Workspace Tour: Proper People
Afzal Imram and Lin Ruiyin talk studio design
It’s not often we come across an office, showroom, and design studio all in one — and in a shophouse built in the 1920s! Located in a quiet residential neighbourhood, Proper People runs their design studio from the quaint two-storey property, which also houses their second business, local jewellery label, State Property.
Proper People’s cofounders, Lin Ruiyin and Afzal Imram, speak to us about how their team has worked hard to achieve the balance between style and functionality in their workspace.
You guys moved from a studio in an industrial area to this neighbourhood. How long have your guys been here?
Afzal (A): We moved in in March this year. When we first started Proper People, we had just graduated from school and didn’t know what our studio and clients needed. We didn’t even consider having a meeting room in our first studio so we didn’t have a place to sit down with people!
Ruiyin (R): With time, we better understood our business and realised we needed an accessible showroom for State Property, so we moved here.
The State Property showroom is located at the entrance of the studio.
Was there a reason you guys chose a shophouse as your second studio?
R: When I was a student in London, I lived in an apartment called Gin Palace, which looks pretty similar to this place. The floors creaked whenever you walked around. That apartment was the place where Afzal and I discovered we had similar tastes.
A: We were looking at shophouses in Clarke Quay and HongKong Street, but those places were out of our budget. There’s also a lot of history to this neighbourhood — the townhouses here have around for probably more than a hundred years. We have a young business, and locating it here grounds it in heritage and gives it more character.
Describe your studio in a word.
R: Versatile. State Property throws events every once in a while, so we sometimes shift furniture around.
A: Zones. The space has to achieve a lot of functionality. We needed the State Property showroom in the front so it could create a good first impression. We wanted the communal area to feel vibrant and energetic, which is why we installed yellow wallpaper. This area also has more accents of wood. The space upstairs is used strictly for productivity. Bearing in mind that this townhouse was built as a residential space, it feels homely and sometimes even sleepy in here.
Interesting that you describe the feel as sleepy! How do you maintain productivity in such a homely space?
R: We removed all the drapery upstairs. We also replaced one of the work room doors with a transparent glass door.
A: And adjusted a lot of the lighting — we made sure the entire studio had proper lighting installed.
The photography room sits at the end of the second storey and receives the most sunlight, drawing attention for its calm and quiet vibe.
What do you guys like most and least about your studio?
R: There isn’t a certain part of this space that I dislike, but I do know I don’t like not being able to find people. Back in our previous studio, all I had to do was glance up and instantly I would know where everyone was. Working here is different because we no longer share an open workspace.
A: Yeah! When we first moved in, everyone was briefed to shout their location and not “Yes?” when their name was called. The way sound travels in this house is a little strange. Sometimes we can even hear what’s going on in the house next to us. The surfaces of the house are probably very porous.
R: The floorboards of the second storey are one with the ceiling for the ground level. Basically, anyone upstairs can hear our conversation downstairs, and vice versa. That confused me for the longest time. I also dislike the windows in this house because they’re old with many cracks, which allows the air conditioning to leak outside. I find that really unsustainable.
A: I like that it’s very calm in here, even if it doesn’t seem that way with all the vehicles whirring down the road outside.
“We decided to support local and settled for this wallpaper design by local artist Martin Loh,” says Ruiyin. The wallpaper features a printed illustration of a Peranakan lady against a bright yellow background.
What is essential to your workspace?
A: Good lighting and a plant. It doesn’t need to be natural sunlight, just good lighting — and anyway, if there isn’t good lighting, the plant won’t even matter.
R: For me, it’s a blank wall. When I’m designing, my mind is often clouded with tons of ideas and images and I need a space to release these thoughts. I also need a separate wall for to stick all my notes on and physically visualise a huge mind map of my thoughts. There were a lot of times where I worked from home because there was no space for me to carry out that process of creative explosion.
A: I remember the blank wall in her room at Gin Palace. It was incredibly tall and had nothing on it.
R: It was so high that it felt claustrophobic. But that was my favourite thinking place, and I was very lucky to have stayed there. It allowed me to work very efficiently and privately.
What do you think is the most productive thing about your workspace?
A: That it’s isolated. Everyone has their own space to work in. In our old studio, we would work next to each other and I think we stressed each other out. I prefer working this way because I like to work without being disturbed.
R: It helps me too because everyone can now make decisions on their own. When we sat next to each other, we used to make collective decisions but since moving in here, we have all grown more independent and decisive.
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