Designer City Guide: Singapore

Words by: Tanya Singh and Keat Ong

A guide to finding inspiration in the urban forest of Singapore through the eyes of veteran interior design, Keat Ong. 

SG City Guide_01

The current President of the Society of Interior Designers, Singapore (SIDS) and the Founder of Keat Ong Design and Nota Design Group which specialises in Interior Design and Architectural Design Consultation, Keat Ong is an award-winning designer, industry leader, as well as an educator. He was named one of Asia's Top Designers in Singapore Design Awards 2014 and as Designers of the year 2016/2017 from the famed INTERIOR DESIGN Magazine.

Some of Keat's notable projects include the Changsha Museum, Dong Ting Lake Exhibition Centre, Longping Rice Museum, Lion's Den Hotel in Pingjiang, and a number of important product experience centres that have put him on the design industry radar for changing the retail landscape. To complete the loop in the interior design arena, Keat has also ventured into product and furniture design since 2010, developing furniture and interior systems for big Chinese brands such as Freewill, H3, Dianfeng and recently KnightCraft.

Keat shared some of his most cherished spots in Singapore with us where he goes to find inspiration and respite. 

SG City Guide_02Photo credit: Keat Ong


"Spaces in our region often have a strong presence – whether that is full of life or brimming with tranquillity. As a designer and artist, I prefer the latter, and not just because of the peace they bring but because of their artistic and emotional values.

One of my secret hideouts is the northern end of Coney Island in Singapore. There are these giant steps there and you can see the Johor Strait that separates Singapore and Malaysia. I often cycle to that end of the island and spend hours reflecting and contemplating, without interruption. It is very important, for designers especially, to get away from the crowd and recharge. Surprisingly, your mind can travel much further in places like that, than in your own studio."

Coney Island, Singapore

SG City Guide_03Photo credit: calvinistguy


"One of my favorite spots in the city is the Robertson Quay area. It is a great place to spend some time with friends, while being close to nature.

The area used to be a swampy land until it was developed in the 19th century to become a trade hub with several "godowns" or warehouses and the quintessentially Singaporean shophouses lining the riverfront. Today, the area has been given new life by a number of bars and restaurants."

Roberston Quay, Singapore

SG City Guide_04Photo credit from left to right: alantankenghoe; Keat Ong


"Speaking of shophouses, one of my favorite things to do is explore the backlanes in Chinatown, Little India, Duxton, Tanjong Pagar, and Joo Chiat. Even though I already know which shop is hidden where in these conservation areas, I always discover something new and fascinating. It could be the day-to-day happenings or a new work of art – there is always something to draw you in, a little respite or a burst of life nestled in the midst of the urban forest that is our country.

Back in the day, I used to always have a camera with me when I went exploring. Now, of course, I just use my phone. But it has always been a cherished activity for me as far as I can remember. Most times, I don't really know what I am trying to discover, but I just walk about looking at things from the lens of self-exploration.

In fact, about 17 years ago, I decided to venture into the art industry with an alternative gallery space in one of the shophouses in Joo Chiat. We were doing something very similar to what Vermillion is striving towards – trying to create a platform for emerging Asian artists to tell their stories. It was a passion project that all of us need to reinvigorate us – and it made shophouses that much more special for me." 

SG City Guide_05Photo credit: chooyutshing via Flickr.


"I am not a fan of crowded spaces, and I prefer the outdoors. However, spaces like the National Gallery Singapore provide that similar kind of respite. You are surrounded by beautiful artworks and installations that encourage you to look inward, take a breather, and just be with your own thoughts.

The National Gallery Singapore building itself is steeped in history, from once being the Supreme Court to now the home for our cultural heritage. The interiors itself are a work of art that hold numerous stories within them. On a lighter note, a trip to the museum will almost always lure me to Funan either for a cuppa or some shopping!"

National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Rd, #01 – 01, Singapore