Home Office Ideas: See The Workspaces Of Creatives In Singapore During The Circuit Breaker Period
- Archetype StudioArchetype Studio
- Ruben PangRuben Pang
- Emily TengEmily Teng
- Design InterventionDesign Intervention
- Charlie LimCharlie Lim
- Foreign PolicyForeign Policy
- MOW InteriorMOW Interior
- E&A InteriorsE&A Interiors
- Ministry of DesignMinistry of Design
They share tips on how to craft a conducive and inspiring workspace within your home
Simon Chiang and Darren Yio are spatial designers and the co-founders of Archetype, an interdisciplinary design studio whose work spans across the hospitality, commercial and residential spheres. Recent projects that they have completed include a renovation of a history-rich Good Class Bungalow with art deco proportions.
Simon Chiang: “This is the first time that our entire office is collectively working from home. We actually brought home our desktop computers from our office at Balestier.
My graphic designer wife Jin and I are currently working from home in our apartment with Major, our Italian greyhound; the mirrored doors conceal Jin's dedicated workspace. Working from home can be challenging. The days become nights and the nights creep into the days.
What I find helpful is to always bring in natural daylight to work areas if possible. Natural daylight is very important to give a sense of time passing. I like to have as much natural light as possible when glued to my chair.
Work from a place with a great view if possible. It could be the view of your favourite painting, pet, piece of furniture or plant. And for those who have the space, dedicate a special work zone that you can surround yourself with your favourite things like models, toys, books. They help make work from home more focused and a little more normal. Keep up and stay healthy!”
Darren Yio: “This is my ideal work from home set up—surrounded by my favourite models of buildings and people to constantly remind me of what matters most to me when it comes to design.”
Husband-and-wife duo Sujono Lim and Molina Hun are the co-founders of their eponymous firm Sujonohun, and are the creative minds behind the beautiful interiors of the View at Kismis show units as well as various elegant homes in Singapore. The couple also run affiliate studio Parenthesis with design director Yanika Gunawan.
Molina Hun: “Sujono and I had originally designed our home with the idea that we will be working from home until we move into an office space. So shifting back to working from home was pretty flexible for us, since we designed the space based on the function that suits our work needs and lifestyle.
We are pretty lucky that we have planned our apartment as a workspace from the start, so shifting back to working from home is pretty enjoyable for me. Since we do not have the material samples with us, we can only refer to materials from our suppliers’ websites and other online sources. So we will be working more on our designs at the moment, rather than specifying (products).
We also designed our office space to be casual and cosy. So whether we are home or at the workspace, the environment should offer a similar vibe.”
(Related: How To Create A Beautiful Workspace At Home)
“We combined one bedroom with our living room to create a big communal area and workspace. The dining table also serves as a meeting table, we can do Zoom calls and presentations here as well. Since it is an open-plan workspace, we have sourced for sleek and yet comfortable chairs.
We have designed two workstations with filing and storage cabinets installed above the work desk. The built-in desk has a depth of about 750mm, which is enough for my big screen, keyboard and additional space for me to sketch and take notes. The big drawer in between the workstations is where we house our A3 printer, as well as provision for CPU storage, should we do away with our iMac in the future. So planning ahead is important. We currently have the B&O Beosound 1 and 2 speakers, which we can play music during our work hours.”
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Artist Ruben Pang is currently represented by Chan + Hori Contemporary in Singapore and Primo Marella Gallery in Milan; he held his first solo exhibition in 2011 and has held international shows in Switzerland, Italy, Israel and Hong Kong. Exploring both medium and method, the artist paints, scratches and erases his paintings created on aluminium panels; each reduction and addition unveils tactile layers of colours that represent his psyche.
Ruben Pang: “Working from home or a space someone lent me has been the norm (for me). I've been working on some sculptures recently. It’s a fairly simple set up: just some clay, water and basic tools like a wire cutter and bamboo knives. Easy to clean up, too; as long as I'm not going overboard! My schedule is a mix of art, music, and some online gaming with my brothers and friends.
I’ve been listening to albums from start to end to stay focused and to minimise distractions. Just pour yourself a drink, dim the lights and allow the music to be the sole sensorial stimulus. The last three albums that have really moved me have been Swans-Soundtracks for the Blind, Sonic Youth-Bad Moon Rising and Slint-Tweez. I like the intimacy of listening to music on headphones and a pair of good headphones is a portal into a sonic adventure.”
(Related: Museums Around The World Are Sharing Their Most “Zen” Art On Social Media)
Currently based in San Francisco with her husband who works in finance, Emily Teng is a former radio host and founder of Blessings in a Bag, non-profit group that runs literacy programs and provides daily necessities to disadvantaged communities.
Emily Teng: “I’m used to working from home; I remote-lead an award-winning non-profit in Singapore. I find that I’m most active when my husband comes home and wants to relax on the couch. But with the current covid-19 situation, we’re having to merge our schedules together. We just got married in July last year and we recognised early on that we had very different styles and schedules to getting work done.
Making use of visual do-not-disturb cues and investing in noise-cancelling headphones have been really important. Right now, as I write this email to you, my 'On Air' visual cue is lit up, which means that my husband should not approach me during this time!
I have been using this time to examine certain privileges I have—such as the privilege of being able to work-from-home compared to many others who may not necessarily have the freedom to choose—along with the systemic challenges and inequality that we as a society can think upon.”
Nikki Hunt is the Co-CEO of the award-winning practice Design Intervention, whose work includes stunning residences around the world as well as commercial projects that include a feminine abode themed around blossom trees, as well as maximalist interiors designed with a masterful mix of pattern and colour.
Nikki Hunt: “The first few days of the circuit breaker was an intense flurry of activity—we were rushing around to redirect mail, ensure access to the company server, get the team settled and set new protocols for them to work from home.
But now that we are into the second week, things have quietened down and I am having some time to myself, some time to think and reassess (the situation). I am so grateful to be here in Singapore, with my family together. It is so easy to take our blessings for granted but with so many around the world are struggling; it is a stark reminder of how lucky we are.
I am fortunate to have a large home so during the day, we each retreat to different parts of the house to get our own work done. But in the evening, we come together for a family dinner. I lay the table with table cloths, mats, wine glasses—all the works—for a full table setting. I even have flowers from the garden. We put our phones away and enjoy a nice family meal. I think this is important. It gives us something to look forward to and establishes a routine. I am even managing to get the kids to dress up a bit; well a fresh t-shirt anyway.
In a perfect world, we would all have sizeable home offices with abundant natural light and great views. Sadly, that’s not always the case. But that doesn’t mean that your home office can’t be bright and cheerful. If you don’t have the luxury of a great view, create your own by incorporating some fun wallpaper patterns or even a mural. My favourites are those with images of nature. Neuroscientists have proven that natural views and even pictures of nature can help reduce stress and the colour green has been shown to improve concentration so bear this in mind when picking the colour scheme of your room.
Pay special attention to lighting. A cooler, brighter light (4000K to 5000K LED bulbs) will mimic daylight and keep you more alert longer than softer lights. To avoid shadows, the light should come from more than one direction to create even lighting.”
Dennis Cheok is the creative director of Upstairs_, a spatial design studio founded in 2011. The award-winning design firm received the Best Living Room accolade at the recent Tatler Design Awards 2020 and has crafted the interior spaces of abodes in Singapore as well as boutiques, cafes and other commercial projects.
The family's reading room, the primary workspace which Dennis shares with his wife and daughter
Another view of the reading room
Dennis Cheok: “To be absolutely truthful, I was entirely shaken by the waves of events over the past weeks. The entire industry that surrounded me and became my life came to a sudden halt, and I saw despair and helplessness on faces that were usually strong. It left an indelible imprint on my mind.
My first priority was to ensure that the team settles down, and ensure that projects can resume seamlessly, while we also restructure our communication and work processes. We had the benefit of learning from a trial work-from-home week, and I’m thankful for a dedicated and resilient team that I know I can count on.
The best thing that has emerged from these turbulent times? The human connections. I find myself grounded by peers, the team, and most importantly; family. Being a textbook workaholic, it’s mind-blowing for me to see myself doing better work—be it creatively, or administratively—in the comfort of home, and of family. I’m fortunate to have a home that affords me the flexibility to perform a multitude of tasks in various settings and I’m now learning to be mindful to take little moments to appreciate what surrounds me.
My eight-year-old daughter Trevi likes to tag along with me wherever I work around the home. It’s really nice, but I find it important to distinguish boundaries. The ground-rule is: whenever we have headphones on, we’ll keep each other company, but we observe privacy and focus. It’s a madhouse when the headphones come off and we go disturb Mummy and Auntie Yati (their domestic helper), but those moments make for the best memories.”
Singer-songwriter Charlie Lim held his first solo concert in 2018 and performed at the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo; he also released his new record Check-Hook and co-produced an updated version of the National Day Parade theme song in the same year. The musician also recently released 'Two Sides', a collaborative track with Gentle Bones in April.
Charlie Lim: “Not too much has changed about my work situation as I'm used to recording at home. I pretty much work where I sleep so it's literally a bedroom studio. It helps when you're coming up with ideas in the middle of the night; though after being married, I had to adapt to make sure I'm not being inconsiderate.
Working from home is good because there is no need to worry about the clock, as opposed to working in a professional studio. But at the same time, it's also a bit of double-edged sword. You can get too comfortable and have this illusion of unlimited time. I get carried away quite easily trying to get the perfect take and not know when to move on.
I actually feel a lot more pressure to get stuff done now because of the whole covid-19 situation. It's like I have no excuse not to be working constantly on stuff that I've been putting off because a lot of the day-to-day grind has come to a halt. However, there also seems to be this impetus for creatives to churn out more immediate content because everyone is turning to social media for entertainment.
Livestream performances seem to be the way to go, but musicians that earn a living from gigs aren't going to benefit. I'm trying to figure out where to go from here, but for now, I'm working on new music and we'll just have to see how everything will unfold for the next few months and beyond.”
Husband-wife duo Arthur Chin and Yu Yah-Leng are the co-founders of Foreign Policy, a celebrated design and branding agency; Chin currently leads the company's business strategy while Yu spearheads its creative direction. Recent projects by the firm include branding strategy for The Working Capitol and Gallery & Co at the National Gallery Singapore.
(Related: How Creative Director Yu Yah-Leng Is Helping Traditional Family Businesses Stay Relevant)
Yah-Leng: “I guess I over-estimated ourselves (our ability to work from home) this time round as we now have an 18-month-old at home as well. So working from home runs parallel to home-based learning, parenthood and running a household—quite literally because we have to do grocery runs to make sure there are enough groceries at home now for our little girl Rei.
It’s been a bit exhausting last week, as we tried to play the roles of a business owner, pre-school teacher and domestic engineer. Arthur and I decided to take turns: he wakes up really early to work and I will start work in the later afternoon. So to be honest, we only manage half a day worth’s of work; however that has always made us even more efficient and time-conscious.
We're thankful for having an understanding team. Our team would huddle once a day on Zoom for a report of what’s on each person's plate for the day, and then we will do some individual meetings, via Zoom and Skype. Let’s see how it goes.”
Shermaine Ong, co-founder of MOW Interior
The bi-fold table creates a makeshift workspace for Shermaine in her daughters' playroom
Shermaine Ong is an interior designer and the co-founder of MOW Interior, and the mum of two young children. She helms the design firm with co-founder Wong Teck Soon, a practice that the dynamic duo founded 20 years ago.
Shermaine Ong: “Indeed, I did struggle a little to set up my home office because I don’t have a habit of working at home. I see working-from-home (WFH) as a temporary situation, hence I need to be able to convert my work area back into usable space after the crisis is over. So I had no choice but to share my home office in my daughters’ playroom.
I decided to purchase a bi-fold that also functions as a storage table, which means that if I no longer need the working space, my daughters are still able to use it as a storage and we can open up the table for them to use as a work counter. I share my workspace with my two daughters, hence the placement of the desk has to be where the internet and powerpoints are, while having enough space for my huge monitor.”
“The first three days of working-from-home were the toughest. Almost nothing can be achieved for work. I realised that I’m not only a designer; I’m also a stay-home mum. My two daughters are so excited and happy to see me at home, and they make sure that I’m always with them. It took one week for them to get used to Mummy’s working routine, with the help of creating a time schedule for the children and myself. Although the kids are in preschool, there’s still home-based learning for them and there’s where I get busy with setting up the laptop or iPad for them while I’m working at the side.
I lose track of time while working from home, as I can only work when my kids are asleep or having other activities planned for them; which means that I'm also working after my kids go to bed at night; that’s when I have time to catch up with work and therefore I tend to work past midnight.
We use Zoom to communicate with my team. It’s been very efficient because I’m now working in my comfort zone and have slowly adapted. If working-from-home is just temporary and if you do not have a working space at home, you can consider setting up your laptop at your dining area, or a kitchen island if you have one. Or purchase an adjustable coffee table that can be lifted up to a comfortable working table height.”
Backed with over two decades of experience in interior design, British designer Chloe Elkerton founded boutique studio E&A Interiors in 2013. The Singapore-based studio is known for its richly layered and expressive interior projects.
Chloe Elkerton: “Natural light and a view are essential for me and make me feel inspired. We just moved to Sentosa last year and I still haven’t got around to making a proper home office—it was on the plan!
So my dining table is now my workspace, which I am actually loving. The dining bench is super comfortable and I just need my laptop and drawings. I like to keep my space tidy and leave any paperwork and files that I don’t need in our guest bedroom. I like to be part of the main living space rather than being stuck in one room. The space is a nice balance of strong colours and natural finishes which me feel happy and positive.
I have a great ocean view which gives me a sense of clarity and calmness during these uncertain times. When I need some time-out, I like to have a coffee and sit on the daybed at the balcony and go through interior design books that so often I don't get a chance to properly read.
If you have the space think about positioning your desk facing outwards rather than facing a blank wall. Be organised, especially if you have to use your living / dining out bedroom space. Only have out what you really need and I like to clear things away at the end of the day so you are not constantly surrounded but work stuff.”
“We (E&A Interiors) have planned out the goals for the month and I have a Zoom call with my team so everyone is clear with what needs to be done for the day and it makes everyone feels motivated and part of a team. That's really important with things so up in the air at the moment. We then have another catch up towards the end of the day.
It's tough designing without our full library of fabrics and finishes at our fingertips and the photocopier. We have projects on hold as mid-way through, but we have a couple of projects in the early stages so it's the planning work and schemes that we can work on, which is fun. Zoom calls with clients is also a new experience for us, which will be good for the future when all this is over!
From a creative point of view being at home and enjoying my own space makes me feel very in tune with designing for my clients.”
Ministry of Design
Joy Seah is the director of business development at Ministry of Design (MOD). Her husband, Colin Seah, founded MOD and is the Director of Design, and is a licensed architect who is in his words, “an artist at heart”. David Tan, director of projects is the newest addition to the team, who oversees the firm’s project development and implementation.
Recent projects by the firm include Canvas House, a renovated shophouse project in Singapore for Co-living company Figment, as well as The Prestige Hotel in Penang’s Georgetown in Malaysia.
Joy Seah: “It’s a strange new world, isn’t it? Yet, we’ve often found that when constraints are great and numerous, designers are compelled to think out of the box, and be innovative, so this counts as a good time for new solutions to arise, to the new problems!
The work-from-home system has generated some good things—better family life, more flexible working hours and so on. Just because we are working remotely doesn’t mean we need to be isolated. Technology really enables us to share ideas, keep in touch and find innovative ways to solve design issues.
Having already used Slack for five years now, we’ve had fun adding new Slack integrations that help with our workflow and communications. We do 15-minute meetings with Standuply (a Slack integration) each morning, starting with one person tagged to share something interesting they did at home the day before, and a quick round of status updates—made faster due to Standuply collecting the reports 30 minutes before the session. We’ve fostered innovation and sharing of ideas quite a few times over the last two weeks via Zoom and Screen; Screen is another Slack integration that allows for remote sharing of screens. It's particularly useful for highlighting details on a CAD drawing or an aspect of the design.
With clients and fellow consultants, we’ve realised that video conferencing can be quite effective in lieu of face-to-face meetings. Especially as we handle so many overseas projects, the impact on time and resource savings (reduced carbon footprint) is quite significant!
We’re big fans of screens. I use three myself and most of my colleagues have two. Having the space to set it up at home is a privilege and a real benefit! Wearing makeup and dressing up helps to establish a work zone… We’ve got our lounge music going, headsets for calls, and best of all, the gin bar is just a few steps away when it’s gin-o-clock in the evenings!”
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