Home-Grown Designer Olivia Lee On Creating Intelligent Designs For The Modern-Day User

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We speak to the Singaporean designer about her selfie-friendly designs and collaborations that have taken her from Singapore to London and back.

Tell us about yourself, how and where did your interest in design begin?
I have always loved to draw and make things since I was little, whether it’s building things with Lego bricks, playing with sticks and mud or experimenting with scraps of fabric. I found a way to channel my interests and passion for inventing things into a profession where perhaps my creativity is more visually obvious. I think creativity exists everywhere and in all kinds of professions. Any work that problem-solving solving and original thinking needs creativity.

What’s your design philosophy, and how would you describe your design style?
I am very values and research-driven as a designer. Of course, I love to create beautiful things but it is important to me that this beauty is underscored by intelligent and rigorous thinking. I like the timelessness of a good idea. Quality never goes out of style.

From tinkering with scraps to putting things together with her Lego set, Olivia’s love for making and creating started at a very young age.

From tinkering with scraps to putting things together with her Lego set, Olivia’s love for making and creating started at a very young age.

Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
I take inspiration from everywhere and it comes from being observant and sensitive to my environment. It might come from an interesting conversation I have with a friend, the way a leaf falls in the water or how the sunlight casts a shadow in my studio.

You have collaborated with a number of local and international brands throughout your career. Is there a particular collaboration that stands out or means the most to you?
My collaboration with Hermes Singapore has been very important. My studio had the opportunity to creative window displays for them. As a company, their ethos of quality, craftsmanship, lightness and authenticity are values that I am strongly aligned with. It’s a dream to work with partners who trust and provide complete support to the artists and designers they believe in.

What has been your favourite product that you’ve designed thus far?
I love all my projects, don’t make me choose!

With updated furniture pieces like a vanity table that’s been optimised for selfies, Olivia’s Athena Collection is designed as an answer to the digital habits of a modern homeowner.

With updated furniture pieces like a vanity table that’s been optimised for selfies, Olivia’s Athena Collection is designed as an answer to the digital habits of a modern homeowner.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a Singapore-based designer?
Singapore has a small domestic market and just relying on it alone would be challenging for any industry. Instead of seeing that as a limitation, my studio chooses to see an indication that as creative professionals we need to be thinking globally all the time.

Have there been any changes that you’ve noticed between the industry now and from when you first started out, especially in a country like Singapore where professions like a lawyer or a doctor are traditionally valued more?
I definitely see more young graduates choosing the path less taken and getting support from their families. They are running start ups, starting e-commerce businesses, creating artisanal chocolate, designer floral businesses and handmade knives. There is also an increasing momentum to support and buy local, whereas in the past, “locally-made” would not have commanded a premium or preference. I think that with automation and artificial intelligence, a lot of what we believe to be iron rice bowl white-collar professions are going to be radically challenged by advances in technology. I don’t think there will be such a thing as a “safe and secure job” in the coming years which is both scary but also potentially liberating in terms of how we define work.

Hoping to provide a conducive space where creatives can work privately as well as collaboratively, Olivia designed and launched Wonder Facility, a 1,000 square foot multi-concept co-working space.

Hoping to provide a conducive space where creatives can work privately as well as collaboratively, Olivia designed and launched Wonder Facility, a 1,000 square foot multi-concept co-working space.

What’s the best advice about design you’ve ever received?
It’s not really advice that someone gave me, but a motto that helped me start my studio. It’s that “action equals reality”. We can worry, dream and think all day about what we what to do – but if we do not take any actionable steps, our ideas will never have a chance to materialize.

What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I will currently working on a public furniture project for a new building in Singapore and I just recently created a “Rube Goldberg” type machine for a well-known alcohol brand. I have also working been commissioned to create limited edition luxury accessory gift sets for international business leaders.

This was adapted from an article originally published in the August 2018 issue of SquareRooms. 

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