Q&A with Furniture Designer Melvin Ong of Desinere

Find out more about the designer behind award-winning products such as the distinctive Singapore Icons Tembusu ceramic ware, and how serendipity plays a part in his practice.

Updated on June 12, 2017 11:06 am

Xiangyun Lim (Alexa)


Visiting Melvin’s studio was an experience that embodies his studio’s name, Desinere, which means "to cease; to stop." The quietness around settles upon you, and the buzzing dregs of a hectic day dissipates. Time seems to have slowed.

For this young designer who’s already made quite a name for himself, it’s a way of life: to take a conscious pocket of time out of the flow of everyday life, for quiet reflection. And it is in these deliberate moments that Melvin finds inspiration, leading to products such as the Itty Bitty Rocking Chair. Designed with a gentle arc at its feet, this chair allows one to rock and “satisfy the itch to fidget.” The idea came about when Melvin noticed the tendency to move about when one is seated―a tendency so subconscious it goes mostly unnoticed.

Itty Bitty Rocking Chair

The Itty Bitty Rocking Chair became part of the debut Desinere collection unveiled at Design Tide Tokyo 2012. He has also showed in Milan Salone Satellite and Tortona Design Week, and was the only Singaporean to receive the Maison&Objet Asia’s Rising Asian Talent award last year.

While walking to his old studio in Tiong Bahru, Melvin passed by a construction site for a condo development and realised how concrete has become commonly associated with the industrial. It inspired him to incorporate the material with the delicacy of paper pleating in the Rok paperweight, which holds high ornamental value. 

Melvin’s designing journey follows an organic flow, guided by moments of serendipity and projects that fall along his way. This often leads to collaborative projects across disciplines, including fashion label Stolen and a recent series of lamps with home and living brand Tinge.

LUEUR lamps by Tinge and Desinere

“I felt that I shouldn't restrict myself to one particular discipline of design. Design is a rather rich field to delve into, and part of my approach with Desinere was to take on projects that would feed my knowledge and journey as a designer,” Melvin explains. “And to a large extent, this is factored by the people that I meet and collaborate along the way.”

There is, thus, no way to predict what Melvin will come up with next. And if you stop and think about it, it’s pretty beautiful to trust the process this way.

What is the most memorable piece you designed?
It probably has to be the Itty Bitty Rocking Stool. The very first version of this stool was the winning entry in the 4th Fl!p challenge organised by SFIC in 2008. Since then, I’ve been constantly making changes to the design before arriving at its current form and proportion. The current version of it was also the first furniture piece that I handmade since returning from the UK in 2012.

Where do you get inspiration from?
I try to carve out pockets of time during the week to step out of the 9 to 5 work mode and take an extended coffee break, or have a quiet walk after lunch just to be still with my thoughts. I find it refreshing to be able to cast away the worries and stress of work and life for even just half an hour or so. It allows me to hear my thoughts clearly and keenly observe things around me. It’s almost like creating opportunities for inspiration to hit you.

Monolith Lounge Side Table

Fraise Ornamental Paper Collar

Are there any particular styles that you’re drawn to?
The minimal yet thoughtful and philosophical process taken by many renowned Japanese designers like Naoto Fukasawa, Kenya Hara, and Junya Ishigami are very refreshing, and their approaches in their body of work are truly inspiring.

Comfort food when conceptualising/designing?
Soya milk! It keeps me feeling full if I'm going to have a late lunch.

City or country?

Traditional or contemporary?

Morning or evening person?
Evening, but I'm now trying to be a morning person.

Favourite place(s)?
The pier at Canada Water in London, where I used to jog at.

Favourite furniture piece in your home?
This refurbished school bench from Indonesia that has a backrest for one person and an additional half-seat that doubles as a side table

If you could live in a famous person's home, whose would it be?
I love movies, so it definitely has to be Stan Winston. He has already passed on in 2008, but he’s a legend in movie special effects and was best known for his work done in movies like Terminator and Jurassic Park. I would be really curious to find out what sort of “special effects” made their way into his home. I think if I didn’t choose design as a career, I would’ve gone to Stan Winston School of Character Arts.

If you would be reborn in another country, where would it be?
It has to be Tokyo. Because, Omontesando Koffee.

Three must haves in every home
Loved ones, something furry that moves, and WiFi.

Who's your favourite furniture and interior designer? Share them with us at hello@cromly.com.


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