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Interview with Ethan Goh: Self-made Designer



If you’ve ever wondered what a self-made man looks like, just look at that portrait up there. That’s self-made, right there. That’s Ethan Goh.


Ethan is what they call a technical interior designer: one with no formal industry education, but loaded with real life work exposure. Passion got him there but it wasn’t easy. He had to start in IT marketing but sheer tenacity was what landed him where he is today. Armed with a truck-load of experience, practical knowledge, and, most importantly, a sterling reputation for amazing work, he became the founder and lead designer of Ethan Interiors.


Honestly, all that is just the tip of the iceberg. We caught up with Ethan to wrangle the rest of his humble beginnings out of him.


Now that we’ve got you seated down, tell us about your beginnings. Every artist has one. What got you into interior design?

(Laughs) My dad is to blame. He used to drive past Yio Chu Kang after school and I admired the buildings as we went by. I didn’t have the words to describe it then, but I guess I loved the clean lines back then. “Why so different?” I used to ask. I’ve since fallen down that rabbit hole. However, it took a long time to get there.


Why? What happened?

Grades. I wasn’t doing great at school and didn’t get enough to enter into polytechnics to study interior design. So I ended up with an IT diploma instead. 

Mr Chow(left) and Jolin(right) were my colleagues who helped me a lot back then.



Hang on… really? That’s got nothing to do with interior design. Or art.

Tell me about it.  My career started with IT marketing for some multinational companies. Which wasn’t too bad, really. I got good enough that I tried my hand running my own marketing gig. Several times. After one too many false starts, I asked myself, “Why not try interior design again?” 


That’s when you got into interior design?

Not immediately. But I did get a marketing role at one of the local interior design firms. A year later, I put in a request for an internal transfer to the interior design team. My boss at the time graciously approved. I’d be transferred in six months. Six months of hell as I juggled between marketing and visits to the national library learning everything from lighting, ID culture, and the differences between contractors and ID (there’s a lot!). 


It almost hurts just to listen to that. Did you ever regret the journey?

No. Never. If I hadn’t slogged through all that, I wouldn’t have picked up what I know now. I don’t just have the ID know-how, I’ve also got marketing experience. 


Which, I understand, you put to great use.

Yes, but not quite in the way most see it. 


Mr Salleh(far left) and Ms. Aini(second from left) helped me along when I first started EI.



How so?

My success wasn’t just me. It was due to the goodwill of homeowners I once worked with. When I was out of work due to the pandemic, homeowners I had worked with suggested I start my own ID firm. It started with one; they offered their own home as a showcase for my work. I don’t really know how, they became the first of many others who would eventually help me get on my feet. Through their satisfaction and faith in me, I started Ethan Interiors at a time when most businesses were closing shop. Within a year, we had so many inquiries that my pioneer team of eight couldn’t keep up, and we had to expand.


You’ve got killer people skills. Should’ve gone into PR!

I think I like where I am now.


Karin Bohn’s YouTube Channel printscreen 




Nonetheless, that’s a super inspiring story. Speaking of inspiration, who is or was your inspiration for interior design?

I’d have to say a YouTuber from Vancouver, Karin Bohn. She pretty much formed the foundation of my design philosophy. I think why she resonates so much with me is her beginnings: passionate about interior design but had to struggle to get where she is today. She stood out from the rest with how adaptable she was, easily putting together amazing designs with whatever’s at hand. Really good at recycling materials and keeping homes sustainable. 


Check out the video of Ethan's Segar Road project!


What’s your proudest work? Every artist has one.

474 Segar Road.

 

Yeah? Why’s that? Give us the deets!

Personally, I love black with gold accents. This was pretty much an excellent excuse to indulge in that with this home, simple as that. The dark theme worked really well with the blend of modern elegance and classic European look. Let’s just say the owner was completely floored by the results.

 

The other thing that I really love about this one, is how everything came together so neatly. No other project met the time frame as perfectly as this one did. There were so few unexpected surprises we were starting to get a little worried; we thought we missed something. I’d say only 5% of the work had unexpected challenges (Editor: 10% is typical for most interior design projects. At 5%, this was far better than average.). Everything was on the dot. This project essentially became the benchmark for all future projects. 


What guides your work? What would you say your design philosophy is? 

Steve Jobs once said “Design isn’t just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.” I firmly believe that. Art of interior design is all about how we experience spaces. I have always loved design with clean and crisp lines, where textures and accents speak the designs, but it has to be functional too.


With that in mind, I really want Ethan Interiors to be trendsetters, always applying modern approaches to familiar challenges.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

It is said that no idea ever comes from a vacuum. What inspires your work? Where do your ideas come from?

Nature, really. Organic stuff. At present, dark gray rocks with gold linings appeal to me the most; akin to veins of gold found in the earth. The Japanese art of kintsugi (the art of mending broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold or other precious metals) comes to mind. Come to think about it, I guess you could say that both nature and art work together to inspire me.


Day to day work Ethan and team


And you are very inspiring! Before we part ways, what is one advice you’d like to give up and coming interior designers?

Be passionate, and never let your circumstances stop you from exploring new ideas. It’ll never be a bed of roses. And there will be thorns. The interior design industry is really tough where only the most resilient thrive.


Posted on 25th Feb 2022


Kenny Tan,

SiXiDES Writer

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