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Designing with the heart

Passionate about his art, award-winning interior designer George Budiman is launching a lifestyle brand to bring sustainable tourism to the world

"I’ve always wanted to create an object that was attractive because of the sheer thought behind it. I try to pass on this spirit to all my teams. Every project is a breakthrough." - George Budiman, group chief creative director, Cynosure

SEVEN years ago, George Budiman was visiting a work site in China where a posh five-star hotel was being built - when he was appalled by the monumental piles of rubbish strewn around. "We were creating a new and beautiful place but at the same time hurting the Earth's resources. It was not right," bemoans Mr Budiman, 46, a celebrated interior designer who made his name in Singapore and China in the last 18 years.

Energised by how things could be different, Mr Budiman began to brainstorm ways to use leftover materials to send a message to society. Several masterpieces emerged. For example, after collecting two tons of buttons, he created a three-dimensional portrait of movie star Jackie Chan using 33,000 buttons.

"Mr Chan excitedly shared the moment on his social media and received thousands of 'thumbs-ups'! We had a one-to-one talk for more than 10 hours on environmental issues," says Mr Budiman, the group chief creative director of commercial, hospitality and luxury residential interior design firm Cynosure Design.

For Singapore design showcase SingaPlural earlier this year, some 100 dismantled door props from old Mediacorp TV shows were used to create a maze-like outdoor installation to promote the "harmonious integration of green art and technology".

And for one of his current projects, a Pullman five-star ecological resort in China's Changbaishan region near North Korea, he is creating the resort's furniture using local timber and traditional, locally crafted textiles. "We are sustainable and very innovative in 'upcycling' material - transforming low-valued material to become objects with higher value," says Mr Budiman.

"So I'm very excited when I see rubbish. I collected wood from a dumpsite and used it to make a series of tables, I used abandoned metals from movie props to fashion a crane, with a Bluetooth-enabled speaker in its belly - specially tailored for a friend's personal museum." Inspired by bad weather during his travels, he also used leftover rosewood - used to make expensive furniture - to make classy watches.

Sustainability is not just about using recycled materials, but also about cherishing traditions, Mr Budiman urges. Thus homespun textiles can be used to make household products and apparel which are colourful, soft, durable, and comfortable.

New lifestyle brand

These various ideas will take shape in a new business line Mr Budiman will launch in the third quarter of this year. Called budibudi, the business will sell "upcycled" objects like watches, tables, sofas, chairs, lights, and art pieces to ecological hotels.

Putting sustainably made objects in hotels can be more convincing than setting up shop in an expensive mall to sell designer furniture, Mr Budiman says.

"When you are travelling, if you see something interesting, you will be easily touched by the spirit of each creation. Besides thinking to own it, you might share with your friends about the green lifestyle and sustainability," he says.

Effusive about the need to minimise waste and to leave a pristine environment for the next generation, Mr Budiman's latest business line is an extension of the artistic flair that has propelled him far in a 22-year career.

Born in 1970 to an Indonesian Chinese family in a fishing village, Mr Budiman grew up with a love for the traditional arts and natural materials that would influence his design philosophy today. He came to Singapore to study and graduated in 1993 as a top student with a diploma of interior design from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Shophouse fame

Cynosure was founded in 1998 as a lonely creation in an East Coast shophouse. Cynosure is an English word that meant a beautiful thing that was the focal point of attraction by its brilliance. "I've always wanted to create an object that was attractive because of the sheer thought behind it. I try to pass on this spirit to all my teams. Every project is a breakthrough," he says.

In 2000, Mr Budiman's shophouse, which he converted into a home office (SOHO) to show off his design skills, shot to fame. The SOHO office was remarkable for its tropical theme and self-made materials. Visitors crossed a pebbled garden through a recycled timber block bridge to enter the bedroom, which has a personally built water feature inside. Mr Budiman's office was featured in various publications and won a number of awards. Celebrities and common people alike queued up to request his services.

The same year, he visited China with his parents, and was impressed by the pace of development in Shanghai. He managed to penetrate the China design market and set up Budiman Design Office in Shanghai in 2001. He also set up an office in Malaysia in 2003, winning the Overall Design Excellence Award and Best Malaysia Tourism Bar award there from 2004 to 2006.

Through the years, Cynosure has helped multinational companies, celebrities, real estate owners, boutique and luxury hoteliers, and luxury residential owners create the home or property of their dreams.

A philosophy of harmony

Today, Cynosure hires around 60 staff, many of whom are in the Shanghai office. It has completed more than 100 projects in the past 18 years, with more than half of revenue coming from outside Singapore.

Mr Budiman says diversifying across banks, offices, hotels, resorts, residential and restaurants has helped weather the slowdown in the region. In Singapore, he is working on the interiors of 480 rooms for the First Four Points Hotel by Sheraton, and some luxury bungalows in Sentosa.

He has also designed show suites for luxury residential projects like the D'Leedon, Interlace, V on Shenton and Cliveden at Grange - built by developers like CapitaLand, City Developments and Singapore Land. He is also refurbishing The Churchill Room, the Tanglin Club's fine dining restaurant. Other recent projects include Tishman Speyer's mixed- development projects in China, OCBC China Tower in Shanghai, and the Jackie Chan Creative Centre.

Despite a busy work and travel schedule, Mr Budiman, recognised in the design industry as a man with a golden heart, continues to wear many hats. In China, he notably founded the Asian Creative Industries Alliance in 2012 with the support of the Shanghai and Singapore governments.

The association links over 2,000 artists and designers, over 20 associations and some 30 corporates together, and aims to inspire the creation of beautiful, sustainable environments. He is also an adjunct professor at Shanghai's Donghua University.

In Singapore, Mr Budiman is the president of the Interior Design Confederation Singapore, and a pro- tem committee member of the Asia Pacific Space Designers Alliance.

Ultimately, he sees himself as an interior designer whose aim is to promote harmony in human relationships. Despite his career taking him far beyond his original aspirations to operate out of a small studio, Mr Budiman says he will remain grounded in his people-centric values.

Meaning is created once he understands his clients and cares about their lives, he says. "I'm still a designer. My mission is to create a living space for all occupants to feel proud and happy."