Introducing the Lady Bosses of Singapore's Interior Design Sector
25 Oct 2018
What does it take to thrive as a female boss in interior design? 4 experts weigh in.
With a growing trend of female empowerment globally, it’s apt to also celebrate the successes of women leaders in Singapore’s interior design industry! We spoke with four female bosses – Angie Toh from Edgeline Planners, Pea Chong from D’Initial Concept, May Chang from Meter Square, and Daphne Lim from Blackjack Royal Studio – to better understand what it takes to thrive as a female boss in this sector.
Is work-life balance impossible?
It’s a constant challenge to strike a work-life balance in the interior design sector, as renovation works often occur after regular working hours or over the weekends. Says Edgeline Planner’s Angie: “It’s very hard. I used to spend most of my time working, even on weekends, but now, I’m trying to set my weekends free to spend time with my family, friends and my religious commitment.” That sentiment resonates with Pea, May and Daphne, too. “I definitely work more than I play,” D’Initial’s Pea adds. Blackjack Royal Studio’s Daphne further explains, “It’s impossible to not work on the weekends. We need to cater to the clients’ availability, and sometimes weekends are more convenient for them.”
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a balance and to take a break once in a while. “Initially I would work 7 days a week, but now, I keep my Sundays off for my family. I also make it a point to travel at least twice a year,” Meter Square’s May says. Having worked in the industry for more than 19 years, she has found a good rhythm for managing her work and personal life. Despite the constant demands from the business, nearly two decades in the industry, May always schedules in time for spending with her loved ones.
Is the industry male-dominated?
We often think women have it hard in the interior design industry, but Pea has another view. “I personally think the industry is balanced,” Pea argues, “I don’t think women have it worse here. In fact, women have an edge because they are usually more inclined to talk with the customers.”
Angie holds a similar sentiment. “Women tend to have more determination and patience in dealing with clients.” While she feels that there are more men working on commercial real estate projects, there seems to have equal proportion of male and female interior designers for residential projects.
However, May understands why sometimes women have it more difficult at work. “We need to take care of our family, especially our kids, so we face a lot of pressure from our colleagues and family.” May also added that it’s important to explain to your partner about the nature of your job. “As interior designers, you have no choice but to work mostly with males — sub-contractors, clients, and so on. Your partners should be understanding; otherwise, it will be emotionally difficult for you.”
The working environment may be male-dominated but Daphne does not find it difficult to rise to the top. “It’s all about acquiring the right knowledge and working hard. If you can prove yourself, no one can stop you from achieving greater heights.” Angie agrees. She admits that the technical aspect of the job might be the major obstacle first few months into the job. “But as you persevere through, over time you will find it to be a breeze.”
Which is your favourite project?
With more than twenty years of experience in the industry, Angie has handled multiple projects. But a portfolio work which she is proudest of is a recently completed semi-detached house concept. “It was a tedious project with a lot of changes to the structure,” she says. But what Angie loves about the experience was the freedom she had to innovate. “The owner was also very pleased with the resort-like design as well,” she happily adds.
With eleven years of solid experience in interior design, it is tough for Pea to choose her most favourite project. But a recent project involving a HDB unit in Geylang Bahru comes up as one of her top hits. Says Pea: “It’s not 100% perfect, but the unconventional design matches the client’s characters well.”
What advice do you have for aspiring female interior designers?
“Love what you do,” says Pea. “When you love what you’re doing, it won’t feel like a burden. At first, you may be thinking only about the money, but eventually, you’ll realise there’s a limit to how much happiness money can bring.”
She adds, “For interior designers, it’s also important that you love meeting people because otherwise, it’s going to be difficult.”
On top of that, it’s also important to remain humble when working with other people. Daphne says: “Be humble and learn from other people especially the workers. You may think that they are less educated than you, but they are more experienced than you. Remember to build a good relationship with them!”