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19EightyThree’s Ben Teo on Why He Keeps His New Firm Lean

At 19EightyThree, better design quality and a personalised service are just some of the attractive perks that founder Ben Teo and his small, but experienced team have to offer.

With just four people running the show at 19EightyThree, you wouldn’t be wrong to think of this brand-new home design consultancy as a small outfit. However, to think of it as an inexperienced “new-kid-on-the-block” would be a mistake.

Headed by veteran interior designer, Ben Teo, 19EightyThree is his answer to the issue of balancing business and creativity – a challenge that he has constantly faced during his six years long career in Singapore’s renovation industry.

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(Left: 19EightyThree founder and head designer, Ben Teo)

“Being tied down by the business side of things doesn’t sit well with me, and to an extent (having) a micro-company frees me from these concerns,” says Ben about his decision to keep 19EightyThree small and nimble. “I prefer to prioritise and focus on the design needs of my clients. Getting a home is a big investment, and that’s why they deserve that much. And as a homeowner myself, that kind of dedication is something I would want too.”

In this Designer’s Spotlight, Ben shares about his new team at 19EightyThree, their work as well as what his unique approach to the interior design business brings to the table.

Qanvast: Tell us more about the team behind 19EightyThree.

Ben (B): The team consists of myself, two other designers who were handpicked by me as well as a project manager. I’d say what we have here is a small business that mainly focuses on design consultation.

While we’re capable of functioning as a one-stop-shop or ‘bao ka liao’ (Hokkien for ‘covers everything’) service as well, we don’t have any in-house contractors. Instead we work with several preferred contracting partners so that we aren’t tied down to a single option.

Also, even though we are a mixed team of experienced designers and passionate graduates, we’re all eager to explore fresh ideas in interior design. Nothing short of perfection satisfies us, and we’ll continue innovating till we achieve results that everyone can be happy with.

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Qanvast: What were your reasons for setting up 19EightyThree?

B: I’d say the main reason was freedom. From my personal experience, I have learnt that finding a balance between running a business and design creativity is often an ugly challenge, and I feel that starting afresh allows me to put more focus on the latter.

To be brutally honest, it can be very tempting for design companies to produce cookie-cutter or what I’d call ‘copy-and-paste’ projects – that’s where the easy money is, after all. But, for us at 19EightyThree, cash or mass-market appeal isn’t the focus, good and innovative design is.

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Qanvast: Considering that 19EightyThree is run by a small team, are you concerned that there isn’t enough manpower?

B: From a client’s perspective, I can see why they would be concerned that 19EightyThree is a small team; but that shouldn’t be a cause for worry, rather it’s a strength. Getting to know our clients personally, and vice versa, gives us the ability to work well with them – and that’s how we’re able to create good homes, which are both functional and aesthetically pleasing in their eyes.

I also believe that we’re able to cater to a wide range of design tastes despite our team’s size, and that’s because each one of us has a different style and aesthetic sense when it comes to interior design. But at the same time, we all share the same passion for creativity and responsible work ethic. So, no matter who they decide to work with, our clients can expect quality results at the end of the day.

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Qanvast: In what ways is 19EightyThree different from other interior firms?

B: I’d say what’s most unique about 19EightyThree is our identity as a creative platform for designers who are passionate about creativity and innovation. While our primary aim is to provide an ideal home for our clients, we’re also interested in pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished in terms of interior design.

To that end, we have explored forming partnerships with various interior firms. For example, right now, we’re working with Bowerman. Both Chris, the founder of Bowerman, and I are design-driven individuals and we see these collaborations as opportunities to engage in healthy competition as well as a chance to fine-tune each other’s ideas.

This approach is also beneficial for homeowners as we’ll be able to deliver a greater variety of innovative renovation ideas, rather than the same tired ones.

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Qanvast: What are your personal strengths in interior design?

B: Personally, I believe my main strengths lie in material and colour-matching. Also, I’m not sure if this qualifies (as a personal strength) because it’s expected of any creative, but people frequently say that I have a strong drive for originality.

Clients often bring me their personal mood boards with ideas from Pinterest or other homes that they have seen, and they would ask me if it’s possible to replicate them wholesale. Instead, I’d prefer to grasp what interests them, before coming up with a completely original design that’s aligned to their needs and wants.

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Qanvast: What can homeowners expect by working with 19EightyThree?

B: Believe it or not, I was once someone who would choose aesthetics over practicality always, but that aspect (of me) has completely changed ever since I started working in this line. These days, I believe that good design is really about marrying usefulness and looks, or form and function, to create a truly good home – and that’s what our clients can expect of us.

When it comes to budgets, we also prefer to take a more unique approach at 19EightyThree. Instead of coming up with a quotation based on a proposed design like most local companies do, we prefer to work backwards by having clients provide us with a figure that they are comfortable with. Work out your numbers, let us know what you want, and if it’s a reasonable sum, we’ll figure out how to proceed.

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Qanvast: Where do you see 19EightyThree headed in the future?

B: Given that we aren’t exactly new to the renovation industry but are still fresh when it comes to running a company, there’s still plenty to learn.

For a start, I would like to improve our team’s knowledge in the aspects of construction and material design. Even though we’re primarily a design consultancy, building a home that lasts matters. And maybe – just maybe, if it proves necessary, we may consider expanding the team, not for profit, but to improve our technical capabilities. I guess we’ll see.

Check out 19EightyThree's portfolio here!

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