Here, we ask designers to take a selfie and give us an inside look at their life.
Occupation: Founding principal at OWIU Design.
Hometown: Indonesia, Singapore, and Los Angeles.
Studio location: Los Angeles.
Describe what you make: OWIU (Only Way Is Up) Design is an architecture and design firm based in Los Angeles that focuses on thoughtful design coupled with careful craftsmanship. Our team helms the project from design to build, with an in-house construction team. We believe in creating spaces that evolve rather than ones only built to last. This means there’s a care for the past and a plan for the future.
We like to say our residential projects tend to be the sweet spot between renovation and preservation. Most recently, we launched OWIU Goods, our home goods line, with an emphasis on handmade ceramics made by our own team in Los Angeles. We carry the same thoughtfulness through all disciplines, whether designing spaces or products. Our “matter” line focuses on creating an attachment between user and product. We design products to have a sentimental value attached to it through glazes. Our biggest source of inspiration is nature, going back to the roots of a human’s first memory and our undeniable relationship with nature.
The most important thing you’ve designed to date: Palmero House. The development (design and build) of a midcentury-modern house in Mount Washington, Los Angeles.
Describe the problem your work solves: Typical developers place a high priority on time and money. They often tear down old houses and replace them with cookie-cutter, sub-par ones to sell them fast. With Palmero House, we preserved as much as we could of the midcentury-modern house and evolve it into a new typology, where it had an essence of the old but is very much new and reflective of a contemporary style. We did it efficiently and showed that it’s possible to merge renovation and preservation and achieve a high ROI.
Describe the project you are working on now: Design for Little Tokyo Towers, a prefab concrete somewhat heritage building in Little Tokyo (it was once the area’s tallest building). It’s a local nursing home with a very Japanese clientele. Because of that, the building also had many Japanese details. We’re redesigning the space while making sure we preserve these old details worth preserving and evolve the space abstractly, by evolving these old ideas or simply by finding ways to innovate.
We’re also designing Baroo’s new restaurant. One of L.A.’s favorite Korean restaurants, they represent all the best things about local food culture. They serve Korean food that’s comforting and absolutely delicious, and were started by Mina and Kwang, the kindest, most hard-working, and passionate immigrant couple. Their old restaurant closed down before Covid and everyone has been waiting for the new one ever since. We get to design a space that reflects their food, heart, culture and all of the above qualities.
A new or forthcoming project we should know about: We’re launching a book series of the spaces we’ve given new life to/evolved through restoration and renovation. The first book is done and should launch in the summer. It’ll be one out of an ongoing series.
What you absolutely must have in your studio: I like listening to atmospheric music when I work—things by Endel and Remko Arentz. Our studio is filled with books of all genres, so we never really have an excuse for inspiration block when there’s so much knowledge around us.
We always have Japanese snacks because we’re close to Little Tokyo. I love bringing stuff back from my travels so we have a stockpile of office snacks. We always have Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Vegan Rob’s Cauliflower Dragon Puffs—we wish they were Hot Cheetos, but we switched to a healthier alternative because of how much everyone snacks. We love ordering boba on Fridays and late nights trying to meet deadlines. We also have “family dinners” where we end early and cook together. We made pizza last week, and everyone made their own pizzas with toppings of their choice.
What you do when you’re not working: I’m a very active person. People joke I’m exactly like my two completely neurotic border collies who always want to be doing something. It’s funny because I sometimes can’t stand what workaholics they are without realizing that must be how people feel about me. I’m training for my next marathon in Berlin so I stick to a regular exercise schedule consisting of running and strength training.
I also love exploring spirituality. I meditate one hour every morning, but I try to do it twice or three times if I have free time. I love traveling, learning about different cultures, and trying different foods. I also love photography, so that all works tangentially together by traveling. I also love reading non-fiction books and cookbooks.
Sources of creative envy: Louis Kahn, Carlo Scarpa, Kengo Kuma, Shigeru Ban.
The distraction you want to eliminate: Social media and sugar.
Concrete or marble? Concrete.
High-rise or townhouse? Townhouse.
Remember or forget? Remember!
Aliens or ghosts? Aliens.
Dark or light? Light.
(Portrait by Alexandra Lopez.)