Q&A with Stacey Leong, Stacey Leong Interiors: Every project presents quirks and challenges that ultimately become opportunities
When we caught up in-person, you spoke about how much the kitchen has evolved. Can you elaborate more on how?
Kitchen design has definitely earned us some of our best clients. At Stacey Leong Interiors, our aim is to always keep the space as streamlined as possible. We prefer unfussy finishes and classic proportions with a keen appreciation for ergonomics and flow.
From the start, we have a detailed questionnaire that helps our clients collect their thoughts and assess their ideals and priorities. Very often, they begin with a wish list of built-in and loose appliances that they need in their home. We find out about meal times, cooking habits, gathering frequencies, cuisine preferences and all the nitty gritty that make a busy family kitchen succeed or fail. We then undertake an analysis of circulation between the various zones, including food preparation, cooking, heating, storage and washing up.
Lots of arrows and bubble diagrams later, we begin to find a flow that works for our clients. Sometimes, we nail it on the first try but very often, there is great discovery and clarification for the clients and what they want, need and finally land on. I’ve only described the spatial configuration stage. Instead of clients telling us what they want, it’s a much more involved process of us asking them how they want to live. We then present the various design options that will lead them to where they ought to be and not where they think they should be.
Over the years, and even more relevant post-pandemic, the kitchen as the proverbial heart of the home resonates with many. Top among the priorities would always be plenty of pantry space and storage, along with expansive countertops. The island serves many purposes – as an extra preparation zone, a space to serve drinks to guests, or a perching spot for breakfast or quick coffee.
We are also seeing many clients embracing an eat-in kitchen where there is a secondary dining table. This isn’t the 1990s trend of an old table and some stools added in as an afterthought. Instead, clients want well-made furniture pieces and lighting that accentuate the kitchen. In many ways, they are finding even more ways for it to fulfil lifestyle needs beyond the functional requirements of refrigeration, food preparation and cooking. Kitchens need to be workhorses that blend beautifully with the rest of the house.
To think it took a pandemic to get us more acquainted with our needs at home.
What would you say are the differences between doing interior design for a house than an apartment?
Very different! But ultimately, all our residential clients are seeking the meaning of home within their four walls. Often, the architecture of the house informs the interiors and we naturally draw inspiration from the building volume and its surrounding. Context is always key. The scale in a larger house is a tricky one to manage – high ceilings and expansive rooms require a greater study of proportions and balance. Once in a while, the interior elements lead the design conversation and materials or façade changes on the outside have to be made to cater to how interior spaces play out.
There is an intimate dialogue between the building, its landscape and the interiors of a house, which isn’t often as acutely regarded in a condominium project, as it can take on a life of its own. The fun creativity that flows from that unfettered freedom is one we often see unfolding in the countless genres of interior design available. Apartments tend to have a few building impediments in terms of the skeleton of utilities that run through a stack of units. As designers, every project presents quirks and challenges that ultimately become opportunities.
Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire? Why?
I gravitate towards female designers who seek comfort and warmth, interrogate everything and approach design with thought and empathy. Some designers I admire are Ilse Crawford, Nathalie Deboel, Rose Uniacke, Sarah-Jane Pyke and Juliette Arent.
What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia?
- I visited Green School Bali in Indonesia last year, designed by IBUKU, which is entirely crafted from sustainable materials, including bamboo, grasses and mud walls. I was floored by its raw yet refined beauty. Its design was authentic, intentional and so sophisticated, unlike what I expected of a “kampung” school.
- The very first Aman resort, Amanpuri, by Ed Tuttle, is a timeless classic – traditional Thai meets modern unfussy lines. An original in understated luxury, the Aman concept has sparked a whole era of followers and fans who want to emulate that sensibility in their homes.
- Closer to home, I often pass the Colonnade on Grange Road by Paul Rudolph, a stunning architectural piece for its time and continues to stand out among the sea of uninspiring condominiums sprouting everywhere.
You were previously a chartered accountant. How did you end up becoming an interior designer? Do you have any advice for people who want to follow in your footsteps?
After working on the interiors of my family home in 2014, I decided to pursue an interior design diploma. My time at the Inchbald School of Design in London honed my eye for detail and imparted important core design principles, which I still apply to every single project. One thing led to another, and I opened the doors to my practice in 2018, after being approached for small jobs, a kids’ nursery here and a dining room refresh there. The business grew from that, in a very organic way, from referrals and repeat clients.
For those who want to pursue residential interior design in Singapore, this is an exciting time. There is a growing demand for those who have a unique point of view and an excellent track record. Never has there been such great value and importance placed on the home, what it represents, how it informs our well-being etc. Train the eye and immerse yourself in beautiful design and be bold to carve your niche.
At the same time, be prepared to trouble-shoot all day long. The 80/20 rule applies here. Being thoughtful, resourceful and disciplined also carries a designer very far. Develop trust and rapport with your clients, team and suppliers. Ultimately, it’s a human business, and all the hard, tricky situations that you have to overcome (which are many, if not daily), will rest on the quality of these relationships.
Stacey Leong is the Founder of Stacey Leong Interiors.