Acclaimed even beyond Singapore’s shores as an interior designer, Peter Tay initially trained as an architect and graduated from London’s prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture School, popularly known as AA. Today he is Design Director of Studio Peter Tay, an incarnation of P-Three, which he formed in 2003.
The 43-year old winner of many awards, who laughingly tells you he still cannot draw very well, has worked with industry giants such as Stefano de Martino, former associate partner of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, and Raoul Bunschoten. His clients include actresses Zhang Ziyi and Zoe Tay, singer Stephanie Sun, hairstyling guru David Gan, property developer SC Global, and brand names such as Richard Mille, Manolo Blahnik and Armani Casa.
Success for him didn’t happen overnight. He points out: “It took me 11 years to get to where I am today and a lot of hard work”. He is known to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
Peter also credits “luck” with people coming to his aid many times. For example, running into David Gan while on holiday break in Singapore, before graduating from AA, was fortuitous. The meeting led to Peter being tasked to refurbish David’s Passion Hair Salon (in the former Promenade shopping mall). This first project opened doors for him. Peter has not looked back since.
A devout Catholic, Peter believes he has been blessed with assistance from a higher power many times in his life. He recalls an incredulous episode: following a serious car accident in 2006 that put him in a coma, his doctors were pessimistic about his chances of survival. However, he pulled through.
The accident affected a part of his memory, but did nothing to diminish his talents. It did, however, change his outlook on life. More interested in giving back to society than mingling with the glitterati, Peter now makes time for pro bono work for churches, two in Singapore and one in Cambodia. Proceeds from the sale of his monograph, Peter Tay, published by Sanctuary Niseko (Japan) in 2013, go to Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations, which helps the physically challenged community in Singapore.
For Peter, the size of a project and the money involved do not matter. Nor does he now care if the client is a celebrity. “My work shouldn’t be exclusively for celebrities, but rather, the important thing is to create and design good spaces”. Citing how he once did a project for free for a client who had waited six months for him, he says: “I feel that sometimes it also matters if the client sincerely wants you to do the job”.
For each project, Peter gives his all. “All my clients are important, and I design (every piece of work) with my heart and soul”. His projects are often a relationship between people. “We work as a team. There is a lot of mutual respect and support. The success of each project does not depend on me as an interior designer alone. It is really a team effort, which includes the client, my design support team, and my team of builders. My role as a designer is to guide and help achieve the visions of the projects, and at times, take them to new and exciting levels”.
“Classic, modern, luxe” are the three words that Peter uses to describe his style. These characteristics are clearly evident in the interiors he has designed, whether for residences in Singapore’s salubrious districts 10 and 11, corporate offices, brand-name boutiques, hotels showflats or homes. Keenly interested in the interior aspects of architecture, he has been intrigued since his student days with modern masters such as Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, Mies van der Rohe, as well as furniture designers Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Serge Mouille.
Of the many works that do him proud, Peter singled out the following as the top three: his monograph, Peter Tay, which shows his work over the past 11 years; his exhibition Reflections in Palazzo Bembo at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2014, which explores the duality and interchangeability between architecture and interiors, as well as the relationship between reflections, the body and space; and the volunteer design service he rendered to the Adoration Room at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in 2006.
Receiving the Designer of the Year award makes him feel “very humbled and grateful and, at the same time, excited to be recognised for the work I have done. I hope to bring the same passion into the next phase in my journey, and to continue advocating good design – be it in teaching, through my projects or community contributions and volunteer work”.
For Peter, the President’s Design Award has set “a benchmark for designers and design in Singapore that helps steer the way for good design, and serves as an encouragement for designers to reach new levels”.
Peter’s own concept of design dovetails with the Award’s vision of design making a difference to the lives of Singaporeans and those of the larger global community. “More than anything, design is about life and the happiness it brings”.
Peter Tay’s advice for emerging designers:
“Approach life with passion. It doesn’t matter what you do – street photography, product or fashion design, landscape architecture. That way, you are able to touch people’s lives with your work.”