The devil is in the details: PLUS’ Mervin and Cheryl

Husband-and-wife creative duo Mervin and Cheryl.

The husband-and-wife creative duo, Mervin, and Cheryl, from PLUS recently made a resale flat in the matured Hougang estate their home. Some may call the irregular shaped floor plan awkward, but to the couple, they welcomed the possibilities of transforming the place with the same design ethos they hold dear in their multidisciplinary design studio, who pride themselves in a design sensibility rooted in research and user understanding. 

The tight spaces and angled corners of the previous unit have been transformed into one that felt spacious and inviting. The two designers took down a room and created a central focus by anchoring the space with an extensive floor-to-ceiling shelf containing knick knacks from various artists and designers and a five-metre-long communal table where they host friends and family, as well as to sprawl out their drawings while they work. The common living space was also extended into the balcony area to enjoy the unblocked views of the Serangoon River.

The private and common areas of the house were also clearly demarcated – the doors to their private bedrooms are inconspicuously located at the far ends of the house – a consideration towards their love for entertaining whilst retaining privacy. 

The couple’s dining room and centre of focus in the house.

The space was intuitive, assisted by circulation, material treatment and other design considerations; visitors naturally gravitated towards the communal table. Mervin terms this as ‘readability’. It was something the couple emphasised in their projects in PLUS and now in their own living space. “When we create something for somebody, whoever this person or even brand is, we apply a logic or a framework to it. The design only works if they are able to understand how to use it.”

One such example would be a series of cultural precinct maps designed for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). They were given a brief to design the series of maps to encourage exploration. The team focused on creating a graphic and content system and logic that could be replicated to future locations based on an understanding they had of STB’s approach in representing Singapore. It was intuitive to the designers to have the flexibility of adding other precinct maps and to consider the swapping out of content for ads should it be necessary to sustain the production of these maps. These considerations enabled a sequential storytelling of the district and worked to their expectations. Since the map was designed in 2018, they have now been expanded to cover four different precincts and are available at various visitor centres and malls.

Cover analysis of the cultural precinct map. Photo courtesy of PLUS.

This idea of readability boils down to the simple concept of understanding your users. As Cheryl puts it, their roles as designers are to be consultants to their clients.  “We are not just here to give you our artistic approach, instead we want to help you understand what you need and work with you to make informed design choices together.”

As end users of their own house, they sought to design a space that they would enjoy living in. Calling themselves “very difficult people”, the devil is in the details for them. Based on a keen understanding of their own preferences, accumulation of research and experience coupled with a stubbornness to achieve clarity and seamlessness, they approached the design, as with their design practice, by being results driven. They prioritised the spaciousness and flexibility of their space. The two private rooms of the house were given additional space by building the floor-to-ceiling shelf in place of the old bedroom walls and shifting them outwards, cleverly disguising an extended wardrobe space. The shelf also concealed piping to the house, which can be easily accessed by removing the vanity. A sliding door separated the two rooms and could be opened to create a seamless looped circulation between the private and common areas, a feature their lovable adopted husky enjoys. The result was a space that suited their lifestyle and one that they can foresee themselves continuing to enjoy in the future.

A space that suited their lifestyle and one that they can continue to enjoy in the future.

User understanding is what they feel to be important to achieving a similar level of delight for their clients in PLUS. A recent project saw them partnering with Fujifilm, who requested for a creative solution to help their consumers imagine the possibilities of their machine with metallic printing capabilities. Understanding Fujifilm’s users allowed them to create a series of wearable jewellery in the form of gem-like insects, made entirely from the printing capabilities of the Fuji Xerox printers and a fictional explorer’s guide to discovering the insects in place of a traditional print catalogue. The project gave Fujifilm a fresh way to connect to their clients and saw over $2 million in sales arising from the activation.

“This was our way of approaching the objectives given to us, of seeing beyond the medium and making it a little bit more fun, a little bit more of an experience,” says Cheryl. 

Insecta Iridesse – a series of paper jewelry in the form of gem-like insects. Photo courtesy of PLUS.

When designing houses, the couple chooses to focus on the needs and personalities of the end users. Whilst others would chase the latest interior design trends, the two of them would base their design decisions on a sensibility drawn out of understanding the users. They enjoy the process of shaping the house into something that is unique and tailor made; a designed extension of oneself and evident from their own home. For those who know the couple, you can almost imagine the space even before you step in.

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House photo credits: Jovian Lim

More photos:

The living room with a view of the Serangoon River.
Carefully curated lighting sets the atmosphere of the interiors of the house.
An all-black kitchen with a porous brick wall based on the couple’s preferences for black.
The floor plan: before (left) and after (right).
The fictional explorer’s guide for Insecta Iridesse.

20 September 2021