QUIRKY CREATIVITY: Ensuring that everything falls into place from A to Z, the aptly named design firm Q&A features a slim but sleek outfit that’s making design headlines with its handsome roll-out of projects including its own eatery in ABC
Like the comfort partaken of a steaming bowl of alphabet soup, a design firm by the name of Q&A is satisfying more than the hunger pangs of patrons with its exquisitely designed ABC eatery in Troika, Kuala Lumpur.
Indeed, the lavish care and attention to design evident in the A-to-Z details of the chic dining outlet, begs to tell its robust tale, much like the strong coffee that it serves.
“ABC stands for Acme Bar and Coffee.
Acme, as made famous in the Road Runner cartoons of the 1960s, simply means ‘best’ , and that was our goal for ABC – to create the best casual dining experience in KL,” chuckles Brian Quirk, 45, who together with Andrew Wong, 47, are the principals of Q&A.
ABC - All in one: “ABC is our first venture into F&B as both client and owner. We opened up ABC with several other partners in December last year, understanding that dining out is not just about good food or a nice interior, but is a total experience incorporating design, food, service and ambience. There are so many details that many take for granted and we felt there was room to explore on so many levels,” shares Quirk.
Wong who is also creative director of Q&A agrees, adding that “although it is difficult to comment specifically on competitors and thoughts on the industry”, they can nevertheless vouch for the fact that the emergence of “new and exciting projects” will benefit the industry as a whole.
“There are many places we enjoy and (we) hope that KL will continue to see the addition of lots of choices for customers,” he reflects.
The restaurant, spread across 5,380sq ft over two levels includes a main dining room, the gallery and a mezzanine loft that offers flexibility in that it can function
both as a dining area while being perfect for casual, private functions.
According to Quirk, the restaurant that seats approximately 120 guests at any one time will soon be expanded with the opening of the outdoor dining terrace scheduled to take place later this year.
Elaborating on the choice of materials employed for the design scheme of this cool and casual dining venue, Quirk shares that a “simple palette of materials that are honest in their expression and function” and are meant to “evoke a certain timelessness” were chosen.
“Many arrive commenting that the restaurant reminds them of a place ‘somewhere else’, be it Melbourne, New York or San Francisco. This was intentional – we wanted customers to feel transported,
to have arrived at someplace special which was both familiar and new.
“Echoes of the cities mentioned come from a certain strength in the materials including steel beams, concrete tiles and metal ceilings. The details are thoroughly modern, but the shaping of the spaces and the juxtaposition of materials share much with urban restaurant architecture, both past and present, from many major cities,” concludes Quirk.
Summing up ABC in a design nutshell, he suggests that the casual dining place was “designed around many ideas, taking cues from the building as in The Troika designed by Norman Foster, the food and a desire to simply create a great casual dining experience in KL”.
“Many of the influences come from the Northwest US, specifically Portland, which has been promoting a new sort of simple, quality, back-to-basics style of casual dining, using great ingredients and interesting techniques to create food and design which are both simple and exciting at the same time.”
Early steps: Recalling the year 1990 when he first stepped foot on Malaysia’s sunny shores, after graduating with a Masters in Architecture from Tulane University in New Orleans, Quirk acknowledges that it was a twist of fate that led him here.
“I was travelling on a Fellowship from the SOM Foundation in the US to study traditional architecture. My itinerary at the time centred on Thailand and Indonesia
with side trips to Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia.
“Unable to get a ticket to Bangkok, I ended up in KL upon my arrival in Asia. A dinner with a friend of a friend of a friend also on Fellowship quickly led to an extended stay here helping on a project.
I came back to Malaysia four months later for what was to be another six weeks break and 21 years later, I am still here!”laughs Quirk in fond recollection.
After spending his first few years working with Badan Warisan Malaysia during a “very rewarding time” on various projects involving historical preservation and long term heritage preservation legislation, he set up the design firm Q&A, an abbreviation of the names Quirk and Albakri in 1996 with his then partner Zehan Albakri, also an architect and early founder of Sahabat Warisan Malaysia.
Zehan has since left the firm. Q&A is now the abbreviation for Quirk and Associates Sdn Bhd and is run by Quirk and Wong. The latter is trained in both graphics and fashion and has spent 15 years in the retail business. Wong has been instrumental in developing Q&A’s work with retail and F&B clients.
Telling a story: “To me, great work is far more than a ‘look’ or a design, but (one that) actually tells a story. My advice to future designers is not to get hooked on what is trendy or fashionable, but to try and look beyond that and create work which says something to its users,” reflects Quirk.
It was the early years spent focusing on design work for the advertising indus try that encompassed no less than designing for six of the top international agencies in KL and several production houses that included blue-chip clients like BBDO, Leo Burnett, Naga and VHQ that a light bulb realisation occurred to Quirk.
“It was through our work here that we began to understand the power of interiors as part of a powerful brand statement, given we were being asked by numerous ‘similar’ companies to create unique and bespoke solutions for their businesses. It was learning to look beyond superficial aesthetics and creating designs that were built around a strong story rooted in the companies’ philosophies and practices that enabled us to create many exciting projects,” he shares.
Q&A itself has experienced many exciting chapters in its own success story. What started out as “a company doing product and furniture design and development” that quickly paved the way for the firm to undertake interior and architecture projects has now turned into a design bestseller that clients and customers cannot get enough of.
As sure as “proof of the pie is in the pudding”, the firm has proven that it can have its cake, icing and eat it too, with many slices left over for others to enjoy. Already, Q&A has undertaken countless projects across the globe from
Argentina to Australia, winning its clients awards and accolades in the process.
“We are especially proud of our ability to understand and translate local ideas and expectations into our work for our regional clients. As a firm, we believe in communicating our design idiom through a powerful creative language fused with innovative ideas that enhance or improve our client’s brand message and ultimately, create a successful business proposition,” sums up Quirk of Q&A – the architecture and interior design firm with its focus on lifestyle-oriented projects.
Pics courtesy of Q&A.
Quick takes with Q&A’s Brian Quirk
Share with us the early years: Initially, much of our work focused on the advertising
industry, designing six of the top international agencies in KL and several
production houses. Clients include BBDO, Leo Burnett, Naga and VHQ. It was through our work here that we began to understand the power of interiors
as part of a powerful brand statement,
given we were being asked by numerous “similar” companies to create unique and bespoke solutions for their businesses.
Having been in this industry for 21 years, what are some of the lessons learnt? Perhaps the greatest example was working with the late, great Yasmin Ahmad, executive director of Leo Burnett, who after many attempts at trying to discuss the firm‘s new offices finally managed to free “10 minutes” wherein we spent three hours talking about everything but the office!
It was during this conversation that I saw the root of how she worked, her interaction with others, her views on the industry and so many other things that came together to tell a story about what Leo Burnett meant to her, the team and the industry as a whole – from there we painted a space around that story and the rest simply fell into place.
What keeps Q&A busy these days? Our work now focuses largely on projects needing great spaces and experiences. We work extensively with clients either launching new businesses or reworking existing ones and need consultants who understand interior and architectural design as part of a total brand experience.
Name some of the clients you have worked with: We have worked with major retail groups including CK Tang, Levis, British India, The Padini Group, Melium, RSH, Luxasia and others, working with them to create exciting new retail concepts.
Our work with them has covered 15 countries and over 200 stores, including flagship projects in Beijing, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Singapore, Mumbai, Dhaka and Sydney.
We have also designed a number of restaurants, bars and clubs in Malaysia and Singapore for both individual clients and established F&B groups. Key projects include 32 in Penang; Alleybar and Loof in Singapore; Zouk, Ben’s, Frangipani, @live and Little Penang in KL as well as many others. We have recently ventured into setting up and running our own restaurants, with ABC being our first venture.
What about residential projects? We also do a limited amount of residential work but are very selective as the work is so personal and very demanding of the firm’s principals.
Good residential work depends largely on trust and communication as you are creating a family’s home, so the responsibility of understanding how that family lives and breathes is essential to creating great projects.
Design in the details
Everything from architecture, master planning, interior design to concept and product development, furniture design, brand identity development, graphic design and art direction are the services parked under one roof at Q&A. Handling anything from retail to resort and spa designs to bars, clubs, restaurants, residences, commercial and office designs are part of a day’s work.
Commercial space projects: “Commercial spaces are about inspiring the human spirit without forgetting the human scale. It is not monuments, but movements in our soul that capture our imagination.”
Having undertaken projects as diverse as an expansion plan to the entire Bangsar Shopping Centre, Q&A also undertook the creation of the new Kid’s Floor and Food Hall and was also tasked with designing “the most comfortable and talked about mall toilets for their discerning patrons” that was completed at the end of 2008.
Among its list of clients are the Luxasia Group Headquarters in Singapore and Mid Valley Megamall which as the anchor of the Mid Valley City development in Kuala Lumpur had required a refurbishment exercise that was undertaken by Q&A.
Retail projects: “Retail design is an extension of the brand message through the creation of spatial experiences and communicating this experience through sight, sound, smell and touch.”
Some of the most exciting retail projects have landed their way to Q&A. A partial list of clients include Aseana, KL and even Tangs Orchard Road in Singapore as well as Tangs Empire Malaysia in which Tang’s second store in KL was inspired by the “mansion of a Chinese ‘towkay’ with each department exemplifying the rooms of a rich man’s residence.”
The Levi’s flagship store in Beijing, China was also undertaken by the firm which commissioned an artist to develop “architecture graphics found in the store as door panels to the changing rooms or as wallpaper” to successful effect, so too the Chinese antique furniture updated in Levi’s signature red colour.
Residential projects: “Residential design is about creating an experience that fulfills the spirit, delights the mind and ultimately warms the heart.”
Q&A has designed a selection of residences both locally and abroad.
Other projects: Designing spas and resorts, offices and entertainment outlets and eateries are some of the other projects the firm is heavily involved in.