A new wave of interior designers have brought forth innovation, awe-inspiring designs and an almost-obsessive appreciation for detail. Here are 10 stellar studios – all established within the last five years – that are turning heads with their fresh approach.
After cutting his teeth at firms like SCDA and Studio Milou, architecture graduate Mikael Teh set up a number of design studios (including one for a hospitality project in the Maldives) before going solo in 2016. Monocot – previously known as The Monocot Studio – has since won two design awards, and has been involved in many residential, commercial and hospitality projects. These include Sama Sama by Tok Tok at Jewel Changi.
His creations are guided by proportion – both a central principle of architecture and “an important connection between mathematics and art”. They are a delicate balance between the intangible and tangible, and are rooted, for instance, in spatial understanding and memories, encompassing well-designed artefacts and even floral works. His studio name reflects this intersection of art, beauty and science, too: Monocotyledons, commonly referred to as monocots, are a type of flower with parts that come in threes. “You will see multiples of three – dimensions in 300, 600, 900 –in my work,” says Mikael.
YOU WILL SEE MULTIPLES OF THREE – DIMENSIONS IN 300, 600, 900 – IN MY WORK.
– MIKAEL TEH, MONOCOT
A Single Man by Tom Ford and In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai. “They capture and represent the ambience and emotions that deeply resonate with my design philosophy: nostalgic and artful.”
Tommy Lai’s Masters education in architecture, as well as his experience in various architecture firms like Ong&Ong, laid the foundation for the setting up of his own firm. TLDesign was set up in 2018, and is a strong believer in form-follows-function.
Tommy works with detailed 3-D models and 2-D drawings. To create timeless and lasting designs, he opts for natural materials like stone and wood, and picks out everything from carpetsto the smallest cutlery item. He particularly loves the challenge of designing small apartments; he once increased storage space within an apartment by 300 percent, by including space-maximising elements such as a kitchen larder-inspired wardrobe and an integrated platform bed.
WHAT I DESIGN SHOULD, AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, SERVE MULTIPLE PURPOSES.
–TOMMY LAI, TLDESIGN
German designer Dieter Rams’ 10 commandments of good design. “What I design should serve multiple purposes,” he says.
Kelvin Lim of Atelier Here learnt the ropes of architecture both locally, at National University of Singapore, as well as in Norway, at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. His international portfolio expanded further when he went for a three-year stint at a design studio in China. Armed with a repertoire of experience, he set up Atelier Here in 2017.
One consistent quality in all Atelier Here projects is a sense of calm. “I am interested in a certain kind of stillness in interior spaces, and we have a fierce interest in the notion of privacy,” says Kelvin. Being a young firm comes with its perks: Clients do not go to them expecting “a certain, established style”, leaving the designers freedom to approach every project with a fresh eye.
This quote by Italian architect Luigi Moretti: “The home is the only space that can disengage us from daily life with the world, and from its great or trivial adventures.”
Armed with an education in product design and visual communication, Sherlynn Low worked for kitchen and wardrobe specialists, and bigger brands like Ong&Ong and Como Hotels & Resorts. Those experiences gave her insights into hospitality and commercial projects. Millimeters Studio – a nod to her attentiveness to symmetry as well as it being the base unit used by designers – sealed her foray into interior design in 2016.
Sherlynn constantly challenges the shoulds and should-nots in interior design, such as having exposed ceiling grids in commercial spaces and construction scaffolding in homes. “I am inspired by the buildings, structures, and even roadworks I see during my travels, and would think of ways to implement them in my projects,” she says. While she started out designing homes with a dark colour theme – a niche market – Millimeters has expanded into lighter or coloured interiors. The constant? Each home has an element of surprise.
Millimeters Studio houses a production facility, Saltt, which designs handles, knobs, small furniture pieces, and decorative sculptures and paintings.
Helmed by principal designer Eloycois Er and project director Hans Chua, Er Studio delves into the technical aspects of design to fine-tune the art of it. This is certainly due to their education in interior design and museum and exhibition design respectively, as well as their experiences at design consultancies, architecture firms as well as design and build industries. The studio was set up in 2016.
A space should resonate with its dwellers, say the duo. They should experience different moods and emotions as they move through their home. To achieve this, the designers take into consideration natural light sources, a well-planned circulation path, and a harmonious use of materials and finishes. Er Studio works towards designs that are refreshing, yet timeless.
IDEAS AND MESSAGES MUST BE PUT ACROSS CLEARLY AND EFFICIENTLY. WE ARE TRAINED NEVER TO ASSUME, AND ASK WHENEVER IN DOUBT.
– ELOYCOIS AND HANS, ER STUDIO
Be it within the team or with clients, communication is key. “Ideas and messages must be put across clearly and efficiently. We are trained never to assume, and ask whenever in doubt. A lot of assurance is needed for clients to entrust their life savings to us, and this practice has prevented us from doing abortive works,” share Eloycois and Hans.
Imagine SK66 was set up in 2016, but its founders are certainly not new to the industry. The original Seng Kwong Furniture Company (1966) diversified and, today, its owners run two brands: SK66 as manufacturers and Imagine SK66 as its interior design arm. The latter is helmed by founders Robert and Tracy Chan-Tack and creative head Tammy Tay.
“We try to run the firm like my grandfather, Chan Bung Guok, did with Seng Kwong. Importance is placed on quality. A year ago, we were at a restaurant having reunion dinner when my grandmother pointed out the chairs we were sitting on – they were made by my grandfather – and their beautiful workmanship,” says Tammy, explaining that the reference was to show the furniture had stood the test of time. Having its own carpentry factory and carpenters makes it easier for the team to ensure quality is top-notch. In terms of design style, its particular strength is in modern chic and Scandinavian country.
WE TRY TO RUN THE FIRM LIKE MY GRANDFATHER DID WITH HIS OWN FURNITURE COMPANY – IMPORTANCE IS PLACED ON QUALITY.
– TAMMY TAY, IMAGINE SK66
To complete their homes, clients can shop fromthe Imagine SK66 store, which sells armchairs, tables and accessories.
Design director Carmen Tang is a jack of all trades. The economics major started her career in branding and advertising, before making the leap to interior design in 2014. Wolf Woof is a boutique design studio with a signature style: It marries graphic design with interior design.
Irked by cookie-cutter homes, Carmen gives her clients only personalised design ideas. She does so by incorporating quirky and unconventional use of decals, accessories and concepts. “I inject creativity, boldness, and elements of surprise into the home,” says Carmen. She has, in past projects, incorporated a “camper van” in an adventure-theme home and created a unique display using a client’s Bearbrick collection. She also designs humorous decals.
Due to her background, explains Carmen, she does not work within the typical interior design boundaries. She abides by this quote: I don’t think outside the box, because there is no box.
THE MERRY MEN INTERIORS
The Merry Men Interiors (TMMI) is a design-and-build workshop helmed by Clarence Lee, Douglas Choo, Brandon Heng, Gay Zheng Cai and Jeremy Tan. Working alongside The Merry Men Works – an experiential design and production house – they have experience in masonry, electricals, carpentry, solid wood furniture making and more. They design “100 percent handmade homes”. TMMI started out in 2017.
TMMI says its virtue is that the team “plan like contractors and think like designers”. This way, they appreciate the complexities of actual groundwork – they propose moves that “make the most sense” – as well as the finesse of design. Their major source of inspiration is the homeowner’s personality. One of their greatest achievements was creating a sliding glass door that could be voice-activated to switch between opaqueness and transparency.
WE PLAN LIKE CONTRACTORS AND THINK LIKE DESIGNERS.
- THE MERRY MEN INTERIORS
Truck Furniture’s founders Tokuhiko Kise and Hiromi Karatsu have an attitude towards life and an attention to detail that greatly inspire the TMMI team.
Between the four partners — Sujono Lim, Molina Hun, Yanika Gunawan and Hong Weiming — the studio has over 40 years of experience in architecture, interior, residential, office and hospitality design projects. Their diverse backgrounds allow Parenthesis, which was founded in 2018, to take on projects that require more experimental and collaborative approaches.
Each project is contextual. Parenthesis takes the cultural context and lifestyle of their clients and translates it into a progressive design. It helps that each partner offers a different perspective. “It offers a positive friction, all of which benefits the vision we have in mind,” says Sujono. As their work is based on critical design thinking, back-end work – such as 3-D renderings and documentation – is handled by an in-house support team. This leaves the four friends room to explore and experiment.
“It takes some time for clients to understand (our approach). We keep our methods fresh, but at the same time do not implement a singular way of dealing with projects. It’s dynamic and organic.”
After the eye-opening renovation of his home, Nicholas Hu made a career switch from banking to interior design, learning the ropes at architectural firm AWP Architects in the day, and Nafa at night. It was at his first design venture – design studio Bezalel’s Craftsmen – that he met Zack Choy, an interior design consultant with experience in commercial projects, homes and more. They launched Build Built in 2016, which is known for its experiential design process.
People are its main inspiration, which is why the firm strives to create an authentic relationship with clients. To do that, they encourage clients to get their hands “dirty” during co-creation workshops that involve doodling and Lego bricks, as well as give feedback after virtual reality walk-throughs. These result in homes with out-of-the-box elements.
The book Creativity Inc, by Edwin Catmull and Amy Wallace. The president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios wrote: “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
YOUNG & AMBITIOUS
KNOW THEIR NAMES. THESE YOUNG, UNDER-40 DESIGNERS HAVE ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH IN SO LITTLE TIME. WE ARE SURE TO SEE MORE OF THEM SOON.
PRISCILLA TAN, 34
Wildly popular on Instagram by her handle StyledbyPT, Priscilla Tan started out in fashion and jewellery, and had a short stint in art therapy, before ﬁnding her rightful spot in the interior design industry. After designing many homes and boutiques, the creative says she especially ﬁnds joy in putting together a good shelﬁe. Her project made the cover of Home & Decor’s September 2018 issue.
SI JIAN XIN, 37
This architecture graduate, who is a partner in design ﬁrm Wynk Collaborative, has worked on everything from master planning to architectural works. The highlight of his career so far, though, is designing the tech-enabled grocery concept Habitat by Honestbee. Jian Xin starts every design with a user-centric point of view, and adds layers that are physically and experientially interesting.
JADE CHAM, 29
Jade’s unique designs – she works with local interior ﬁrm The Local Inn.terior – have caught the eye of many on Instagram. Interesting stories fuel her designs, so she looks forward to the monthly share-and-improve sessions organised by The Local Inn.terior, as well as chats with her clients. Her creative habit?Staying away from Pinterest, and instead booking stays in nice hotels (with a measuring tape in tow!).