Cover Tan Sze Ling, founder of Topic Design Studio (Portrait photo: Benny Loh / 0Studio)

We explore how these women leaders champion the importance of interior design while serving as inspiring role models

This story was first written on March 4, 2021, and updated on March 2, 2022.

As Cher once said, “women are the real architects of society”. The local design scene in Singapore has plenty of female design powerhouses; here, we’re shining a spotlight on several leading female designers in Singapore who have faced challenges with grit in their own paths to success. 

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1. Divya Anthony, Antone by D

One could say design is in interior designer Divya Anthony’s blood. Having helped her family run their home furnishings store in the nineties, Anthony grew up surrounded by design. Over the course of nearly two decades, the seasoned designer has worked on a plethora of hospitality projects and residential interiors while working for several firms.

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With her wealth of experience, she established Antone by D, an interior consultancy studio that crafts abodes with a bespoke touch. The founder and creative director believes that designing interiors that resonate character is the key to success.

“British-American author Simon Sinek once said in an interview: “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” This quote still resonates for me and has since been my mantra,” says Anthony. “I create and design spaces that bear the characteristics of the clients and are personal to them. I see myself as a tool in articulating what their aspirations are.”

2. Shermaine Maena Ong, Mosh Interior

When it comes to design, interior designer Shermaine Maena Ong has two rules of thumb. “The first is understanding the proportions of a space and how the right furniture can fit within it. The second is about attaining a well-balanced design: layering colours, textures and shapes together for the best results.” The founder and principal designer of homegrown design firm Mosh Interior believes that every space in a home ought to be well designed, be it the living area or even a petite balcony.

With more than 20 years of experience in architectural and interior design projects, Ong has designed an array of luxury abodes, including apartments within South Beach Residences and Nassim Park Residences.

She recently designed a cosy home in South Beach Residences and injected a stylish aura with minimal renovation. “The clients wanted to beautify their living environment through interior styling and also incorporate more storage solutions while avoiding major renovation work,” noted Ong, on the project. 

The designer delivered; with her keen eye for detail, she completely transformed the ambience of the home with a mix of modern furnishings and elegant materials. The result is a stunning colourful residence that channels effortless luxury.

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3. Kate Deng, Mr Shopper Studio

Kate Deng, co-founder of Singapore-based design firm Mr Shopper Studio, abides by the mantra that “good design comes from good communication and creative collaboration”. Deng and co-founder Ken Lee established the firm in 2014, with the goal of “creating new spaces that shape human experiences”.

The dynamic duo shares over a decade’s worth of experience in renovation and interior styling between them; they’ve led the award-winning firm to craft many luxurious homes and apartments around the city. Deng also believes in “passionately beautifying homes and offering the best experience we could to homeowners” by tailoring each interior to serve the needs of different homeowners.

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4. Hilary Loh, 2nd Edition

Behind the success of 2nd Edition is design director Hilary Loh, who leads the interdisciplinary firm with her keen design acumen and impeccable taste. Under Loh’s directorship, 2nd Edition has accumulated an accomplished portfolio with a roster of clients from both residential and commercial sectors.

Her stylish designs add a sophisticated and elegant flair to the show units of developments such as South Beach Residences.

“The theme for South Beach Residences is ‘city living from day to night’. To differentiate the two units, we adopted this concept to showcase how there can be two sides of the same coin,” says Loh on the project. “The ‘Day’ concept utilises a soft palette of colours, paired with elegant curves. The ‘Night’ concept highlights darker, bolder tones and plush materials.”

This creativity and dedication to design the most stunning and lavish spaces speak for the studio’s further noteworthy accomplishments.

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5. Karen Gan, KGID

With more than 20 years of experience, seasoned designer Karen Gan is known for her skilful expertise in crafting stylish and impactful interiors. The seasoned designer helms design firm KGID alongside her husband, Kelvin Gan. Together, the duo creates contemporary luxe spaces for  an extensive range of residential and commercial clients.

The designer's ability to design multilayered interiors that exude a sleek appeal has garnered her the loyalty of many clients. The Eave House project, for example, was done for returning clients who were incredibly pleased with a prior renovation of their old house that KGID had previously done.

“This was the second home we had worked on for the client, and we enjoyed their trust and were given a lot of freedom with the design,” says the design maven with pride. With her strong design finesse and expert leadership, it’s little wonder why KGID is renowned in the local design landscape.

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6. Isabelle Miaja, Miaja Design Group

French designer Isabelle Miaja is no stranger to success. Her eponymous design firm has more than two decades worth of experience under its belt; it houses a strong international portfolio with projects ranging from luxury hotel operators to high-end residential spaces.

But these accomplishments weren’t straightforward successes. “As a designer, I often find myself surrounded by a lot of ‘men in suits’ and men on the construction sites. I always felt that I had to work harder to not only be taken more seriously but also to prove that I was capable of handling large projects,” says Miaja.

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To overcome such gender bias barriers took fortitude. Besides surrounding herself with a synergetic team and arming herself with knowledge, the award-winning interior designer also relied on “creating relationships without focusing on the gender; showing assurance backed by experience; (demonstrating) flexibility without giving in under pressure; holding on to my creative side without losing sight of the overall need of the project; and standing up for the project integrity, no matter who is in front of me.”

Calm strength, combined with passion and knowledge, will help convince (others) that you are as good as any man on the field
Isabelle Miaja, founder of Miaja Design Group

Miaja underscores the importance of acquainting oneself with insight and intellect in order to thrive in the industry. “I cannot stress enough the fact that if you know what you are doing—calm strength, combined with passion and knowledge—will help convince (others) that you are as good as any man on the field,” she says. “All it takes is passion, know-how and an open mind and communication to the table for any project to end successfully.”  

7. Nikki Hunt, Design Intervention

Design Intervention is one of the highly-celebrated Singapore-based firms known for crafting luxurious homes and outstanding commercial projects—all thanks to the joint brilliance from founder Nikki Hunt and partner Andrea Savage. Helmed by the two design powerhouses, the highly lauded studio has worked on a range of exemplary projects with reputable clients across the region.

Born in the UK, Hunt moved to Asia in 1990 and lived in Hong Kong and Jakarta before settling down in Singapore. Having previously studied economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, she started a career in finance before she discovered her passion for design.

Ever since the firm's inception in 2004, Hunt has since carved a name for herself in the industry with her multi-sensorial approach to design. The studio also gives back to the local creative community by providing talks to aspiring designers; it notably organised several editions of the Young Designer Award, an annual competition that welcomes entries from students studying in interior design courses at tertiary institutions in Singapore.

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The firm’s well-recognised presence has also garnered many well-deserved accolades. Take, for example, their recent project for a penthouse apartment in Bangkok, which won them the World’s Best Bathroom design at the International Property Awards 2020.

The project itself was for a bachelor’s pad, but the style brief didn’t faze the multidisciplinary studio. Quips Hunt: “I understood what he was hoping for and so he appointed us!”

She adds: “The client brief was to have a totally unique and bespoke home. He didn’t want to walk in and see items that he had seen in other homes, so much of what we included was specially designed for him.” It is this confidence and fortitude of its leaders that has paved the way to the firm's success.  

8. Andrea Savage, Design Intervention

The partner of Design Intervention not only wields considerable design prowess. Savage is also a former fashion model who made a total career change by joining the Singapore-based interior design practice in 2010.

Aside from designing glamorous homes in Singapore and beyond, Savage has also appeared as a jury member on Star World’s reality competition and TV series The Apartment, where contestants design and decorate a room each week in a bid to win the season finale prize of a luxury apartment in Kuala Lumpur.

Savage, who was born in Kenya and educated in Australia, often blends elements of her globetrotting personal history into her work. Take, for instance, a travel-influenced house in Singapore designed by the firm, where she incorporated botanical motifs inspired by the trees she grew up seeing in Africa applied to the walls of the children's bathroom. 

The designers also playfully took inspiration from the Netflix period drama Bridgerton. “We were all working from home during the design process, and I think a longing for the outdoors is reflected in our concept; you can probably tell that both Nikki and I had watched Bridgerton during the lockdown,” quips Savage, on the project. “Our colours and motifs are fun and uplifting. There is nothing serious in the design. It is whimsical and romantic.”

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9. Terri Tan, Designworx Interior Consultant

Terri Tan, the design director at Designworx Interior Consultant, attributes the success of her thriving firm to “maintaining a positive outlook (that) has been instrumental in the company’s growth over the past 20-odd years”.

Indeed, the Singapore-based interior design company has made a name for itself. Besides boasting an illustrious portfolio that covers a plethora of spaces which include retail spaces, mixed developments and luxury residences, the design firm has also clinched numerous awards (including the Best Penthouse Project at 2020’s Tatler Design Awards) as a mark of its excellence.

The road to success, though, is never a straight line. “One of the biggest barriers to women’s success in the design industry is a work culture that rewards male values like competition and the “hero mentality”, and underrates feminine qualities like empathy, compassion and intuition,” Tan shares.

“Instead of moulding myself to the existing culture and end up perpetuating the status quo, I decided to embrace the feminine qualities and inject them into the design solutions for our clients.”

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Instead of moulding myself to the existing culture and end up perpetuating the status quo, I decided to embrace the feminine qualities and inject them into the design solutions for our clients.
Terri Tan, design director at Designworx Interior Consultant

For those who are starting to forge their paths in interior design, the seasoned design leader urges: “Interior design is about exploring the social and cultural opportunities around us, as well as connecting human activities with the built environment. Be flexible and adaptable—these two qualities will see you through a design career. Finally, ask hard questions and try the seemingly impossible.”

10. Tan Sze Ling, Topic Design Studio

Helming Topic Design Studio is principal designer Tan Sze Ling. Under her leadership, the design firm has thrived and is recognised for its expertise in luxury residential spaces for a range of local and international clients.

The client’s personal narrative is crucial in influencing the studio’s designs. This motto is evident throughout the firm’s projects, such as a luxurious three-bedroom unit in The Orchard Residences. 

“One of the main concerns of the client was how we could create a design that was different from the rest of the showflats,” Tan expressed on the project. “Timeless elegance and comfort were what the client had emphasised.

We decided to introduce unique bespoke pieces and Italian designer furniture to match the apartment’s prestigious location, building on the theme of ‘elegant luxury’ and tailoring the spaces to appeal to families.” Led by Tan, the studio’s impressive balance with contemporary nuances and elegant lavishness on the house only speaks to their further accomplishments.   

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11. Jennifer Murray, Evocateurs

Leading the esteemed interior design house Evocateurs (formerly The I.D. Department) is creative director Jennifer Murray. Evocateurs has refreshed itself as a brand of spatial provocateurs, sensorial craftsmen and style aesthetes. Steered by the two leaders, the design firm hosts an extensive menu of services, from interior fit-outs to residential design and restaurant spaces, one of which includes rooftop fine dining restaurant Vue.  

As women, we need to elevate each other, and to stop worrying about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering those glass ceilings.
Jennifer Murray, creative director at Evocateurs

To yield such successful projects, there are key attributes to keep in mind. “The qualities that make a successful leader, especially in the design world, are open communication, passion, and curiosity,” says Murray. “With communication being the key driving force in our industry, we should be able to communicate ideas and describe how space should evoke a certain emotion fluently and clearly to provoke and excite our clients.”

She has also faced her lion’s share of struggles with gender equality. “As a business owner, entrepreneur, and mother of two, I face challenges and it happens daily,” Murray reveals. “It is especially important for female leaders to demonstrate both confidence and determination when it comes to dealing with everyday hurdles. As women, we need to elevate each other, and to stop worrying about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering those glass ceilings.”

To distinguish oneself in the design field, both personalities agree that passion is a crucial attribute. “First and foremost, in this industry, you must have passion; passion will be the driving force you need for this career path,” says Murray. “It will help you through the challenging and frustrating times and will keep you curious in this constantly evolving design world. You should always be curious and feel inspired in order to be inspiring to others.”

12. Sarah Tham, of Cube Associate Design

In 1998, design director Sarah Tham founded Cube Associate Design. Since then, the design practice has flourished, earning itself notable achievements and landing an undeniable mark in the industry.  

The firm’s success comes as no surprise with Tham’s meticulous and attentive design approach. She believes that good design should be uncomplicated and functional, whilst bringing in a sense of positivity that will convey feelings of delight and bliss.

This conscientious modus operandi is embodied in even their most difficult projects, such as transforming a Peranakan shophouse into a contemporary dwelling. The team was tasked to create a modern interior into the classic abode. They delivered without fail, through adding polished touches and marrying a colourful ambience to the charming space—a tangible testament to Tham’s capabilities.    

13. Angela Lim, SuMisura

An exceptional interior designer in her own right, Angela Lim has crafted a name for herself in her field. The creative director of interior design firm SuMisura, Lim leads the team with her impeccable taste and innovative abilities.

The design practice specialises is renowned for designing luxurious bespoke spaces. Whether it’s a glamorous family penthouse or a sleek, cosy villa, Lim manages to deftly create interiors that are no lacking in poise or polish.  

With her sharp design acumen and expert leadership, Lim breaks stereotypical gender barriers in the industry. The design firm’s numerous prestigious awards attest to her accomplishments and mastery.  

14. Chloe Elkerton, E&A Interiors

To Chloe Elkerton, having a positive and supportive work environment is key. The founder and creative director of E&A Interiors moved here and started the Singapore-based design studio in 2013. “Being determined and overcoming disappointments can be tough, but when you do what you love, you push on through and remain positive,” says Elkerton.   

Drawing on her repertoire of experience through her international background and travels, Elkerton creates bespoke interiors that reverberate each homeowner’s unique personality. Her favourite project thus far, is Braganza House, a tropical home set amidst the relaxing greenery and beaches of southern Sri Lanka.

“Designing and building a house in Sri Lanka was a new and challenging experience. (It was my) first time building from the ground up, and (it) felt overwhelming at times—especially in a heavily male construction environment with language (barriers) and communication challenges,” says the British designer. “Buying land as a female and designing and building a property in a foreign country was a massive challenge over these last few years whilst running a business in Singapore.”

Being determined and overcoming disappointments can be tough, but when you do what you love, you push on through and remain positive.
Chloe Elkerton, founder of E&A Interiors   

The experienced designer took the challenges head-on with unwavering determination. “(I overcame the hardship through) perseverance and belief in what I am trying to achieve for my own home in Sri Lanka.” Citing kindness, passion, and trustworthiness as key qualities for success, Elkerton encourages female greenhorn designers to possess “persistence as well as a good solid work ethic and integrity, so as to overcome the challenges that being in the design industry faces.”  

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