought some pieces at auction.

I have not had the opportunity to be mentored in a large organisation, so there has been a steeper learning curve. I like to read biographies of business leaders, like Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric. I’ve read his book Winning four, five times, it’s very inspiring. He talks about how he chooses his leaders and how to nurture teams better.

On weekends, I often come to the Proof Living store in Ion Orchard to do my work and serve customers. We don’t design anything, but we are part of this process of designing their house, which is an important one. They have to live with these products for a long time. It’s important to ask questions and listen. People respond to humility.

As a child, my father took me to a shop called Tong Mern Sern at Craig Road. If you’re looking for something vintage that can be restored, that’s a good place to start. The shop has a sign that says, “We buy junk and sell antiques. Some fools buy, some fools sell.” It’s run by an eccentric man named Ah Keng. The GoDown, at Zion Road, is another tiny shop with really interesting things. The owner stocks vintage items salvaged from all over Asia.

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