Meter Square Founder May Chang on Finding Success in Failure
It’s safe to say that Meter Square’s founder and interior designer May Chang knows best about the challenges of setting up and running a design firm.
“The story of how I entered this line starts from across the (Johor-Singapore) Causeway,” says the seasoned renovator, who has worked on homes for close to two decades. “Back in 1999, I set up my first company in Johor Bahru. But I ended up closing it due to poor market conditions. Finding skilled manpower was tough as well. I ended up struggling for 7 years, until I finally decided to fold the business in 2006.”
(Meter Square founder and designer, May Chang)
Needless to say, May was left disheartened by the unsuccessful venture. “But ‘give up’ isn’t a phrase that I have in my personal dictionary,” says the plucky designer. In the following years, May made her foray into Singapore where “there were ample opportunities”, eventually starting her firm afresh in 2011 as Meter Square.
To find out more about May’s personal journey, we sat down with the designer herself to talk about the lessons she learnt along the way, and how they continue to benefit Meter Square and its clients today.
Qanvast: What was your experience starting out in Singapore like?
May (M): Honestly, starting out in Singapore wasn’t easy, but instead of seeing it as a challenge, I saw it as an opportunity.
When I first came to Singapore in 2006, I applied to a number of local design firms and I quickly got put to work at renovation exhibitions where I received my first projects here. At the industry’s peak, I was handling at least 6 to 7 clients every month – along with managing my own team – so it was a very busy time. Gradually, I built up my funds and contacts, and 5 years later, I started Meter Square.
Another thing that I am thankful about working here is the legal system. Back when I was still running my first company in Malaysia, chasing for payments was constantly a challenge. Cash flow issues and losses were common. Here, there are safety nets for both consumers and businesses.
Qanvast: What sparked your interest in interior design?
M: I would say that it’s the nature of the job, because what attracted me was the creativity and also the freedom of planning my own working schedule.
For the first 7 years of my working life, I was working a 9-to-5 job in the banking industry, which eventually became draining for me at some point. Afterwards, I ended up at NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) where I started pursuing my passion as a designer. The energy that I felt during my time there was something different; it was special, and it continues to inspire me to do my best even today.
Qanvast: In your opinion, what qualities should a designer possess?
M: I am someone who enjoys stimulating tasks, like sketching and coming up with layouts, which is why I would say that creativity is an important quality for a designer to have.
In this line, a good intuition is also necessary. You have to be fast on the uptake, because time is precious. It’s may be the job of a designer to bring a client’s vision to life and it’s always good to discuss a brief in detail, but there’s no point to a lengthy conversation if you aren’t able to achieve some form of mutual understanding.
Qanvast: What interior trends or features are you a fan of now?
M: My personal aesthetic is ever-changing, but if I have name a favourite, it would be the tropical look. Natural elements, like plants and eco-friendly materials, just have a way of inspiring a refreshing look in homes.
Also, practicality is a must. I have worked on showrooms in the past, and I can say that designing one is much different from creating a home that’s meant to be lived in. You can’t pursue looks alone, because living in a house that isn’t functional is not something you’d want.
Qanvast: Based on your experience, what should homeowners prioritise for their renovation?
M: Put simply, I would say that it’s what they need. It’s important to plan a budget, but at the same time, it’s possible to work around one and get what you require, both in terms of style and function.
I would compare this approach to buying clothes: you can either visit a tailor to get a made-to-fit shirt or buy a suitable one off the shelves. Either way, you are going to get something that you need – and that’s what matters most.
Qanvast: What would you feel sets Meter Square apart from other design firms in Singapore?
M: We really enjoy engaging my clients– that’s how things are at Meter Square and it’s part of the reason why working with us is a unique experience. You get to know us, and vice versa. Also, because we are a small team of just 10 designers, we are able to focus more easily on joint tasks as compared to larger firms.
Another fact to mention is that we have our own carpentry factory; storage fixtures are an important of any home, and partnering with a manufacturing facility makes quality control easier.
Qanvast: From where do you draw your inspiration?
M: My holiday trips! Aside from recreation, travelling to different countries lets me find inspiration for my work. Nearly every year, I attend the Milan Furniture and Design Fair, which features the latest trends in home decor and furniture from around the world.
The historical buildings (in Europe) are also wonderful; I am constantly amazed by how elaborate they are, and how they are still standing even after all these years. Maybe someday, I’ll get to create something that lasts as long too. [Laughs]