At the start of the new year, I caught up with Debby of STUDIO DAM, a multidisciplinary design studio that she co-founded with her husband, Matthijs. Over a session of tea and pandan chiffon cake in her airy home-studio, Debby filled me in on thoughts of impending motherhood, her journey as an entrepreneur and designer, and how to make sense of growth and challenges.
I believe my penchant for textiles stems from very early years of rummaging through my mother's own dress-making stash and by watching her on her own creative projects. Do you have any early influences or experiences to share?
My maternal grandma took care of me during my childhood, especially from the time when I was born till the age of 8 or 9. We are exceptionally close, even to this day. My appreciation of the arts/ culture/ design/ all things beautiful comes from her because she first appreciated things as such and I would observe her. So when I was young, during my free time, she would share with me her interests in ceramics, her bonsai plants, etc. That environment moulded me to actually start creating from a young age.
Design, or any creative profession is about creating your own world of fascinations and making sense of it - only hoping that others will make out of it the way you want them to perceive.
Tell me about a milestone that has truly shaped you:
Graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven - I have to say, the entire education in Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) was such an eye opener. I wouldn't trade anything for that experience because what I learnt there is so fundamental to my creative process.
They taught me many things, not just in design. But that having a strong mental frame of mind is essential when you are a Creative!
Share with me more about STUDIO DAM. How did you start?
Both Matthijs (my work and life partner) and I had been thinking about starting our own creative studio for a long time. The idea of running a studio can be very daunting as we see many of our peers struggling with it.
STUDIO DAM sprouted when we felt confident that we could manage a design business both in the realm of creative and operations. It is a product design and visual branding studio. We strongly believe in working directly with materials, creating from hand to idea rather than the other way round.
STUDIO DAM is realizing beauty through working with hands, reviving sense and emotions through creative work.
Are there any perks and challenges to living and working with your partner? How do you find your own space, to unwind and find rest?
Matthijs and I work very differently. To sum it up, he's the executionist and realist, while I'm the dreamer and planner.
While we both have to put on different hats every day, we respect each other's ideas and strengths, and are constantly amused by our parallel train of thoughts. Our creative process is finding that balance between our two minds and also the client's (if it is a commercial project)... finding the axis where our ideas meet!
To unwind from an intense day, I cook as it's really therapeutic for me. I also find time to exercise in the morning before I start my day.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Who would you go with and what would you take with you?
I would really like to explore Latin America with Matthijs. I hear so many stories from him about it! Bring essentials, travel minimal.
Crossroads, decisions, tough calls - that seems to be a daily affair for anyone who runs their own studio and business. How do you manage with being a creative, and a business owner at the same time?
You're right, every day is about making decisions be it big or small. They can't just be categorised in the business or creative sense, but really in every sense of how it could affect the business. I think what's important is clarity of mind - to always keep moving closer to the vision of the business, knowing that the decisions we make will somehow fall into place.
Gut feelings are so important when running a start-up/business. And so is understanding the notion of taking risks, of not knowing what will happen but to simply embrace the outcome be it success or failure is essential. Every day is a learning curve, it's never a walk in the park!
We often find ourselves saying "There's no time / I just don't have the time / We're running out of time". What are your thoughts on time?
When you run your own creative studio and business, time is the most valuable thing. I don't always use monetary returns as a deciding factor, but rather whether a project aligns with our ethos and vision before investing time in them. Time is an equal currency in this day and age.
Singapore Design Week is just around the corner in March and I'm really excited for your upcoming CHROMA x Singaplural showcase. What's it all about?
This upcoming showcase is all about our research on porcelain, colour and light. The project starts from scratch, from the original material to the end product, all managed by us.
We love this way of working because we have complete control over what we create. You get to learn new things every day when you work this intensely with a material. In the process of working, we value the process of failing because it propels us to search for new direction by pushing the boundaries of our design process and the material used.
The collection will be showcased at National Design Centre from 6 - 18 March.
I'm really thrilled for you that your baby girl will be arriving soon! How do you see yourself growing into this new role of a mother?
I've ALWAYS wanted to be a mother! I always tell Matthijs that I want four kids! But let's see how that pans out after this first one. To be honest, we are less than 3 months away from the arrival of our baby... I am slightly freaking out here.
There are no textbook answers to parenting; there's no right or wrong. To be honest, I can imagine it's the hardest thing anyone has got to do. There's so much responsibility involved. But I know the best way to approach anything is to give it my all and to remind myself that after becoming a mother, I'm still a wife, a daughter, I am still countless of other roles; being a mother isn't the only role I am taking on.
I believe that when I see my child, my infinite love for her will propel me to do many things!
Recommend us a book.
Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood.
Your all-time favourite song.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Zero
If you met your younger self today, what is the one thing you'd say to her?
Be more curious. Stay curious, always.
The Weekend Sundries Woman is a series of narrative photos and conversations, featuring authentic, independent women in their most familiar element and craft. We hope this project elicits thoughts and discussion about the nature of the modern woman today - her growth, her challenges, and her comforts. At our studio, we are inspired by the beauty found in the imperfect, the raw — in one's commonplace. We believe finding rest and a moment of pause in this hectic world is the key to thriving.
As the founder of Shop Wonderland, Melissa runs a beautiful cafe and floral studio out of a shophouse along Telok Ayer Street. Aside from the many delectable offerings of hearty fare and indulgent cakes at her cafe, I simply fell in love with her floral studio on the second floor - a space filled with natural light and the lingering scent of botanicals.
In a world that glorifies the pursuit of perfection and novelty, I often return to and seek out inspiration from the most familiar of things, and I wondered if other women shared similar sentiments. Amidst the festive bustle at Shop Wonderland, I had the pleasure of time to catch up with Melissa as she spoke about her craft as a florist, what grounds and motivates her in work and in life, and how she finds respite and joy through it all.