Hos­pi­tal­ity and res­i­den­tial de­signer and ar­chi­tect.

In a time when all it takes to be con­sid­ered a smart prod­uct is an app or Wi-Fi com­pat­i­bil­ity, a smart home col­lec­tion that stays loyal to its ana­logue roots will nat­u­rally raise eye­brows.

The de­sign world fell in love with Olivia Lee’s The Athena Col­lec­tion when it was show­cased at the pres­ti­gious Salone del Mo­bile fur­ni­ture fair in April. The 10-piece fur­ni­ture and decor col­lec­tion presents it­self as so­lu­tions to tech­nol­ogy-re­lated habits – the Al­tar van­ity is to be used with ac­ces­sories like smart­phone hold­ers (as you dili­gently follow that Youtube makeup tu­to­rial), while the Arena rug has tac­tile de­tails that help vir­tu­al­re­al­ity gam­ing en­thu­si­asts sense their way through vir­tual and phys­i­cal spa­ces.

But The Athena Col­lec­tion is not Olivia’s first feat. The 32-year-old Cen­tral Saint Martins grad­u­ate runs an epony­mous in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary stu­dio and also founded Won­der Fa­cil­ity (pic­tured, op­po­site), a com­mu­nal space for cre­atives to col­lab­o­rate as well as have the pri­vacy to work on their pro­to­types.

The 1,000sqf fa­cil­ity in Ubi is a bright and airy space, fit­ted with util­i­tar­ian stor­age sys­tems and de­signed to ac­com­mo­date work­shops and col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­jects.

We chat with its in­tro­spec­tive founder to find out more about her.

The Olivia Lee stu­dio prides it­self on its re­search-in­formed de­signs. Which be­havioural trends in­formed The Athena Col­lec­tion?

Tech­nol­ogy is now in­ti­mately in­te­grated into our lives, but the changes were so small and pas­sive that we don’t re­alise how our be­hav­iours have changed, be it in the ways we en­ter­tain our­selves to the rit­ual of tak­ing photos of food. I wanted to in­clude these ob­ser­va­tions with­out forc­ing fur­ni­ture to be­come an elec­tronic prod­uct, be­cause as tech­nol­ogy pro­gresses fast, a phys­i­cal prod­uct that can­not keep up will be­come ob­so­lete.

Why do you think the col­lec­tion was so well re­ceived?

I sup­pose it hit a nerve. It’s like hold­ing a mir­ror up to our­selves and re­al­is­ing that things have changed. I was Face­tim­ing a friend (which, 10 years ago, would have seemed so sci-fi), and af­ter an hour, my hand started cramp­ing up from be­ing in an awk­ward po­si­tion! (laughs) The Al­tar, for in­stance, presents a so­lu­tion to this that you didn’t even know you needed. Athena trig­gered a lot of dis­cus­sion about the dy­nam­ics of tech­nol­ogy and fur­ni­ture; they are sep­a­rate in­dus­tries, yet are amal­ga­mated in the con­text of a home.

Why did you cre­ate Won­der Fa­cil­ity?

When I started my own stu­dio, I re­alised it could get very iso­lat­ing and that there was a real need for a sense of com­mu­nity. But there’s a co­nun­drum; you need soli­tude to do work, but not be alone at the same time. Won­der Fa­cil­ity is an ex­per­i­ment on that, where a small group of peo­ple can share the space and learn from one an­other. For this cul­tural fit to hap­pen, we choose cre­atives with the same wave­lengths and com­ple­men­tary prac­tices.

What ac­ci­den­tal ben­e­fits have you no­ticed about the Won­der Fa­cil­ity?

The 6m-high ceiling. It’s a lux­ury in Sin­ga­pore to have such high ceil­ings and a mez­za­nine space. This has a great psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect on cre­ativ­ity, be­cause the sense of lib­er­a­tion helps cre­ate a con­ducive space to work. Some clients who come for meet­ings even want to stay and do their work here!

What kind of films or books are you into?

I’m big on dystopian and spec­u­la­tive fic­tion. They take a cer­tain ob­ser­va­tion of so­ci­ety to the most ex­treme con­clu­sion. This in­trigues me be­cause it shows us how life can very quickly be­come weird and strange with­out us re­al­is­ing. I love the film Her, the Ghost in the Shell anime, and the Black Mir­ror TV se­ries, as well as au­thors like Mar­garet At­wood, Wil­liam Gib­son and Ge­orge Or­well. Their works are a good form of re­flec­tion.

What do you en­vi­sion your fu­ture home to look like?

It will be cool to have a pared-down and min­i­mal space. I’d like a sanc­tu­ary away from sen­sory over­load and over­stim­u­la­tion. A place where my eyes and mind can rest so I can look in­ward and not be dis­tracted.

How do young de­sign­ers keep their work rel­e­vant with­out fall­ing into the trap of trends?

The best thing you can do is to in­noc­u­late your­self from trends and cul­ti­vate your own voice, stu­dio, de­sign phi­los­o­phy and ethos. That is the surest way to know you’re not a fol­lower, but a pro­ducer of what is truth­ful to your­self and your prac­tice. Push out non-client work and de­velop pro­jects just for the point of hav­ing fun, push­ing your­self and ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent ideas.

The col­lec­tion fea­tures fem­i­nine as well as rich colours. “I wanted to show that be­ing strong does not mean you have to shy away from fem­i­nin­ity, or be mas­cu­line,” says Olivia.

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