Angie Toh has an air of positivity that is infectious, and a smile that never leaves her face. No doubt that’s one of the reasons why her designers seldom leave, and her customers keep coming back. We had a chat with the founder and director of local interior design firm Edgeline Planners – a youthful-looking, deceptively petite 45-year-old mother of one with Herculean strength of character.
THE LADY LOVES HER JOB
Clearly, Angie loves her job. Though she studied Admin and Accounts, she quickly found her fit in 2004, when she was working part-time for a carpentry workshop in Woodlands. The astute boss immediately saw her passion and moved her from admin to sales. At the same time, she had a secondary classmate who was attending a course in interior design. Spurred on by her supportive boss and her encouraging classmate, Angie sunk her savings into Edgeline Planners, which was trading under a different name at the time. She’s never looked back.
In 2014, Angie had a staff of less than 10, and completed slightly fewer than 40 projects in her first year of business. Today, she has a staff strength of 20 and completes more than 100 projects a year. She operates one carpentry workshop at Admiralty Road, which employs eight to 10 carpenters, and another 2,500 sq ft workshop in Johor, which is owned by her partner.
While Angie’s company focuses squarely on residential projects, she takes on commercial projects from time to time at the request of satisfied customers. One recent example is a customer who engaged Angie’s company to renovate an HDB flat, then later engaged them to renovate a condo, and yet again to renovate a chain of spa and beauty salons. This is the sweetest and most satisfying scenario for Angie, who cherishes repeat custom above all.
YOUTHFUL CREATIVITY MEETS PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE
Angie is full of praise for her young designers, and sees a steep improvement in the calibre of local interior design over the years. She attributes it to a combination of factors, most notably the Internet.
“Customers are much better informed than they used to be, and therefore much more sensitive to design,” shared Angie. “This makes it much easier for the designer to come up with a strong, clear concept.”
It follows that today’s homeowners are much likelier to commit to a holistic theme, and less likely to compromise on individual details on the basis of cost. This invariably results in ‘rojak’ and a disappointed homeowner, according to Angie.
She loves her team of very young and very experienced designers. What the younger ones lack in experience, the veterans supply. And conversely, the older designers are spurred on and inspired by the youthful enthusiasm of their younger colleagues.
SOUL-SEARCHING AND PATHFINDING
In 2009, Angie almost became a victim of her own success. She vividly recalled taking a midnight flight to Israel, dead-tired yet unable to sleep, and asking herself – why was she working so hard? She reasoned that she could work less and still survive. However, she drew on her faith and found the strength to continue. In the years that have followed, her company has gone from strength to strength.
“Whenever challenges occur, I draw on my faith. I strongly believe that for every problem there is always more than one solution,” shared ever-upbeat Angie.
THE SECRET OF ANGIE’S NOT-YET SUCCESS
When we asked Angie to share the secrets of her success, she replied, “I don’t have one, because I don’t consider myself a success yet.” While we were impressed by her humility, we continued to prod and poke. In an industry where many fail and few have succeeded to the extent that Angie has, there must be some explanation, we figured.
“To succeed, you must really love your job. You need passion. Everything else can be learned,” stated Angie.
As for her means of identifying like-minded passionate designers, Angie has a trick – observing the designers on the job. If they stand back, hands folded, and passively observe, they don’t make the cut.
“If they squat down, bend down, climb up and down, they pass. I know they’re passionate about their job when I see them getting their hands dirty,” shared Angie.
PAY ATTENTION HOMEOWNERS… OR PAY LATER!
When asked to provide some advice to homeowners embarking on a renovation, Angie shared this cautionary note.
“Do not base your decisions on cost alone. Some homeowners will go around town getting so many quotes from different IDs that they lose track of what each quote covered. In the end, they lose their way and make a decision based purely on cost,” said Angie. “These homeowners never end up happy.”
Angie also urged homeowners to look for interior design companies with licensing rather than accreditation. She cited HDB, BCA and BizSafe as good indicators of reliability, integrity and quality.
Revisiting the topic of the Internet, Angie sung its praises with regard to making designers’ jobs easier. In the past, designers would physically accompany their clients on shopping trips for furniture, fittings and fixtures with their clients. This process could stretch to days or even weeks. Today, clients will typically share WhatsApp snaps of their shortlisted items and the designer can simply give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down with a single emoji. The time and cost savings are enormous.
However, on the downside, Angie pointed out the perils of buying on cost alone, especially for electronic items where quality correlates to safety. She has noted an alarming rise in the number of cases where a homeowner has purchased a cheap electrical fitting online only to discover that the electrician is unable to install it, or it doesn’t meet Singapore’s stringent safety standards.
ANGIE’S INSIDER’S TIPS
When we asked Angie for some inside intel on interior design, she offered, “Styling is very important. Look for accessories in twos or triplets. And never underestimate the importance of soft furnishings. Curtains can complete and transform a home.”
Favourite colour? (We had to ask.) “Turquoise,” said Angie. “It goes with brown, and looks good with grey,” she added.
Favourite flooring? (Another unoriginal question, sorry.) “I personally love marble. It’s expensive, but it’s durable. With the right workmanship, it can last for 10 or 20 years,” said Angie.
Last question… Favourite theme? “I like contemporary, timeless designs. Given the state of the property market, homeowners are thinking longer term than they used to, so it doesn’t make sense to follow a short-term fad.”
Angie also sang the praises of engineered wood, which is more affordable than solid timber, and Nippon Paint’s Momento special effects paint, which she finds more attractive and unique than wallpaper.
We concluded our interrogation of Angie and walked out of her immaculate showroom in the IMM Building with smiles on our faces. Yes, Angie’s positivity had rubbed off on us. On exiting, we bumped into a designer, and – no prizes for guessing – he was smiling broadly, despite working on a Saturday afternoon.
Clearly, Angie only works with people who love their jobs (almost) as much as she loves hers.