A home is a lot like a fingerprint – there are no two alike. Each and every one is unique to their owners even within family. Even twins don’t share fingerprints. At this point, you’ll probably understand why when you ask Pearlin Soh to reproduce her past works for you, she’d reply with a resounding, “NO!”.
Pearlin Soh is the co-founder of Pith Interior. Formerly a quiet but creative introvert video editor, she unexpectedly found her footing in interior design, where she discovered that she thrived just as well at worksites getting her hands dirty as she does in an enclosed air-conditioned studio, if not better. Since then, her sense of creativity and workflow from her media industry days has served her well over the 5 years she’s been interior design field.
An assertive, self-made woman with a mind of her own, we had to leave a trail of artisanal mugs of coffee to lure her into our interview trap.
1. So how did you get into interior design? What’s your origin story?
I was looking for a more meaningful and fulfilling job for my mid-career switch. I had been in the media industry for 12 years when a timely opportunity popped up.
Oooh, do tell! How did this chance fall into your lap?
Well, I was feeling jaded as viewers were switching from cable TV to OTT (Over-the-top) platforms, so less people were watching our content, by extension, my work (I was a video editor at the time). I’m the type who needs to find fulfillment in my job. So I went on a career break – packed my bags and left for Australia for a few months.
That’s when I got a call from an acquaintance – it was for an opening at an ID firm. She was like, “You want to try?”
“Okay! Why not?”
Have you ever thought of interior design as a career prior to that?
Not really. Just creative work in general so interior design fits the bill.
I brought a lot of my soft skills from my video editing days into my new career – keen eye for detail, strong logical thinking skills and troubleshooting problems.
The learning curve was actually quite steep so self-learning was, and still is, important. You have to be curious, hungry even. A lot of time was spent on job sites where I observed and learned along the way. Plumbing, technical, and all the other stuff. Bosses only teach you so much then it’s up to you. And you can’t take things at face value – sometimes what mentors teach isn’t 100% accurate so you have to test it yourself.
Video editing is very different in that you’re dealing with rather non-physical product. It’s all data. Was it intimidating in any way to jump into a career that’s the complete opposite – all hands-on and very physical?
(Laughs) Yeah, with video editing, it’s just you and the computer. The workspace is clean and air-conditioned – very comfortable. Admittedly, I jumped at the job offer without knowing what I was getting into. That’s when I discovered, oh, it’s very dusty and dirty, very hands-on, very noisy. However, I learned something about myself – I’m a lot resilient than I gave myself credit for. I could transition from a cushy job to a laborious one. I could do it!
It must have been a liberating revelation for you.
It was a real transformation for me! And the rest is history.
I assume that since you’re still in the industry, interior design is your cup of tea.
It is! I like that it’s a very active and dynamic role - from receiving the client’s brief, conceptualising the design, solving problems, and seeing your designs come to life. I get to meet new people and travel around Singapore every day to visit job sites, which is working out great for me because I don’t enjoy desk-bound jobs! And with each new job site, I get to explore new food and coffee places during my breaks!
Sounds like enjoying yourself is just as important as getting the job done!
Right?! I’m always excited to start new projects for the designs and everything else that it brings. At my current phase in life, it is important to enjoy a job as it takes up a big part of my time. I view the stresses that it brings as motivations to improve my mindset constantly.
2. Who is or was your inspiration in interior design?
My inspiration comes from the local group of interior designers I met on Instagram and keep in touch with. We generously share knowledge, solutions, and contacts. And we freely give compliments when we each other’s completed projects. I am extremely thankful for this group of industry friends who share the same passion and vision as me.
You say you all met on Instagram. Have you ever met each other in person?
(Laughs) We’re always planning to but it’s always, “Next week!” Everyone’s so busy!
3. What would you say was your first real foray into interior design?
I think it was when I picked the cabinet laminate and wall paint colour for my bedroom when I was about six-and-a-half years old.
What?! You got to pick your own furniture at six?
… and a half. We were shifting house and I got to pick my own cabinet (laughs). I remember asking specifically for a custom-sized whiteboard on the wall above my study desk so I could scribble on it. However, the contractor chose poor materials – I wasn’t able to entirely erase my writings on the board even when using a whiteboard marker. This led to many different degrees of faded writings being left on the whiteboard for the next 20 years. Though, thinking back about this whiteboard now, I feel it was actually an accidental art piece all along (laughs).
4. Every artist has their proudest work. Which baby is your favourite?
If I really have to pick one, it would be an executive apartment I did at Pasir Ris – a modern peranakan house. The owners wanted to bring over existing furniture from their previous home, which had a much more traditional style. So we designed the home around all that.
The homeowners were quite adventurous and openminded which gave us the opportunity to explore materials and styles. Each section of the house had tile patterns unique to that part. We also creatively used common materials to solve layout problems and to bring out the personality of the home.
5. What guides your work? What would you say your design philosophy is?
I take pride and I put my heart into all my projects. I feel that each home should have its own personality and that is why I named the company Pith.
I wanted a short and memorable name.
It’s SUPER short.
Yup! But it means so much. For one, pith is the part of a plant that transports nutrients around. We like to think our designs help make homes “nourishing” to homeowners.
Pretty deep stuff.
Thanks. Second, it means “essence of something”. In this case, we design homes with the essence of their owners. Their own unique personality made physical.
Love it! So, how DO you capture homeowners’ essences?
It always starts with a meeting to chat about what they have in mind. Sometimes they’ll even have their mood boards ready. From there I’ll have an idea on what the owner likes, and I’ll try to offer up some alternatives if there are ways to make the designs more unique and personalised for them. This can also happen during the reno process when I have new ideas.
For example, there was this owner who wanted the same house as the Pasir Ris one. “I want it exactly the same!” However, I refused – as a creative person, it doesn’t feel right. So I offered that he should make it like his own; something unique to himself.
6. It is said that no idea ever comes from a vacuum. What inspires your work? Where do your ideas come from?
From everyday life – exploring new places, talking to people, constant craving to learn about new materials, processes and ways to improve my work. Sometimes my ideas can also come after a glass of wine… or two… or three… or in the middle of the night, when my body is sleeping but my brain isn’t.
7. What is one advice you’d like to give up and coming interior designers?
Never be afraid to ask lots of questions.
and to challenge, in a friendly way, when someone says something cannot be done.
I learn the most when I chat with contractors on site and observe their craft.
You only needed…
It is okay to make mistakes but do not make the same mistakes twice.
Take pride in your work and do not settle for anything that falls short of your standards.
And that’s a wrap! Thank you! Bye!
Posted on 1st May 2023
SIXiDES Editorial Team
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