How A Local Design Firm Turned Laminate Into A 3D Piece Of Art

Art & Design

June 11, 2018 | BY Kim Reyes

In collaboration with Singapore Tatler Homes and local laminate brand Arova, three firms create artworks that represent their design philosophy—here, the bold, experimental design of Upstairs_ x In-Expat shines through in its three-dimensional artwork

With heavy emphasis on collaboration and experimentation in the design process, creative director Dennis Cheok’s approach to every project—whether a space, product, or graphic—begins with a blank slate. “We start each project free of pre-conceptions,” explains Cheok, who leads interdisciplinary practice Upstairs_ x In-Expat. “We seek design cues through the brief, the locale, the materials. It’s a lot to do with asking the right questions in order to tell a good story—both to ourselves and to the clients.”

(Related: 7 New Places In Singapore To Explore For Decor Inspiration)

Helmed by Cheok, the all-in-one design consultancy was created in partnership between design practice Upstairs_ and carpentry studio In-Expat. After a collaborative process of editing and refining to determine the project’s essence, the creative team conceptualises and experiments with design strategies to translate that essence into an intentional, meaningful, and tangible manifestation. Cheok describes this cerebral approach as part strategic thinking and part fate: “We never know what might inspire us in a particular time and place.”

Dubbed “The Snow Form”, the artwork created by Upstairs_ x In-Expat utilises Serieux Snow, a matte-white laminate from the Arova Core collection.

In transforming a two-dimensional material into a functional, three-dimensional object, the firm makes a bold statement that defies preconceived notions of the material itself.

Led by creative director Dennis Cheok, the interdisciplinary practice is part of the In-Expat group, which has expanded from its main core of business in carpentry to areas including building and construction, as well as interior design.

As the firm’s design approach is never stylistically driven, representing the firm’s aesthetic style in an original artwork of Arova laminates was, Cheok admits, quite the challenge. For inspiration, Upstairs_ x In-Expat turned their attention to the nature of the material itself.

“Laminate is typically conceived of as a flat, two-dimensional material; designed only to be seen from the front, its back and edges intended to be disguised from sight,” says Cheok. To challenge these notions of how laminate is perceived, Cheok and his team refashioned laser-cut pieces of the 1mm-thick in Serieux Snow into a striking three-dimensional matte-white object, measuring 40cm on each side. He quips: “Besides making a statement about its existence, the Snow Form makes a pretty good stool too!”

(Related: Laminate Art: Topic Design Studio Celebrates Visual Harmony)

Cheok also likes to incorporate what he calls “easter eggs”: little and often nostalgic design touches that add an additional layer of meaning and soul to each project. This particular artwork’s easter egg is a small brass stud, positioned at its top corner; it’s a nod to the ubiquitous brass fastener used to bind the printed design decks that the design consultancy presents to clients.

(Related: Art Talk: Jeffrey Deitch On What Makes Good Art)

Arova is located at 7 Mandai Link, #04-03 Mandai Connection, Tel: 6363 1661

The botanical print on the ceiling instantly enlivens the living area of this minimalistic house, designed by Upstairs_ x In-Expat

Myriad textures in white decorate the bright and open spaces of this home

Combining elements of the old and new, the firm created a home that harks to the owner's childhood in a seaside town in Southern France


Art direction and production: Khairul Ali
Photography: Cai Hui Xin/ Calibre

This article was adapted from a story in the June-July 2018 issue of Singapore Tatler Homes.

Related Stories