Interior Design

Layout and concept

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Have you ever asked yourself, when it comes to interior design, what is the highest potential of a design? What is the best design which you can create for your home? Is it the budget which decides how far you can go? Is it the super ideas which you are still searching for? Being unsure about the result, you are afraid of making mistakes. You end up paying for the safest options someone – your contractor, the store salesman, or Pinterest – presents to you. The result would either show that you are financially stable or risk adverse or both. It would also show that you had not designed the house at all. You had only furnished it.

Designing a living space has two objectives: (1) to arrange your belongings in an optimal way for your lifestyle and (2) to provide you and you visitors a state of emotion. In short, that is the layout and the concept. 

The layout has to be logical, practical, and easy to perceive. You and your visitors should “get” it the minute you enter the house. A good layout makes people feel safe and comfortable. A great layout adds visual balance to the mix. Don’t fill up the house, leave it some space to grow with you. On the other hand, don’t leave it empty, because it will stay empty for a long time. Everytime you look at it, you are reminded that you still need to do something about it.

While the layout has to be straightforward, the concept generates emotions and makes the interior interesting. Some people get bored of their living space after a while even though it is scattered with things they like or used to love. That is because there is no concept, no emotion, and therefore no attachment. A suitable concept keeps your interest and your visitors’ curiosity in the house. For the house to have a positive effect on your well-being, the emotions should be positive, such as happy, fun, relaxed, interesting, or even quaint if you like it. A concept gives the house a soul. It helps make the house cohesive. It can also be developed and changed over time.

It is not the budget or the ideas which decide a successful interior design project. Your house doesn’t need to be luxurious or fill with creative ideas to be sophisticated. If you want to love your house more every day, answer this question: what is the most productive layout and concept for your lifestyle? The more straightforward and ambitious you are working on the layout and the concept, the better design you will achieve.


(Picture: A building near Cube Houses, Rotterdam, the Netherlands)

Idea and execution

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Recently, a friend asked me why I want to be a designer. I smiled and said “I had my ideas stolen all the time, now I want to sell them instead.” Both of us laughed at the joke as we knew that it could not be further from the truth. Over the years, I have learned that in interior design and maybe in everything else, ideas alone are not enough. It is execution that matters. You are a dreamer when you have great ideas, but you are a winner if you know how to turn those ideas into reality.

Why is execution so important? Because if we don’t know how to implement an idea, we cannot evaluate it. In order to judge if the idea is worthwhile – possible, practical, and budget-friendly – we have to figure out an execution plan. There is information we need to find, materials we need to have, and people we need to know. It would be valuable if we have such knowledge, connection, and experience in advance. An idea might seem very promising until we find out that it would be prohibitively costly or even impossible to execute.

Knowing how to follow through with the execution plan is another important matter. From a simple repair project to a more comprehensive renovation, there are so many ways a project can go off track. It is common that a construction project is overdue and over-spent. An interior designer should be not only a thoughtful draftsperson but also a competent project manager. As someone who has done one thing over and over again, the designer can save us from making avoidable mistakes. Even when we have a detailed plan, troubles will arise unexpectedly. Having someone to ask questions and rely on is reassuring.

It is always a big step from a 3D sketch to a completed interior. An interior designer does not just sell ideas, she ensures that the ideas work. She is the bridge between an idea and its materialization. That is why I want to be a designer: to be that bridge and to see my ideas taking place.


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It is so easy to lose individual character nowadays. There is so much noise: “Reality” stars, Instagram influencers, YouTube personalities, Twitter hashtags, etc. A variety of options, opinions, and images are designed to attract us and get us involved. Not all of them are irrelevant or misleading. They are just overwhelming.

I currently have a couple of projects in which the clients want me to fix uncharacteristic interiors filled with trendy unused items promoted by social media. It may be appealing to us to bring a beautiful Pinterest image to life right in our living room, but we soon realize that we are living in someone else’s home. A strictly mid-century modern design hardly accommodates new mix-matched add-ons from everyday life. Tons of boho planters with dying plants are hard to keep up with. White linen couches and curtains are not made for young children.

A house is to live in. It shouldn’t be too stylish or precious to prevent us from enjoying it. We should feel comfortable in and be inspired by our own home. That is the type of luxury which we should embrace. I have a client who wants daybeds instead of sofas in her living room. Why not? One client wants to refurbish a 4-person office workstation in his open-plan family room so the family can work, study, and play games together. Why not? Another client wants old folding theater chairs in his hallway. Why not?

Let’s inject our personality into our house interiors. The ideas should be there already. A simple brainstorming session would help. Interiors should be designed for those who live in it.

How to enjoy your interior design project

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Set your budget

The first time I ask my clients “What is your budget for this project?”, many cannot give me a specific answer. Most of the answers are vague, such as “I’m not sure” or “It depends on how much it costs.” Even though it may be difficult to decide how much to invest in renovating your home, it is very important to specify a budget early in the process to avoid the confusion, frustration, and stress involved. My job is to provide my clients as much information as they need to make the decision a little easier.

The cost of an interior design project varies greatly depending on many factors, including the scope, quality, and timeline required. By setting a budget in advance, you can set priorities and narrow down your options (our problem nowadays is often that we have way too many options). From there, the interior designer can help you explore alternatives, control spending, and find the best outcome for your desired goals. Unless spending is not an issue for you, a budget gives you peace of mind and helps you enjoy your interior design project without losing sleep every time a major expenditure occurs.

Get to know your interior designer

Setting your budget and making other project related decisions will be much easier if you trust your interior designer. The interior designer is someone who helps envision some of your most personal spaces. I need to understand you as a person: your family, occupation, lifestyle, aesthetic taste, and expectations. It is also necessary for you to get to know your designer: her ability, experience, work style, and connections. I would propose that we follow a “Verify – Approve – Trust” model in which we will learn to work with each other along the way. Once there is mutual trust between us, communication and decision making will happen naturally and with ease.

Have fun!

I recently designed and helped renovate a beauty salon. The focus of a commercial project is normally a mix of maximizing functionality, minimizing costs, and meeting deadlines. There often are tension and stress. When I met the salon’s owner for the first time, I, however, found out that she wanted to enjoy the design process and create a place which makes her happy going to work everyday. If you run a business doing what you love to do, you probably can relate to that. I had no problem connecting with her. I took the same approach, I made our project enjoyable for both of us. Together, we did it the most lighthearted way: listening to each other, respecting each other, and trusting each other. We chat, we laughed, we went shopping, we shared the joy when we found beautiful light fixtures or scored a discount. We did have worries and mishaps, but we found ways to go around them. The store turned out beautifully, very functional, and also under budget. The most important thing was that we had a good time. I have no doubt that she will enjoy opening the door of her salon everyday.

As you can see, to enjoy an interior design project, the three things you need are not necessarily finance, work relationship, and quality time themselves but the way we approach or create them. “Attitude is everything” can’t be more true.

Interior design and health

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Marie Kondo’s tidying method can be a bit extreme, but I do believe some of our households need a serious and thorough solution to become a real protective shell. Houses protect us from the elements and other dangers, but they can pose real risks to our well-being if they are not taken care of properly. As an interior designer, I have narrowed down to three major types of houses which can be harmful to inhabitants: a full house, a poorly-ventilated house, and a house with ineffective traffic patterns. I will leave unsound structures to architects.

A full house is full of stuff. When you add an item into your house, more often than not, you introduce new chemicals and dust to your living environment. Chemicals generally come from the materials used to make containers, surfaces, and sealants. Dust is in the forms of fibers, minerals, and pollen. If everything is well chosen, well organized, and the house is well ventilated then a full house might be an interesting place to be. However, houses with more stuff than necessary are often messy and confusing. It is hard to keep them clean, too. It is energy draining and harmful living in such environment. Controlling the amount of stuff collected is key to improve this type of environment. We can also choose health-friendly, less chemical products.

I actually prefer a full house than a poor-ventilated house. A house without proper ventilation feels stuffy and unpleasant. The people living in the house might not notice that since they are accustomed to the indoor environment. Still air can be the source of many respiratory diseases. It can also cause low energy and depression. Treating this problem can be as easy as open windows or clean air ducts. It can also be a major project such as redesigning the house’s ventilation system.

Finally, the way we allocate circulation routes around the house may also be ineffective and, sometimes, dangerous. Most of the time, the walk ways are too narrow or are obstructed by disproportional furniture. In other cases, the layout is just off, leading us to never see each other or keep bumping into each other. A good circulation plan also takes into account the possibility and the time needed to get out of the house in case of emergency.

The most serious cases have all the three above combined. Unfortunately, they are not uncommon. I often see two-car garages too full to fit a bike, kids’ rooms smell musty, or busy kitchens with bottlenecks. Designing a new, unfurnished interior is much easier than redesigning a full, furnished one. Making an interior beautiful only happens after we clean it up. It may be time consuming, but after we do our part, the system will work for us, giving us more time and better health to enjoy our lives.

Interior design: How to try before you buy?

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I was very reluctant when I placed my first order on Amazon. Today, I buy most things online. There is one thing, however, I still prefer to go to a brick-and-mortar store to get: shoes. The thing is I have quite large bunions, a result of corporate life’s stilettos. It is very important to me to make sure shoes are comfortable. The most expensive pair which I have ever owned costs me a couple of hundred dollars. I always try them on before I get them.

When I renovated my first house, it was a painful trial and error process. I had all the ideas of what I wanted the interior to look like. I also took every dimension and ordered every sample I could. The end result left me disappointed. I knew it could have been much better. I had to live with it for the next ten years before I sold the house. My question is why I insist on trying on a $100 pair of shoes but left a $20,000 renovation to chance. Since then I have been trying everyday to learn about interior design, the knowledge, and the skills needed to make better decisions. I also acquire a set of skills which allow me to create photographic 3D images of interiors. In a way, I am now able to “try on” a design before breaking ground. In my rendering, every detail is accounted for. All furniture is scaled to size. All materials look very much like what I see them at the store. Lighting is exact to the hour of day, in case of natural lighting, or to the type of light sources, in case of artificial lighting. Everything is put together, adjusted for total satisfaction, and can be seen from different angles. I am able to leave very little to chance.

I know hiring an interior designer is somewhat intimidating. However, you deserve to see your choices before you commit. Interior renovation is a long term investment. Unlike uncomfortable shoes that can be left unworn, you have to live in the house no matter what. Let’s “try on” your designs and make decisions beforehand. All you need to do is call.

Wow factor

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Most of my clients tell me that they want a “wow factor”. I guess it is something that we hear very frequently on HGTV! My immediate response usually is: “Who do you want to impress?” It is an important question because the answer to the question decides the design. A house used to entertain will be designed differently from a personal retreat. Knowing the answer also helps make decisions and allocate budget, e.g. whether to invest in a reading chair or a twelve-seat dinning table, or whether to skimp on the material and splurge on the decor.

Many of my clients agree with me that they learn a great deal about themselves and the way they interact with interior spaces through the renovation/redesign process. People realize that they feel more comfortable with certain colors and textures. They also understand that who is actually the protagonist in their own house. In many cases, it is the dog or the child. In other cases, it is the opinionated sister who does not live there or a friend who has an amazing house.

Anyway, we all want a beautiful and comfortable home where we can indulge ourselves and impress others. In order to have that, let’s ask another question: “What makes us happy the most?”

The real look book

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How should our living space look? It should not look like a furniture showroom. It also shouldn’t look exactly like the images which we see on magazines or Pinsterest. Why? Because almost no one ever lives in those spaces. The images are heavily staged and edited to look perfect. A bookcase which has only blue or yellow cover books suggests that the books are selected for their cover, not their content. A bed with so many accent pillows that are thrown to the side right when we get to bed is not practical. Professional stylists have access to large budgets and numerous items that otherwise would not be available to us. In real life, our houses have mix and match items which are functional or meaningful to us.

Your house should look like you. It is an extension of you. It contains items which you need, want, and like. If the house is for your family, every family member has to see himself/herself in there. As a result, shared interiors are, very likely, eclectic. The difficult task is how to combine different things into a harmonious and practical collection. Investing in quality important items and paying attention to details are key. After that, you can relax and enjoy your space. A bit of imperfection and a bit of sloppiness can be distinctively charming and comforting.

I love to see my clients take good care of themselves, their living spaces, and the memories which they are going to create. A cancer survivor fell in love with her meditation corner all over again. A grandmother treated herself for the first time to a high quality leather recliner. A military officer realized frequent moving does not mean that her belongings have to be temporary. These real life “images” makes much more sense to me than the ones in those fancy catalogues.

A simple mindset

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My style is simple but not minimal. My first priority is always comfort. I will never trade comfort for look. As a result, my interiors are relaxing and serene. I am also attracted to unexpected, intricate, or exotic details. These details should be relevant to the owner(s) of the space. I am excited if I have a “curator” as a client. I am not dreaming about having a client who is a professional art curator (It is super cool to have one, though!) I know some people who selectively collect tea cups or cigar boxes. I love to work around collections or heirlooms. I also like layering if it is easy to maintain.

Natural materials are alway appealing to me. However, I care more about the way the materials are treated. More often treatments which produce high volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are used and that is not what I prefer. I am also drawn to healthy recycled materials. As a result, my designs tend to be eco-friendly, humble, and unpretentious.

I believe in affordable furnishings as long as each item has a positive added value. Not all of us have a mansion, and not all of us need a mansion. However, we all need a cosy place to recharge. It should not cost us an arm and a leg. Life is beautiful by living it, not buying it!

How it started

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I love to create things since I was little. I often use materials found around the house to incorporate into my designs (I once cut my mom’s pillow case, right at the middle where the best pattern was, to make a doll’s dress. Of course she was not happy when she found out!)  After graduating high school, I did not get in a design school but, instead, a business school. I did that only because I needed job security at the time. I do not regret my decision because I made the most out of it. However, I got back to design as soon as I could (This time I try my best to be creative and resourceful without damaging other people’s useable stuff!)

I chose interior design because I love living environments. I often find myself in awe of natural wonders. However, more often I want to come back home to my loved ones, my kitchen, my reading/writing corner, and my bed. I like the sight, the smell, and the sound of my home. It is far from the most beautiful, luxury, or spacious houses. It is simply comfortable and functional for me and my family. Despite the fact that I have never stayed in a house for more than four years, I do not hold myself back from taking care of my interior spaces. Instead, I learned a lot in the process, understood how I interact with spaces, and became more creative and resourceful.

I always envy those who live in and can come back to a same place for a long period of time. I always wonder how many fond memories and friends I could have kept if I did not move that much. I wonder how I would design and change (or not) the same place over time.