Design iOi: Singapore Prestige Class Award 2020/2021

Designioi01 20202021
Designioi01 20202021

And So, The Journey Begins

May Lim’s journey in the interior design field started in 1996, when she first began as an interior design consultant. She previously attended Lasalle College of Interior Design, and went on to pursue Bachelor’ s Degree in Environmental Design at University of Canberra. She was known to be a go- getter and determined, and worked well with her previous bosses.

Having accumulated years of experience, May decided to embark on her next challenge of starting her own interior design and renovation f rim, which also gave her more control over her time. “I want to look after my children, while still bringing income at the same time,” says the mother of three. In 2005, she set up Design iOi with her husband.

The beginning of Design iOi was not without its hurdles. As a young business, May and her husband had to build their customer base from scratch.

They also had to navigate tricky working relationships with contractors, citing an incident when a sub- contractor left the job unfinished after receiving payment. That unfortunate experience then led May to build her own team, consisting of skilled electrical, plumbing, and carpentry workers.

Recently, the business also suffered from the impact of the pandemic. Government’s directive for circuit breaker in Singapore meant that no renovation work could be done during that period. Only in the month of May, were they able to start doing M&E as well as some maintenance work. Eventually, after the restrictions had been lifted, business started picking up again. Despite all the challenges, May and her husband persevered, and Design iOi continued to thrive.

Pioneering Change in the Early Days

From commercial projects such as Jean Yip and Citibella, offices, hotels, golf clubs, to residential such as HDB flats and bungalows, it looks like May has done it all. But there is one that she has yet to try. “I really want to try my hands on designing casino,” she says.

Speaking of her proudest achievement, she recalls fondly when she took on a beauty salon client many years ago. Back in the 1990s, she noticed that the salon had no proper division, only six booths separated by curtain. This provided almost no privacy for customers.

May was eventually awarded the project of renovating this beauty salon, which she completed within six days, allowing the salon to resume operations on the seventh. “Time is money for commercial clients, so speedy renovation is a must,” she says. The client became the first beauty salon in Singapore that offers such privacy and comfort for customers, with many others following suit. The owner was truly impressed, and tasked May to do the rest of their five outlets. Today, this beauty salon runs over 60 outlets all across the country.

Having a competent and trustworthy team is an essential part of every successful business, and May understands that really well. “You have to look after your employees. There is no room for selfishness as a leader,” she firmly says. And she does practice what she preaches. Her longest- serving employee is a Bangladesh national who has been working with her for 16 years.  He started off as a cleaner, but through hard work and May’ s training over the years, he is currently acting as a supervisor with many skills on hand. “He can even speak Mandarin now,” shares May proudly.

When asked what she looks for in an interior designer, May believes that excellent design skills come with practice. “Most designers nowadays have only taken short design courses, and it shows in their work. We cannot simply copy- paste design from existing templates. We must engage creative and innovative thinking,” she says. Back in the day, she had to learn hand drawing skills, manual measurements, and lots of technical expertise. She believes proper education and training prepare one for the increasingly competitive market.

Speaking of motivation to pursue success, May without a doubt cites that her children are her greatest motivation in life. She always strives to provide the best for her three children and lead by example through what she does. Amanda, May’ s daughter, says she grew up watching May working really hard. “Even with the limited time that she gets to spend with us, she uses that to teach us precious life advices. We learn simply by watching her,” Amanda speaks fondly of her mother. May proves that being a mother does not have to get in the way of your career, or vice versa.

With a wide and solid portfolio under their belt, Design iOi plans to focus more on residential projects, as they are always in demand. “We will use the expertise that we have gained from years of experience in the commercial industry, and continue to promise greater efficiency for our customers,” May says. She advises young aspiring entrepreneurs to put their dreams into action, trust God, and keep going even when the journey gets rough at times. That is how one turns their aspirations into reality.

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