Interview with Jen Lowe of Ohlo Studio | Inteview

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 

Unlike many of our interview subjects, I’ve never personally met Jen Lowe, but I’ve met one of her projects, and that’s practically the same thing, right? I distinctly recall visiting one of her interiors while in Perth a couple of years ago (ummm yeah – I’m talking June 2016, so this is another interview that’s taken a very long time to come to fruition, but I’m sure you’ll all agree it’s been well worth the wait!). Anyway, the project in question was Chicho Gelato in Northbridge which, despite being tiny, is a pretty special little place and I instantly found myself on the hunt for its creator, which didn’t prove too easy, I must admit. Serendipitously, we were in the process of chatting to Nick Harding of Ha Architecture around the same time (who’s a bit of a top bloke – you should totally revisit our chat here), who happened to have completed a project in collaboration with Jen. Jackpot!

So… Back to Jen. This clever lady is an Interior Architect, Artist and Fearless Founder of , and I’m pretty confident that if you’re not familiar with her work already, you definitely won’t be forgetting about it any time soon. Cause this woman is a serious talent.

The foundation of Jen’s business was built on a passion for creating unique interiors and timeless objects that together form cohesive and authentic spaces. Whether designing high calibre residential, hospitality, retail and commercial projects, Ohlo Studio’s fundamental approach is to create a unique identity for each project influenced by a keen appreciation of place, craft and connectivity. Each project is delivered with instinctive attention to detail and function for a truly memorable outcome.

Please make some noise for the brilliant Ms Lowe! X

 

Related:
Chicho Gelato in Perth by Ohlo studio.
Dilettante Flagship Store in Perth by Ohlo Studio.

 

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Lilo Apartment in Cottesloe, WA. Photography by .

 

+ Hello Jen, welcome to Yellowtrace! Could you please give us a quick introduction? When did you first decide you wanted to become an interior designer? And when did you decide it was time to start your business?

My life trajectory was headed toward design in a roundabout way from a young age. My eventual commitment to the industry, around 12 years ago, was the culmination of a bunch of related passions and studies coming together. I saw the opportunity to combine my background in an art, floristry and styling with a passion for the built environment. As an industry, interior architecture can be incredibly broad. It encompasses everything from the fascinating micro details of object design through to planning entire precincts. This keeps me engaged.

I have always had a business of some kind or other; from flogging my wares during uni years (to facilitate the next project), to collaborating or contracting with architecture studios. But Ohlo Studio began officially 3 years ago. Ohlo Studio was the result of a series of decisions that placed me in the midst of a new business; I had returned to my home city and thus wanted to create something for this old place that was new to me again.

 

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Lilo Apartment by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Lilo Apartment in Cottesloe, WA. Photography by Patrick Schuttler.

 

+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

An agreed behavior of our office is to ‘remain curious in the way we design’. To us, this means immersing ourselves in interesting environments, engaging with communities and continually questioning the why. We get excited about projects with great clients, and our gut plays a big part in the early stages as we ask ourselves ‘are we the right designer for this client?’

The personality of our clients is very important us – we want to understand them and share an aligned vision about what they want to feel or say in their homes or businesses or to share with their community. If the story isn’t there or the clients don’t know how to tell it, we see it as crucial that we help them flesh that out and see what they are trying to do and then work that into the design.

 

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Vera Street in Cottesloe, WA. Photography by Patrick Schuttler.

 

+ How is your studio structured? How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

Ohlo Studio is an interdisciplinary studio that blends interior, product and more recently, identity design. We are seeing that increasingly it is the merging of identity and interior design that creates successful, resolved retail and hospitality projects and we find that engaging talented identity designers to work with us in-house leads to better projects.

Hospitality and retail are our busiest areas but we are increasingly commissioned in residential work, which we really love. Homes are soulful and personal and are more-often-than-not for the long-term: all great things.

On average we have around 5 projects running at one time. Our team fluctuates from 2 to 5 depending on what we have on and we contract out some of our drafting and business administration. In the future we envisage partnering with an architect to offer combined services in-house. We find working as a team across various areas of expertise under one roof very valuable and would hope to keep growing in this way.

 

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Vera Street by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Vera Street in Cottesloe, WA. Photography by Patrick Schuttler.

 

+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day?

We engaged , a small design-business advisor in 2017. Over the last year he has assisted us to set up a series of systems within the office that have streamlined the way we operate. We have begun using Harvest for time tracking and Xero for accounting and it has really opened our understanding of the ‘business’ of design.

As a creative, it is incredibly valuable to have someone to provide you with the tools to assess the worth of your toils. It can be quite a shock initially but leads to wiser decision-making (and a tendency to say ‘NO’ more often). This has been a crucial step in growing the business to the next level.

 

Chicho Gelato in Perth by Jen Lowe Design | Yellowtrace

Chicho Gelato in Perth by Jen Lowe Design | Yellowtrace

Chicho Gelato in Perth by Jen Lowe Design | Yellowtrace
Chicho Gelato in Northbridge, WA. Photography by .

 

+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being an interior designer today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Australian architecture and design industries are absolutely brimming with world-class talent, and yet there is a lack of understanding and value placed on the role of architects, artists and designers in Australia today. Adding to that is Perth’s relatively small population engaged in design, or rather, engaging designers.

Good design (and art for that matter) can be genuinely transformative to lives and to businesses. There are fantastic clients out there who understand the solid investment they are making in good design but for many, design is seen as frivolous and unnecessary.

This goes one step further when you are talking about interior designers as opposed to architects. Here in Perth, we are not only losing the battle to receive recognition of worth by much of the public, we are also undervalued by many of our peers in architecture. Many institutions and forums cater only to architects, and there are clear power struggles and industry misunderstandings at play. Recently, the following remark on Foolscap Studio‘s Instagram feed resonated with me: “As an industry, we need to educate the prevailing public perception of interiors as an afterthought to architectural space, and instead celebrate both fields as two interconnected and complimentary entities equal in skill, strategy, and hopefully soon, gender”.

But the issue is larger than the architect/interior architect relationship. It’s not each other we need to talk to; it is the world at large. Increased design knowledge and design thinking needs to be implemented in Australian education and decision-making as it has been in Scandinavia. On many scales, good design has the capacity to change the throwaway culture we are immersed in. If I could change one thing it would be improving design knowledge at a high level – across government and decision-makers at large.

 

Chicho Gelato in Perth by Jen Lowe Design | Yellowtrace

Chicho Gelato in Perth by Jen Lowe Design | Yellowtrace
Chicho Gelato in Northbridge, WA. Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.

 

+ What are some of your methods to stay motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly?

Motivation comes naturally but focus can be tricky with so much going on. There’s nothing like a deadline (even self imposed) and a well-drafted calendar to tune in my focus.

When it comes to inspiration, Travel is often the solution – it provides both inspiration and the opportunity to reflect at a distance. Getting out and feeling, touching and seeing the real deal is so satisfying and educational in comparison to a life lived via blogs.

My favourite magazine for the last few years has probably been . I love the focus on detail. Also, they don’t seem to ‘age’ due to the way they deconstruct designs and I go back to them time and time again.

 

Dough Pizza by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dough Pizza by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dough Pizza by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dough Pizza by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Dough Pizza in Westfield, Whitford City, WA. Photography by Patrick Schuttler.

 

+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other designers, peers and creatives, in general, do you admire?

Aaahhh, the list is long and always morphing. I have had the opportunity to travel a lot this year and it is the real life visits that outweigh anything on paper. In Corsica some friends and I rented a cliff top villa owned by some hippies in the 1970’s. It was a curvaceous home slathered in chunky render and supported by chunky timber tree-trunk beams- reminiscent of the ‘sculpture architecture’ of . The mix of traditional arches and windows with experimental forms and materials and the relationship of the building to the landscape were fantastic. Seeking out places like this by unknown designers is always inspirational. Sleeping on a round bed was also cool.

I am incredibly inspired by artists and designers that straddle the perceived boundary between design and art. This is an area I will always be drawn to in my practice and I have collaboratively curated several exhibitions exploring this unique field. When I lived in Sweden I came across a number of inspirational people in this realm through , a design auction that explores the boundary between design and art and questions the roles of designer and object. The inimitable Etage projects now represent several of them among other great designers.

We try to support Australian art and design by specifying a healthy percentage of local products in our projects. Some of the pieces in our schedules currently are from , , , Ross Didier and .

On Instagram, I get pleasure following , , and one of my favourite (though relatively inaccessible) furniture designers …amongst many others.

 

LA Fit Studio by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

LA Fit Studio by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

LA Fit Studio by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

LA Fit Studio by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
La Fit Studio in Highgate, WA. Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.

 

+ What advice would you give to emerging interior architects who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practices?

1. While this career is about love and not money, educate yourself about the business mechanisms in design. Valuing yourself financially is essential if you want to survive. This applies twofold if you are a woman.

2. Get out of the office. The best learning happens ‘in- between’ tasks. In stone yards, site visits, talks, galleries, showrooms or taking part in a ceramics course you will find great knowledge. That conversation had when your itching to get back to your drafting might be the one that changes everything.

3. Intuit. Give credence to gut feelings. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

 

Daddy Longlegs by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Daddy Longlegs by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Daddy Longlegs by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Daddy Long Legs in East Victoria Park, WA. Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.

 

+ What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

The opportunity to collaborate with firms I admire (and there are many) will continue to inspire me and there are countless dream projects.

At the moment we are really enjoying designing residential projects. A stimulating evolution for Ohlo Studio would be to begin working on hotels and multi-residential projects. This would combine our expertise in hospitality and commercial with our newfound love of residential. Hotel and multi-residential projects offer opportunities to affect design quality and spatial and community relationships across a wide scope.

 

Dilettante Flagship Store in Perth by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dilettante by Jen Lowe from Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dilettante by Jen Lowe from Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dilettante by Jen Lowe from Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dilettante by Jen Lowe from Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Dilettante by Jen Lowe from Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Dilettante Store in Claremount, WA, designed in collaboration with . Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen.

 

+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals (and some of your current projects)?

Our vision is to create enduring works of exceptional quality and social value. Currently in design we have a variety of projects including:

• Residential extensions in South and North Fremantle.

• The renovation of a mid century home designed in collaboration with architect . (We would love to do more projects like this one – working with architects and landscape designers we admire and collaborating with passionate clients).

• A beautifully detailed café in the historic suburb of Guildford in the foothills of Perth.

• An upgrade of all communal areas if an incredible heritage listed art-deco multi-residential building in the Perth CBD – Perth’s first multi-res tower in fact.

 

Bombay Talkies by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Bombay Talkies by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace

Bombay Talkies by Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Bombay Talkies in Westfield, Whitford City, WA. Photography by Patrick Schuttler.

 

Let’s Get Real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Setting up a design company for a businessman outside the industry. While the experience was ultimately flawed the lessons learned and knowledge gained during that time provided me with abilities to tackle my own business independently later and to seek out staff and clients with an aligned vision.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

Everything on my ‘collection shelf’: a shelf with an assortment of objects and sculptures made by my kids or friends over the years.

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

In 2004 I remember asking myself if I should become an interior architect or a detective!

It’s fortunate I chose design as anyone who knows me can attest, I would make a shocking detective.

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Trapeze lighting.

 

Jen Lowe of Ohlo Studio | Yellowtrace
Hey there Ms Lowe! Photo by Patrick Schuttler.

 

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 


[All images courtesy of . Photography credits as noted.]

 

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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