Workspace Tour: In Merry Motion

Weiyan Chen & Joyce Li talk workspace design

In Merry Motion began six years ago when founders Joyce Li and Chen Weiyan decided to turn their passion for experience design into a business. From handcrafting decorations for social events to transforming spaces for weddings, the pair’s clients include big names such as the National Library Board (NLB) and OCBC Bank.

After years of working from home and, later, in the back room of a shared workspace, the two moved into a 1,300-square foot office of an industrial area in 2016. The space, originally dull and lifeless, is now bright, lively, and cosy.

Much like their line of work, their studio enables them to create memories and endlessly inspire others. We visited the cheery duo to get the scoop on how they organise, design, and maintain efficiency in their workspace.

What is the concept behind your current studio?

Joyce (J): Our studio is a pretty open space since we work with whatever we have. When we first moved in, there was an additional room and some walls around that partitioned the space. But we realised our working style has always been very open; we always had a huge crafting table to do our prototyping and crafting work together. But there were times when we needed to meet clients, and we couldn’t possibly meet them at our mess of a table, which was why we decided on a lounge area, a separate section for crafting, and another for our computer.

Weiyan (W): In a way, it’s very ‘form follows function’. We knew what we needed, so we marked out the spaces and grew in it. We knew we needed a crafting area, so we built it with simple crafting tables. We also knew we needed our own individual corners to work in, so we created that area by getting our own desks. Overall, our studio concept is very much determined by our needs.

A wool rug off Taobao and dining chairs by Star Living make up much of the lounge area. Cushions by Cluster Cluster and IKEA add a casual, laidback vibe.

Instead of a separate room, two rearrangeable beech wood tables make up the crafting area, where Joyce and Weiyan do their hands-on work. The idea of having a special area for crafting had been theirs even before they moved in — they needed a huge surface to work on, and it made interaction a lot more convenient.

What were the major changes made when first moving in?

J: Mainly painting, hacking some of the existing walls, and redoing the flooring. The original flooring was carpeted. The lighting was changed too. But since our studio is a rental unit, we didn’t invest too much into building walls or permanent fixtures. Instead, we resorted to temporary solutions to separate the spaces, such as cloth and fabric curtains.

Do you feel creative and inspired in your workspace?

Weiyan: Yes, definitely. I think having a space where you can be at rest provides a good place for you to be creative. Also, the feedback we’ve been getting from people — we host events here sometimes — and friends who have visited our studio is that they feel inspired, because they see things that they don’t usually see from day to day, such as the prototypes and experiments that we’ve produced.

We’ve noticed that you have a speaker that plays music softly in the background, which probably helps you work better. What are other things you have done to improve your studio atmosphere, to gain more inspiration and creativity?

Joyce: Maybe that little diffuser? (laughs) Smells are quite important for us.

Weiyan: Our day-to-day tasks already require a level of creativity, so we never consciously did things to improve that? But when we open the studio every morning, we make sure there’s always music, and we’ll water the plants outside.

Now and then, we allow this place to become a mess, but at least at the end of every week, we try to tidy up, clear the space, and condition our minds with ‘out with the old, in with the new’.

What are some things that you absolutely must have in your office?

W: Air-conditioning.

J: Drinks? (laughs) The Internet. I need things to be neat. I need dividers.

W: I need surfaces to do things on.

J: Food and music.

W: A clean toilet – that’s very important.

What do you like most about your studio?

W: That it’s ours. Our previous studio was shared with another tenant. The fact that the space belonged to someone else stressed us, because we constantly worried over whether they minded certain things. Now that this studio is entirely ours, we feel a lot more comfortable and at ease. The feeling of ownership really helps, too. Knowing it’s yours makes you want to take care of it even more. There’s a lot of pride when you decorate it.

Did working in a shared space hinder your creativity?

J: I think ‘hindered’ is a strong word to use here. But it definitely was us putting ourselves into someone else’s mould, because we got the space through a ‘hey, we have an extra room, do you guys want to come in’ moment.

W: I would say that it did. We were very concerned with how we were affecting them. We kept trying to shift things around, and we were scared we would get on their nerves. Having this space helped us a lot more mentally. Just owning this studio allowed us to see our business in a new light, and having our own space allowed us to do whatever we had to in order to be creative. Hosting people was never an option until we had our own space.

What do you not like about your studio?

W: The rent we have to pay every month (laughs)

J: I would love to have a more organised storage system going on. Things and props tend to build up over time and if we don’t clear them, they’ll start spilling out from behind that curtain. That’s something I’d like to work on — a neat and proper storage-cum-inventory.

W: For me, I would like a really nice shade outside, so we can use the outside space.  

Aside from creating a refreshing mood, the balcony accommodates a storage shed and allows the pair to carry out their woodworking. Weiyan often retreats to their mini garden for short breaks, where she waters the plants. “It’s very shiok, knowing they have grown ever since you’ve watered them. You don’t notice it every single day, but the change can be seen over time. It’s like the little things that help you realise how even a bit of effort does not go to waste,” she says.

It’s quite bright in here. Do you guys prefer working with sunlight?

J: Yes, that was probably one of our must-haves: huge windows which allow natural sunlight to flow in. On clear days, we usually don’t even turn the lights on because there’s sufficient natural sunlight. The windows also make the studio feel more spacious and open.

W: I love the sunlight. I used to think it would be nice to look up at the view while working, but no, it really hurts my eyes (laughs). I love the holding area, though. It’s where we take all our photos, but boy, does it hurt my eyes. I work with my back facing the sunlight now and it’s perfect.

Joyce, did you also have a learning experience where you initially designed an area around a certain way of working but eventually learned the space wasn’t suitable for what you need?

J: At the start, everybody was at the same table with everything — computer, craft, scissors, glue, paper — on the same table. It worked for us in our previous studio since it was the only space we had, so we applied that working style to this studio, too, when we first moved in.

As time went by, I felt I needed my own space and zone. I needed to be away from this mess and focus on non-craft tasks. During one of our bigger projects, I realised I couldn’t focus on my computer work. So, within a day, I searched for tables to buy online, and when it arrived, I immediately created a small corner for myself to work in! It really helped me, because I knew my mind couldn’t focus on my own work if I constantly had to work with everyone else.

What else helps you work better and be more productive?

W: The idea of having our own space alone helps us be more productive. When we first started out, we worked from home and we found it hard to separate work and play. We were working at the dining table. Not even our own space, but a common area! There were times where we were working halfway and had to clear everything for dinner then restart again. That was hard for us and our families, so now, having a space of our own helps us mentally.

What tips would you give to someone moving into their own studio/workspace?

W: Choose a workspace of a size that you really need. Not too big and not too small.

If you had all the resources in the world, how would you improve your studio?

J: I would work outside. I would build an awning or maybe even a retractable trellis out there. I’d transform it into a lounge area, so our indoor studio can be used entirely for working purposes.

W: Agreed. A slightly bigger and accessible storage area would be great, too. Maybe more trellises for hanging and displaying things around the studio.

The first thing you see upon entering the studio is a corkboard wall on the right, which displays virtually anything Joyce and Weiyan have received. All sorts of memos — from Thank You cards to polaroids — are pinned onto the board, serving as mini words of encouragement and pats on their backs.

A beech wood shelf holding completed craftwork, books, and all sorts of knick-knacks creates a messy yet artful sight. Originally used as a space divider, the shelf, a gift from Joyce’s sister, now stands at the end of the craft table and serves its true purpose of displaying pieces from In Merry Motion’s projects.

This article is the first of an original monthly series, Workspace Tours, with Work+Store. If you are a small business owner looking for flexible workspace solutions, please contact our team at space@workstore.com.sg or 6578 9966.