Ever since setting up on my own in 2016, I came to discover that I enjoy and have a lot of fun with interior and exterior decoration. I decorated the interior of our atelier on a shoestring budget, which was a creative challenge in itself.
What I lacked in money, I had in time. And I had a lot of time, especially in the first two years of setting up the firm to think about how to improve the atelier aesthetics. Also, I decorated our atelier over a period of several years, instead of in one go. A slow, organic approach to decorating a place allows room for thoughtfulness, creativity and deliberation in what I want to accomplish and strategy in how I spend.
For example, the long period enabled me to ensure that almost everything I acquired, except the Ikea items and the artwork, was discounted. I also had time to save up for bigger items. Just because I had little to spend did not mean I bought the cheap stuff. I just bought fewer things but made sure each item was quality or necessary.
Decorating over several years gave me more time to experiment as much as I liked before settling on something. Or it gave time for an object to find its natural space in the setting. I could take my time collecting objects, furniture or art, bit by bit, piece by piece, from here and there, that coalesced aesthetically and thematically with the other objects in the room and the room itself. The principle of addition is that nothing added should detract. Each addition had to improve the space.
Time also gave me the room and opportunity to explore myself and my feelings about buildings and the spaces they contain. One thing I recollected was my sadness at how little to no attention is paid to the transient spaces of a building, or just transient spaces or structures generally. These spaces tend to be common spaces as well. Examples are corridors, stairwells, toilets, outer building walls, etc. (unless we are at a fancy mall).
The stairwell area of a walk-up building is my personal pet peeve. Many two to four-storey walk-up buildings’ stairwells are often dim, dirty, disinterested, miserable, littered with old, torn notices on the floor or on the wall, and the ultimate tragedy is they are thoroughly uninteresting. I recalled a wish of mine from an earlier time to beautify such a space if I could.
Now I had the chance.
My starting point was my fondness for classic brass portrait lights. Those that curved elegantly and illuminated the artwork hung beneath it. I felt it had a classic, classy feel to it. For the portrait lights to have the intended effect, the stairwell had to be dim. I wanted it to be dim but not dodgy; an inviting, calming, cozy dimness. I used light blue on the stairwell walls to create a sense of calm.
That also meant I had to have something interesting underneath the portrait lights. The portrait lights ran alongside the wall to the left of the stairs. It has become a place where I display art I enjoy and want to share with others. Of a certain size, of course, nothing wildly expensive. Just something beautiful, something to give one pause and reason to linger.
I also wanted to reward those who for some reason felt compelled to look up in our stairwell instead of just looking down or straight, like I do sometimes. For those that just do inexplicable things like that. To do things without a need for reason. For those curious about the periphery.
I wanted to inject a Malaysian sensibility into the stairwell ceiling. So the object I had in mind had to be Malaysian and have something to do with heights because it related to the ceiling.
At the time I had a pupil, Mohd Fitri, from Terengganu; he inspired the idea to hang traditional Terengganu waus of various sizes from the ceiling. He was pivotal to it because he procured all of them when he went back to his kampung for a visit. The most difficult bit was getting someone who could install the waus in the manner I had in mind. I later installed a light below the waus so the patterns for some could be seen and appreciated.
The dimness of the stairwell contrasted with the reception area which was white, bright and when seen from the bottom of the stairs, provided a natural visual guide as to where to go. I thought the portrait lights would provide a natural prompt to the patron that the business area was at the top of the stairs and not the bottom.
Despite the design and decoration cues, we get our fair share of clueless walk-ins attempting to enter the door below, an area reserved for lawyers. What amazes and amuses me about them is how the door is plain, closed and gives no indication and makes no invitation that it should be entered, and yet they do. These are the kind of people that walk into areas without looking or see but they fail to appreciate.
At the top of the stairs, once you turn to the right, you will see the scene below. The textured wooden bench is for our walk-in clients that come for notary or commissioner for oath services to sit and wait. My mother gave me monkey-thinker artwork. She told me she immediately thought of me when she saw the picture. I assured her she was not wrong about that association. But that artwork won’t be there for long because I intend to change it soon. It has been hanging there for a good seven years now and is looking too settled.
Decorating over a long period allows me to work on achieving my goal, which I have not reached, which I doubt I will ever do, but which provides a source of endless fun. And that is the goal is to continue beautifying the interior and exterior atelier spaces so that those within and without the atelier may delight in them, and to create spaces that foster interaction between ourselves. I would like it to reach a point such that anywhere we cast our eye in the atelier would provide some occasion for aesthetic delight.
When the items and aesthetics coalesce as I hope they do, they create an environment of beauty, good vibes and meaningful relationships both within and without the firm. I do that because that is precisely the kind of environment that I want to work in, to work with others in and a place where I believe good people can do good work.
I dislike the typical modern. sleek, minimalist, corporate legal office as well as the old, small firm style law firms which are completely devoid of any aesthetics. Whilst I can appreciate the cold, efficient beauty of the former, it is not one I want to work in. I prefer our environment to be organically and untypically beautiful. What it lacks in coldness, it makes up for in character and authenticity.
There is not a week that goes by where I do not think about how to refine the aesthetics of some space, nook, patch of wall or thing about the atelier. It is an opportunity for exercise in creativity. It is good fun and also reminds me of my larger responsibilities to the firm: to be its caretaker, guardian and manager.
There is no immediate extrinsic gain from any of this; all of it is of intrinsic value. I do not do all that because it will bring me greater profits, funnel clients my way or reason to constantly upload my social media. It is too reductionist and limited a goal.
I believe a genuine and beautiful setting can provide the impetus for good vibes, genuine relationships and high-quality work. I we get those right, the rest follows.