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Interview with Design Director Alex from Inizio Atelier

About Design Director Alex

I've been in the renovation trade for 5-6 years, and the foremost thing is that this trade is very different in Singapore, there are a lot of like black sheeps around, so we as Inizio Atelier try to be as prompt and transparent with our quotations as possible, for example lesser VOs. That’s why most of the clients that come to us will be shocked at our quotations because we try to include lesser VOs and everything is upfront and quoted to specifications that we have actually had in mind.

What inspired you to be an interior designer?

Being an interior designer is very fun. Back when I was in the position of regional manager, I was travelling around Asia a lot, which I deeply enjoyed. 6 years ago, when I came upon the chance of renovating my own home, I faced many obstacles like encountering uncontactable designers, bad quality of paint and etcetera. So when the opportunity arose when my friend asked me to give interior designing a try, I took it and never looked back. Since then, I’ve been using the problems that I’ve faced before during my own home renovation as a “Do Not Do” guide for other homeowners, to help them create a pleasant experience and journey for their own renovation process.

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What is the key principle that you follow no matter what the project is?

The key factor in an interior design process is the wants and needs of the homeowner, how you’re able to customise the design to their lifestyle, how you’re able to achieve the look and feel that they like. You have to think for your homeowner, instead of focusing on just achieving the perfect portfolio and forcing your design ideas in, which honestly you as a designer might think is the best, but it might not be the case for your client. So designers have to be flexible in adapting and customising the space, planning it out to fit your homeowners’ daily needs.

Where do you get the inspiration for your designs from?

We love to draw inspiration from magazines, certain pictures, Pinterest or even architectural stuff. The thought process of how we are able to bring all those ideas into a home, the kind of material, the smaller details that we need to look for to be able to bring it into fruition into a home. There is always new stuff to be discovered, so we always try to look at more sources, more ideas. In this industry, there’s always new materials, new suppliers, all sorts of ways to erect a wall, so we have to keep ourselves updated with regards to all that. It’s always a challenge, of course. Every home is a challenge, every home comes with it’s own set of problems, and sometimes it can be a unique one, never seen before, that you might not have even encountered with 10 years of experience. It cannot be helped, so as designers we have to be as careful and detailed as possible, that can be a lifesaver for us, and in turn helps the homeowner as well.

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How do you think loose furniture plays a part in creating the essence of space?

If you’re mainly playing with loose furniture in a smaller space, try to get those that are not as bulky, because you don’t want that limited space to look congested. The items you choose play a big part in creating the whole generic look and feel of the space. Keep it slim, a lighter tone of colours, and you will be able to bring out the space within. As for homeowners that may want to keep a lot of stuff that has personal meanings to them, yes we do encounter them too, but normally we’d ask them to try to scale down on the things they’d want to keep. In the end, a new house is a new beginning, so if budget allows, let’s try to have more of the newer stuff. However, I do understand that when items are kept, it is for a reason, there is a story behind it, so we cannot always tell owners to just keep it in a storage somewhere or even throw it away, which is unreasonable. So something to consider will be how to transform old items into brand new ones. I had a project which included a sewing machine that was passed down from the homeowner’s grandmother, so we fabricated it into a toilet vanity, still in plain sight, and it’s a talking piece whenever they have guests over. How an interior designer is able to cater to the needs of their clients speaks to their flexibility and ability to adapt, which ultimately creates a good image for them as well.

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What is the difference between a boutique design firm and a sales design firm?

For Inizio Atelier, as a boutique design firm, we try our best not to do a “cookie cutter” kind of design. Like I said before, every home is different, they have their own unique story, and every owner has a different colour and style that defines them, so every home should be different. Another difference is the amount of projects we take in a year. It is not the case of whereby one designer is running 20-30 projects a year, but instead only at most around 10 projects for each of us, and to some it may not sound a lot, but the projects that we do take on, we try to make it as unique as possible. This way, our attention can be better spent on each individual project, and not diluted among so many projects that the essence of our designs disappear in the end. Even with the size of our team within the company, we try to keep it small, and in turn it feels more like a family. We are always there for each other whenever one of us needs help and vice versa. That’s the spirit of a boutique design firm, and that is Inizio Atelier.

What are some examples of an interior designer going the extra mile for homeowners?

Most of the time, we try to be there with our homeowners while they’re choosing their furniture. Actually I won’t say that’s going the extra mile, but rather it completes our design. What kind of colours they should look out for, the dimensions, the styles that they should choose, the colour temperature of the lightings, we need to be there with them to help them out and advise them on the probable choices that go well with their home. The relationship between a designer and their client shouldn’t be one where “you tell me what you want and I’ll get it done for you and then it’s not my issue anymore”. We are here to help you create your home, so we’re here to complete the design, everything down to the soft furnishings, loose furniture, lightings. It all comes down to being there with them to help them with their choices.

Apart from that, if time permits and schedule allows, homeowners might sometimes ask us to help them receive their deliveries at certain times during the renovation process. We do try to help, but it should be a preplanned thing, because if it’s last minute we might not be able to rush down to collect it either. If need be, we will also get the help of the workers on site to receive it and check it.

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Are you still in contact with homeowners from previous projects?

Most of my clients from previous projects are actually still my friends now, we still keep in touch, meet up for gatherings like new year parties or barbecues. It really speaks volumes that even after 5-6 years after the project has been completed we’re still in contact, because they’re satisfied with how and what we’ve provided for them. That’s when you know the renovation process was pleasant. The process of renovation itself is already a tiring process for everyone. Many decisions even the owner has to make, so we try to be there to make things easier and smoother for them. At least we can be there to keep the level of fatigue to a minimum, and in a way to share their burden too.

How do you spend your time off of interior designing?

To be honest, I’ve never really taken a good break. There are only two periods where we really have the time, the first being the Chinese New Year period, where I’ll head overseas with my wife for a few weeks. The next break will be during the 7th Lunar month, and I’ll also travel overseas, somewhere nearby in Asia. Other than that, everyday of the year is a grind. Even when I’m overseas, I’ll still reply to my clients and I try to reply to them as soon as possible if there’s an answer. I hate to keep people waiting and I don’t appreciate people making me wait as well, that’s just my nature. The dilemma of waiting for your designer to give you answers, that’s never a good feeling, and we don’t want our homeowners to ever feel that way. It’s their home, and if the deadline is nearing and you still have no answers, you’ll start to panic. The mood will then turn from good to bad, the atmosphere bad to worse. That has been my personal experience before, so I will not let my clients have this kind of experience too.

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What are your thoughts on the taboo of renovation during the 7th Lunar Month?

It’s a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation. Definitely business will be affected, but we do have clients that don’t mind or don’t really believe in the taboo, then by all means we’ll carry on with the project. That is also the best period of time, when suppliers and contractors are very free, so the project can be very smooth sailing.

Any advice for fresh or aspiring interior designers?

Don’t give up. The first year is going to be terrible, to put bluntly. Fight through it, be it sales or designs, you’ll definitely improve along the way. Never be afraid when mistakes arise, but instead tackle them. It’s always a challenge, even for experienced designers. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances happen, so don’t give up, bite the bullet, be determined. I feel that being in the trade of interior design, it’s a requirement to be able to learn. Everyday is a new day of learning, materials, how to work around the problems, how to design certain features, and attention to details, so being able to learn is the foremost important thing.

Perseverance. This is something you’ll need especially for the first year. It’s always the first year, like me myself. My first year, the projects that I took on were probably less than 5. So you have to persevere through this period, and constantly ask yourself the question “why?”. Why are people not signing up with you? Is it your ideas, your price, do you not listen to your homeowners? It’s always that question, then you’ll be able to reflect and answer those questions, which will then help you to improve.

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Tips for homeowners?

For homeowners, plan out your budget to be as realistic as possible. Renovation wise, do it within your budget, never over stretch. Stretching it a little is okay, but try not to over stretch. One question I always ask my homeowners as well, is whether their home is something long term or short term. If it's a long term home, then go ahead and spend more, but if it's short term, then how about we do the minimal stuff that is still able to achieve the look and feel, then when you sell it the depreciation is lesser, which makes more sense for their pockets. As much as it is a business, we need to think in the shoes of our homeowners as well.

What is the future you have planned for yourself and Inizio Atelier?

We are slowly moving on from basic BTOs to high end residences and commercial restaurants, so that our portfolio will have quite a wide range. Because of this, we are growing our team this year by another 2 designers. We are still trying to keep in touch with the majority of the homeowners in Singapore, like the BTOs, so that we’re not veering too much away from the market, but it’ll be a good step for us to take as well. This is where we started from, it is our roots, so as Inizio Atelier, we want to keep in touch with it.


Alex (Design Director)

Inizio Atelier

65 Ubi Road 1 #02-72

Oxley Bizhub S408729

Tel: +65 8183 8667

Email: contact@inizioatelier.com