Chinese Violet

By Kelley Cheng, 16 October 2021

In the 2nd series of interviews for Studio SML, we spoke at length with Larry Peh and Nathan Yong, who shared with us their trials and tribulations in the early days of starting out. The stories they shared are funny, heart-wrenching, but most of all, honest and real. To be a successful designer is not something that happens overnight and more often than not, the journey is not an easy one. Besides having to go through the same hardships as any startups - worrying about paying rentals, paying staff, paying bills - designers also have to be creative amidst the stress of running a business and be versatile enough to do marketing and have enough emotional quotient to maintain client relationships. It really is a lot to deal with if you are young and inexperienced. You might be lucky and meet someone who could help you, or find yourself a good partner to carry the burden together; or you might be damn suay (means unlucky in the Hokkien dialect) and meet mercenary and heartless people who would do anything to take advantage of you and cheat you of your money, time, or talent.

The business of design is not an easy one, and the ones who succeed are the often the ones who are determined enough - have the grit and strength to overcome many challenges and sufferings, have the patience and humility to learn, and most of all, have a dream to live for. One thing for sure - you do have to pay your dues.

Many people go through a lifetime of hard work simply because they want to enjoy a comfortable retirement or a better life at the end of it all. In work, you get a sense of achievement through honing your craft and you feel rewarded when you are able to help someone, be it a client or for a social cause; in life, you find your joy and love in friendships, family and people around you, and this is perhaps what they called Work-Life balance. Work is tough, building a business is tough, do not expect fireworks everyday, there will only be quiet moments of satisfaction, that perhaps come from a personal pursuit of perfection.

Everyday you go to work, everyday you are like a creeper scaling the wall, one millimetre, one centimetre - you hardly notice it but you are scaling higher very slowly everyday if you are committed to the task, professionally or spiritually.

Everyday, you come back from a tired day of work, you deserve to rest and if you can just do a little bit of things that make you happy - be it doodling, eating something nice, a walk in the park, watching a nice movie on Netflix or simply relaxing to some music - learn to appreciate these little moments because this is happiness at its simplest and purest form. So you must remember to enjoy the little things in life because maybe that is all that matters.

The Chinese Violet is called 夜来香 in Chinese, and it translates as "Fragrance by Night". A little bit of fragrance at night is what the Chinese Violet work so hard for everyday. And that, perhaps, is bliss.


By Kelley Cheng, 1 September 2021

1\ Sage is a perennial, drought-resistant herb mainly used for healing purposes. It grows best when there is abundant sunshine. Aside from Sage’s healing purposes, it has many other uses such as purification because of its antimicrobial agents that fight harmful bacteria.

2\ Sage is a person distinguished for wisdom, such as a profound philosopher. Sage can also be a mature or venerable person of sound judgment.

It was the beginning of 2020. I just wrapped up my 20th anniversary exhibition at the National Design Centre when we started to get news about a strange contagious virus spreading in Wuhan. There was not any notion of fear in me still as I thought that it will not travel so far to our little island.

By February, this virus has escalated into a global pandemic and it has even been given an official name by then - Covid-19. In April, Singapore was badly hit as well and the government declared an emergency lockdown for 2 months, and we were all to stay home, work from home and do everything at home. It could have been really nice to stay and work at home for 2 months but the downside is that many of our works were stopped or put on hold overnight.

Homebound and suddenly with much spare time on hand, I started to think about what could be a dream project for me at this point of my life. And that was when the idea of Studio SML was birthed. I hope that the stories in Studio SML can inspire and be a source of reflection for our design community, to provide respite and recharge for the creative mind during this time of the pandemic. Produced in a time of adversity, much like the spirit of most designers - who often thrive despite hardships - Studio SML embodies the same spirit of Sage, the herb.

Studio SML is conceptualised to be a progressive project. It hopes to archive and document the journeys and stories of Singapore designers - young and old - creating a comprehensive volume of Singapore design history that can be accessed by current and future generation of students, designers and everyone who loves design and wants to have an understanding of what goes on behind the creation of design. In that light, Studio SML takes on the role of a vessel that shares knowledge and teachings, much like a Sage, the wise one.