Creative Capital: How a self-taught Singaporean fashion designer got into the business of interior design
Priscilla Tan is now winning fans through her interior design business STYLEDBYPT
When Carolyn Kan, founder of Carrie K and Keepers, and fairy godmother of the local design sector speaks highly about someone, you tend to pay attention. So, when she mentioned that her latest boutique in Funan Centre was designed by one Priscilla Tan, I immediately clicked over to the interior designer’s IG page (@styledbypt).
Tan has a great eye for colour, space, and light. She has a great innate understanding of the relationships of objects within a space and how to make a space breathe. Given that she is a self-taught designer makes what she does even more impressive.
Tan, however, is no newbie to the design world. In a short but busy career, she has been a fashion designer and a jewellery designer. As the former, she even had her own label, Chalk, which when it launched in 2010 was lauded by fans and critics alike. Local magazine Her World even declared “this is one label that every woman should own a piece of.”
YOU’VE BEEN AN INTERIOR DESIGNER, JEWELLERY DESIGNER, AND FASHION DESIGNER. OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE A TALENT AND PASSION FOR DESIGN, WHERE DO YOU THINK THIS COMES FROM? DID YOUR PARENTS ENCOURAGE IT? WERE YOU ALWAYS INTO DESIGN AS A CHILD?
I took art lessons since I was five years old and continued till I was a teenager. That fine art base help set the foundation of my interest in art and design. My mum is also naturally creative and she cooks very well. She was the one who exposed me to the world of dance, art and music since I was a baby. I will credit her as the earliest influence in my creative journey.
When I was in my primary school, I drew on every single empty paper in the house and my father asked if I was keen to consider fashion as a career. He signed me up for pattern making and fashion illustration courses in my teenage years and I was even a finalist in the Singapore Young Fashion Designer contest when I was doing my "O" levels. I’ve always known that art was a part of me as I loved observing what was around me and translating that either into drawings or into my imagination.
One of my design highlights was winning the Topshop/Topman graduate award which offered me a trip to London to intern at the Topshop headquarters. I had the crazy opportunity of meeting Sir Philip Green and Kate Moss, as she had a collection that time. Most importantly, I got to learn what goes behind building a brand or a label.
YOU HAD A LABEL CALLED CHALK ALMOST A DECADE AGO. TELL US ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.
It was a dream come true as I had always wanted to be a fashion designer with my own label. The timing came when PARCO next NEXT, initiated by TAFF (Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore), wanted to groom a new pool of Singaporean designers. We had our own retail store and I launched four collections a year. I met so many fashion designers that became close friends. It was such great peer support as we grew our brands and had the opportunity to show in Paris and London fashion weeks.
Due to the exposure, I have had the opportunity to have my clothes retail at Isetan and Tangs department stores in Singapore. The highlight of my fashion design career was designing corporate uniforms and I made my dad proud when I designed the first batch of uniforms for Gardens by the Bay when they opened.
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN FROM STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS AT A REALLY YOUNG AGE?
Being commercially viable and listening to your clients are the key lessons to running a business. In a way, I believe one has to fill a gap or a niche that is missing in the market, while adding your own flavour to what you do. In fashion, I designed pieces that did not require much ironing. This gained the approval of many working professional ladies as they wanted something fuss-free, while still being able to look presentable for work.
In interiors, I noticed there was a gap in Singaporeans doing interior styling in the international market. I wanted to show that in Asia, we are also able to create a home that reflects our lifestyles and clients’ needs while also maintaining the functionality of a well-designed home.
DO YOU FIND PEOPLE SUPPORTIVE IN GENERAL OF LOCAL CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS OR IS IT A TOUGH LONELY BATTLE
Yes, generally Singapore is a nurturing place to start a business or to learn something new. Being open, humble and appreciative are the best ways to connect with people. I find asking questions, and crediting people who have taught you goes a long way too.
DID YOU EVER SEE YOURSELF AS AN INTERIOR DESIGNER? WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHEN YOU REALISED YOU COULD TURN INTERIOR DESIGN INTO YOUR CAREER?
I always loved looking at beautiful spaces but I never thought of myself as an interior designer. Even up till now it’s hard to say that. When I first designed my own home, I had friends and guests who came by and found my approach unique. With their support, I did a few homes for them and enjoyed the process.
Three years back, while watching HGTV Fixer Upper at my friend's home, it dawned on me that interior styling could be a career. I took the plunge to start the business with a few clients. It was all via word of mouth before I started sharing my work on Instagram. That’s how STYLEDBYPT was born.
CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN ONLINE DESIGN CONSULTING AND ONLINE SOURCING? HOW DOES THAT WORK?
I have just started conceptualizing this. It's in the early stages of the final plan but this is how it works. Clients will first provide me details of their home or the space they wish to makeover or design, along with their budget and preferred style. I then ask for images they like, along with images of what the space looks like now. This is all done via email.
Based on the information provided, I will be prepare three initial design concepts which will be sent to them. I will follow up with a video call to discuss what they like or don’t like about the ideas. Once the final design has been firmed up, if it's a whole house makeover. they can work alongside with me and my appointed contractors. We will do weekly calls and text messages to walk through the whole design process.
For a smaller room makeover that only requires styling and sourcing help, I will prepare a shopping list and instructions on how to set everything up with an online sourcing list that ranges from furniture to soft furnishings.
HOW ARE YOU ENHANCING YOUR SKILLS AS A DESIGNER? YOU ADMIT YOU’RE UNTRAINED, BUT DO YOU SEE YOURSELF GETTING PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS?
I am researching degree courses in interior design in Wellington, New Zealand, where I am now based. I have also been practising my online rendering skills with Sketch Up every day. I make sure I read up and save images on Pinterest and Instagram featuring homes every single day as well.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON DESIGN MISTAKE YOU SEE IN HOMES?
Not planning enough storage space for your lifestyle needs is one of the biggest mistakes which leads to clutter and mess. Another design mistake is not planning the right areas for the electrical switches and power outlets. Lastly, one that I see often is not finding the correct size furniture. That mistake alone can overwhelm or underwhelm a room.
WHAT’S YOUR CURRENT INTERIOR DESIGN OBSESSION?
I am obsessed with collecting and reading design coffee books. I also cannot stop buying throw cushions to refresh my home. I am not big on trends but I have a huge love for all things rattan lately and I think it's creeping into my work too.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR RECENT MOVE TO NEW ZEALAND? WAS IT FOR WORK OR PERSONAL REASONS?
My husband and I have always wanted to live and work overseas together. The dream came true when he found work in Wellington and we took the crazy plunge to try a new adventure in September this year. It's only been a few months since we arrived but we are loving the slower and better quality in life. Having a new home – we are currently renting –also means I get to dress a home for ourselves which is such a therapeutic and fun experience.
IS THERE A PROJECT YOU’D SIMPLY LOVE TO DO? A DREAM JOB?
I would love to design and style a boutique hotel. It's always been my dream to translate a vision into a bigger space through a brand story.
WHAT WERE TOUGH MOMENTS IN STARTING AND RUNNING STYLEDBYPT? CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT ONE?
There are plenty of crazy moments which, in hindsight really shaped how I see life. In interior renovation makeover work, there are always hiccups or delays, even with the best planning possible. I used to beat myself up a lot for all the mistakes I made but I came to realise that I learn so much from these mistakes. My husband encouraged me by saying these mistakes are like lessons you will never learn in school. He is right. Because of past mistakes, I am able to advise clients on potential issues and also challenge myself by pushing past previously established boundaries.
WHO AND WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WORK?
Honestly, the conversation with the clients are the best. The stories I hear from them and making their dream homes come alive are just insanely fulfilling. I am also inspired by Emily Henderson, Joanna Gaines and Kelly Hoppen to name a few female international leaders in the design field. I love how they make design attractive, approachable and so accessible while maintaining a clear vision of their own branding.
WHAT’S THE VISION FOR STYLEDBYPT? WHERE DO YOU HOPE THE BUSINESS IS IN 5 YEARS?
With the move to New Zealand, I hope to design and create more spaces STYLEDBYPT globally. The aim for the next five years is to build more awareness of what I do here in New Zealand and Australia, And maybe design a yacht next!