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In Profile: UPSTAIRS_

We speak with design firm UPSTAIRS_ , the recipient of the Interior Design Firm of the Year award at the inaugural Lookbox Design Awards 2017, about their approach to design.

Text by Redzman Rahmat
Profile and studio photos by Winston Chuang
Project images courtesy of UPSTAIRS_

Meet UPSTAIRS_, a dynamic interior design studio that has been steadily making an impact in Singapore’s design scene in recent years. What started out as a one-man studio in 2010 has now flourished into an award-winning boutique design firm with a varied portfolio that includes both residential and commercial projects. The core team is made of five ‘hybrid creatives’, each of whom is heavily involved in every step of the creative process.

UPSTAIRS_ studio

Led by Creative Director Dennis Cheok, UPSTAIRS_ takes a unique approach to each design project that its hired to do. Dennis describes it as a collaborative process that’s bolstered by constant communication between designer and client. “We listen a lot, and thereafter, we edit and abstract a coherent story that forms the backbone of each project,” he says. “What I especially love about this process is that we really come to know each client at a personal level, and by the end of the project, we end up becoming friends.”

UPSTAIRS_ The Crate Apartment

The Crate Apartment was awarded the title of Home of the Year and Most Dramatic Transformation, with the former being a special award honouring the most outstanding home project in 2017. In this 5-room HDB flat, UPSTAIRS_ removed all non-structural walls and constructed a monolithic ‘container’ in the middle of the home.

The last couple of years have been eventful. Apart from completing several stand-out interior design works, UPSTAIRS_ was awarded Interior Design Firm of the Year, Most Dramatic Transformation, Excellence in Innovation and Home of the Year at the inaugural Lookbox Design Awards (LBDA) in December 2017. “It’s all rather bizarre to suddenly find ourselves in the thick of all the exposure and attention from the LBDA. We’ve been quietly doing our own little thing for the past six years and staying under the radar,” says Dennis, expressing the surprise he felt upon winning the awards.

A celebration of design

UPSTAIRS_ White Brick House project

The White Brick House received an Honourable Mention in the Best Space for Retreat category. Designed to evoke the homeowner’s memory of growing up in the beach countryside of southern France, this 3.5-storey townhouse was conceived as a sequence of sensorial retreats.

The Lookbox Design Awards are judged by a panel of distinguished industry veterans from Singapore and across the globe, and the winners of each category are chosen based on merit and calibre. For UPSTAIRS_, having their work regarded and celebrated was something that came at a very opportune time. The last two years have been challenging on the firm, Dennis shares, and the LBDA provided much needed validation for the work they’ve been doing. “The team has been working tirelessly and we were all on the verge of a collective burnout. To be recognised for our body of work achieved during this period of uncertainty certainly helps a lot. At least we know that we’re doing something right!”

The Overlap Apartment by UPSTAIRS_ team

This bachelorette pad is known as the Overlap Apartment. UPSTAIRS_ designed it as a series of free-flowing and adaptable spatial zones that overlap and dissolve into one another.

With this renewed enthusiasm for their craft, the UPSTAIRS_ team is looking forward to contributing further to Singapore’s thriving design industry. According to Dennis, the introduction of the LBDA coincides with a time when a crop of younger designers are starting to make themselves heard. “Apart from the established design firms that have already set the tone and standards of Singapore design, we have been seeing a new wave of young firms and studios emerging over the past few years that have helmed their own distinct approach to design, and left their own mark within the creative landscape.”

UPSTAIRS_ PLY HOUSE

The Ply House was the winner of Excellence in Innovation category. The external facade of the terrace house has been conceived as an ultra-modern architectural shell, formed by hand with century old clay bricks reclaimed from demolished Chinese villages.

For Dennis and his team, this creative landscape is constantly evolving, and it’s only natural that UPSTAIRS_ would continue to grow and adapt. There’s a trend that leans towards the “hybridisation of creative disciplines,” wherein more design firms are foraying into areas beyond just interiors and architecture. For a dynamic firm like UPSTAIRS_, this might just be the next step up for them. “We see a rich layering of work that have been influenced by other disciplines like graphic design and furniture design. UPSTAIRS_ would probably fall under this category as well.”

UPSTAIRS_
www.upstairs.sg

LBDA 2019 opens for entries from 22 May – 30 July 2019. Submit your best work here!

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