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Creating sanctuaries for city-dwellers, with Winnie Tam from the studio 'fourteen a.m.'

Read our interview on holistic design and calm with Winnie Tam.

winnie tam fourteen a.m.
Wave Residence by Winnie Tam, founder of fourteen a.m.
Creating sanctuaries for city-dwellers, with Winnie Tam from the studio 'fourteen a.m.'
Clara Carlino de Paz
February 26, 2024

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Winnie Tam, founder of the architectural and interior design firm fourteen a.m., is dedicated to building peaceful sanctuaries in cities. To learn more about her approach to wellness and design, we sat down with her for an exclusive interview.

In Conversation with Winnie Tam, founder of fourteen a.m.

Mindfulness and restoration are foundational pillars in your design processes and outcomes. How do you transform urban spaces into tranquil havens amidst the hustle and bustle of city life?

My design idea comes from my own mindfulness practice and my study on Eastern Philosophy.

It is actually unique for each of my clients, as for a home, it needs to be “their” sanctuaries.

However, the two ingredients that come back again and again are biophilic elements and calming themes (avoiding over stimulations).

calm interior design

What are your key principles for designing mindful spaces that promote well-being?

For biophilic elements, because nature reminds us of who we are, the fact that we are part of nature, this can keep us more grounded. Way too often, we are surrounded by all man-made materials, which gives us an illusion that we control everything, and lead to a stressful lifestyle.

Calming themes that avoid overstimulation gives us a space where we can be present for ourselves. Many things crave our attention in our hectic city lives, so I believe it is important for our well-being to give our attention a break.

How does mindfulness inform your design process and the spaces you create?

For the space, we keep focus and highlight certain items and have the rest to compliment it, it is often intentional as opposed to “we just like the look of it”. It is often closely related to my client’s life-style and routine, or their hobbies, or ways to reflect their nature / personality.

For the process, we give our clients full clarity of all our steps at the off-set, giving them transparency and clarity. On every step of the way, we look at design, time management and cost management all together. We are also up-front with our clients about all the challenges ahead, so we can put ourselves in the best place to resolve the challenges.

The idea is to not leave my clients in the dark, so they can understand and enjoy each step of our journey.

calm interior design

What steps do you take to cultivate the right work environment and team to help you reach your goals?

We have a very transparent working mentality. I tell my team our goals and why I aim for that, and encourage them to input as much of their ideas as possible.

I believe that to have a harmonious working environment, the goal needs to be “ours”, not “mine”, so we are actually helping each other to achieve “our goals”.

calm interior design

How do you differentiate Fourteen AM's process from other traditional design firms’?

We never start a project without our first step, which we called “the Winnowing”. In this step, instead of designing right away, we take time to fully understand our clients, who they are, their likes and dis-likes, their daily routines, and how they want to live. We also spend time to understand and evaluate the space we have to work with, as when as any time and budget constraints. This helps us to set a goal and a path together with our clients. I believe that the space we create is half ours and half our clients. Our clients are designing through us. So the better we understand them, the better result we can have.

We also see the design process as an organic process. Traditionally, it is about setting foundation, planning, then following the blue-print. I find this too rigid. I believe that designing is like growing a plant, it has a life of its own, we need to give it room to grow, observe how it is growing, we guide it and prune it, as opposed to force our control on it. 

How do you involve clients in a collaborative process to create personalised mindful spaces?

Beside taking time to fully understand them at the beginning. Each step of the design also has a feedback loop. I give my client 1 week minimum to let our design proposal “sink in”, so they have the time and space to reflect on what they like and don’t like, what more they’d like to add.

My clients are often a couple, or a family, having this 1 week design feedback also allow them to discuss amongst themselves. I’d like to think that after the design journey, they also know each other, as well as themselves better :)

Your design process involves a curation or pruning of itself. How has your design process changed throughout time?

I’d like to think that we are always learning continuously, where there is actually no end destination. So I’d like our design process to keep on improving.

We have a final debrief process with our clients, so we can look back and see what we could have done better for the project. I use this feedback to keep improving our process.

Beside this, we are also trying to weave in more mindfulness elements into the process. Our latest development is that we have created some Mindfulness Postcards with a mindfulness coach Benjamin and a mindfulness photographer Thomas. We highlighted challenging moments in our process, put together calming photography and encouraging words and quotes. I hand these postcards to my clients ahead of the challenging time, in the hope that they will bring my clients support and encouragement.

calm interior design

How do you incorporate principles from Eastern philosophies and practices into your designs?

I’d say that Eastern philosophy is influencing the way I design, which ultimately and indirectly influences the result of my design.

I’m currently studying “Dao Te Jing” by “Laozi”. He speaks a lot about possession, in a way that the way to keep the control is not to control. This is very much like design, we can’t force it. Good design only comes when we are in a relaxed state of mind.

calm interior design

Designers, in their conversations with clients and their branding, tend to emphasise their outcomes rather than their processes. You do the opposite! Why do you believe that the journey to a design is important and worth talking about?

I think we are often too result driven, while I believe the journey is way more important. If we have taken care of our journey, we would naturally arrive at where we want to go.

Design and Construction, especially when it is your own home, is such a stressful journey, there are so many challenges and many we can’t control! I find that clients are often exhausted when the design is made: having the space they want while not having the mindset to enjoy it.

I think I still have a lot to learn and to figure out in my design process, but my aim is to give my clients a grounding, calming journey, so that they’ll be in a good mindset when we deliver their city sanctuaries to them.

calm interior design

How do you stay open to learning and adapting your approach to meet the ever-changing needs of clients and the world?

My approach is absolutely not set in stone, we will learn more and more as we make more designs, and we’d like to feed these learning back to our approach to make it better. This is actually rather exciting, we fully welcome the ever-changing needs of clients and the world with open arms :)

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Before we finish, could you let us know what three products on Portaire’s directory would make the fourteen a.m. edit?

I love the products below. You can find them all on Portaire.

You can follow Winnie on Instagram or keep exploring the theme of Wabi Sabi here.