The Great Interior Designer Search

So we approached quite a number of contractors and IDs on our quest for The One Whom We’d Trust Our Home With. I guess being creatives makes us generally niao (fussy) about this whole, getting another designer to do your house thing. Most people asked why, as designers, we didn’t just hire a contractor and just design it ourselves (on the pretext and assumption that we had good enough taste to get this right on our own).

Well we did speak to a good mix of contractors and interior designers. Eventually it was about going with whoever we believed would be able to understand and execute our vision of what our house should be. More under the cut. 

Our first stop was the Qanvast app, which I’ll highly recommend for interior design inspiration in Singapore. It is very well designed (although it uses a LOT of data, so try to browse while you’re on wifi) and you can browse through the portfolios of some of the more popular ID firms in the country. Or basically whoever Qanvast has approached and/or paying to be listed on the app. It also has a function that allows you to enquire through the Qanvast database for IDs that may be suitable for your taste/preference and budget. I had enquired during the Chinese New Year period and was surprised to receive a call from them so quickly to check on some of the information we provided. An email soon followed with a list of their recommendations, as well as direct emails from this list of ID firms after Qanvast had let the know about our enquiry. More on the options that the Qanvast app gave us below.

Now many of the renovation websites and blogs have clickbait posts that go “10 HDB homes under $30,000” etc and lists the ID firm that did the project. DON’T BELIEVE THEMMMMMMM. There are many, many hidden costs when it comes to an ID quote and many don’t factor in electrical work into their quotations. They also don’t include any fixtures such as lights, toilet bowls, taps, sinks, air-con, curtains etc so you’d have to set aside another sum of money for these things.

What we wanted:
Okay, Colin and I are both designers lah hor? So obviously we were going to be extremely niao (particular) about our renovation because we’re so opinionated ourselves. Furthermore we didn’t want to hire someone just to execute a theme (Scandinavian, Industrial, etc). If we were going to spend money on a designer instead of just managing a contractor directly, then that person needed to be able to achieve a good sense of balance. Translated into English: have good taste and not go crazy with laminates and textures just because you can. Designer ethos: Just because you can does not mean you should! We’ll probably blog more about the look/feel we want and the layout for the eventual house, but for now, on to the IDs/contractor list!

Qanvast Recommendations
Based on our submission through Qanvast, the app recommended the following firms, of which we eventually only met up with one.

  • Space Define Interior
    Not our style, too much of a Singaporean condo vibe going on here. Did not get in touch with them. 
  • Third Avenue Studio
    Contacted us through the Qanvast app. Portfolio seems to consist more landed/condo projects and listed renovation prices for HDB flats were quite a bit beyond our budget. By the time they got in touch we had spoken to a few other firms so we decided not to contact them even though their style looked pretty nice. 
  • Superhome
    The only one Qanvast recommended that we met up with because some elements of their portfolio looked like what we wanted to go for. Met up with their lead designer, Ethan, twice. Once for the pitch and the second time for the quotation. His staff was prompt but he and his junior designer were completely underprepared for their second pitch with us (forgot to bring laptop, want to show us reference photos but never save photo on phone, etc, in the end never show us anything). Their quote was not terrible, but we decided not to go with them in the end as their proposal was only 60-70% what we would have wanted. Do check them out if you want a very industrial vibe though, as Ethan seems to have a preference for executing this style.
  • Prozfile
    I think one of the most important things as an interior design firm is to guard your reputation, because once that’s lost and the info somehow ends up on Renotalk… hm. So yeah, we didn’t get in touch. 
  • Voila
    Portfolio looks okay and we knew a friend of a friend who used them and was happy with the result. But again, a bit too much of the Singaporean happy shiny condo vibe going on and we wanted something a little different. So we didn’t get in touch. 

IDs we tried to contact on our own
IDs we saw online and we liked.

  • Space Sense Studio
    Emailed them, they replied asking for our budget. No reply after we told them our budget was 40k. Guess we were too small/too poor for their time. But we are designers too and understand that when you are a small outfit you sometimes need to pick and choose your clients.
  • Artist Room
    Really like their work as it defined the kind of balance we were looking for. Read reviews of them online that they take forever to get back to you because they are also a small outfit and receive more enquiries than they can manage and this turned out to be true. Took two weeks to get a reply to our first email, and no subsequent emails since we replied to them. My guess was also that our budget was too low as they are a really good firm that probably attracts a lot of bigger and more impressive projects.
  • 3d-conceptwerke
    Liked their portfolio a lot when we saw it on Qanvast, even though they seemed to be on the pricer side. Their quote turned out to be almost twice our budget which we felt was unrealistic to expect us to fork out twice the amount we budgeted for. So I guess some of the other firms ignoring our enquiries completely was to help not waste everyone’s time. The girls we met from 3d-conceptwerke were very nice and enthusiastic. However they were the most expensive by several miles. Some of their design ideas, though aesthetically great, were not always the most practical solutions for living in. Recommended only if money is a non-issue.

Friends’ recommendations
Of course, contractors and IDs that your friends have used before are your best option as you’ll have the best word of mouth reviews from people you know and trust. Here are some of the ones we met.

  • Nords Design (Mr Loo) 
    Came highly recommended by a few friends who had used him before as someone who has fairly good taste and provides quality workmanship and after service. He was the first contractor we brought to the house and was prompt in quoting us for the project. He does tend to be a bit opinionated, but as far as our friends have testified, is a reliable contractor. We did not go with him in the end as we felt that he might not fully understand the style we wanted to go for. Recommended as far as contractors go though. 🙂
  • H20 Interior (Mr K)
    Suuuuper popular on Renotalk. If you follow the forums, you’d definitely have seen his name appear because he’s done some pretty beautiful projects. He’s a contractor and only speaks Chinese. And thanks to Renotalk, apparently insanely busy with enquiries. When we spoke to him (in my severely broken Chinese), we could only get an appointment date 4-6 weeks from the day of the call. Took several days to reply us when we tried to change the appointment date, by which time we had already arranged to meet a few other firms. So decided to give him a miss.
  • IQ Design Concept
    Colin met up with him on his own. I have trust issues and wanted someone who really “gets” what we want. So.. nope.
  • Eco Integrated
    Saw our house, made some enthusiastic comments, never returned with a quote.
  • ZL Construction 
    Another pretty popular contractor with good social media presence. Came recommended by a friend. They are not very much designers, but they are reliable as far as carpentry and workmanship goes as long as you know what you want. They were shortlisted as our top two and if Versaform (see next) didn’t win us over, they were the one we had intended to go with instead. Mainly because they were trustworthy craftsmen, but we knew we had to do a lot more of the thinking and conceptualizing as ZL were not designers and would not advise much on how things looked and matched.
  • Versaform
    The clear winner of the competition, for now at least! I guess we will be able to comment better when the reno starts for real. Recommended by a colleague and mentor who exceeds my designer niao-ness by a hundred times. So anything recommended by him is supposed to be confirmchopstampguaranteed good. Both our meetings with them were the longest, and also the most thorough. They are a two person outfit and displayed a very good eye for both design and practicality.
    [UPDATE] It’s been a month since I started crafting this post. It’s been sitting in ‘drafts’ till today when I’ve finally decided to post it. So we decided on Versaform a month back. Some disappointments that have already happened was that they have not been as prompt as we would have expected. Told us they would apply for our renovation permit the day after we got our keys. But two weeks later we realized that the permit had not been applied for yet so we had to chase and poke a bit. Understandably they are a 2 man show and very overwhelmed with projects. So maybe if you need something quickquickfastfastnownow it might not be the best to go with them. Bracing ourselves for some delays, but we’re still confident that Vincent will go a kickass job with our house, for now. More updates when we actually start reno!