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Singapore designer Gabriel Tan on creative cities, work-life balance, and finding inspiration

Five minutes with the creative director of Gabriel Tan Studio.

Who are you? I’m Gabriel Tan, creative director of Gabriel Tan Studio. I provide product design, spatial experience design and strategic creative direction for companies. My recent projects include the Duo Residences and Marina One Residences show suites, furniture collections for Design Within Reach (USA) and The Conran Shop (UK), as well as the creative direction of Ariake, a Japanese furniture brand. One of my favourite creations is the Stove chair for Bla Station, a three-legged chair that is compact, light and can be hung on the wall when not in use. Another creation is the Ariake chair. It’s versatile in that you could use the same chair frame but have different seats for it: paper cord, leather straps, cushion, canvas straps or other materials.

What drives you? The fact I’m able to create products that are being used by people. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction to see my products sold in markets around the world – especially in Japan and Europe where the design culture is so advanced. The more I see my products being used, the more motivated I become.

What do you do in your free time? Part of my routine is swimming at night when no one is using the pool. It allows me to be alone and reflect. I also like to travel to break out of my routine and immerse myself in another culture, especially when my creative energies are running low. Two of my favourite cities are Porto in Portugal and Portland in the US. Porto is an up-and-coming city with lots of craftsmen, artisans and creatives. Portland has a warm, relaxed vibe, as well as great farm-to-table restaurants.

Finish this sentence: I’m inspired by… many different things from architecture and sculpture, to music and books. Sometimes a phrase might catch my eye and inspire a thought. Sometimes a song by Fleet Foxes or Kings Of Convenience would do the same. One of the most important books for me is Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, in which he explains that there are two type of people – the ones who separate work and life, and the ones who see the two as interconnected. I’ve since learnt to explain to the people around me why I spend so much time working – I genuinely love what I do.

This story was originally published in The Business Times.