Buro. Homes #2: Inside the new home office of married graphic design team, Ella Zheng and Ryan Len of The Workbench

Colour me happy

Text: Tracy Phillips

Video: David Bay and Hazirah Rahim
Image: Hazirah Rahim

Partners in life and work, Ella Zheng and Ryan Len recently moved into their first home, a four-room BTO apartment in Tampines, which doubles up as their home office. Together, they run The Workbench, a boutique design agency that focuses on illustrations and graphic design. Their confidence and dexterity with print and colours comes through in their bold choices of quirky homeware and art that are spread throughout their apartment: metallic badges on the wall to label every room with an unlikely name (Supper Club for the kitchen and Tropicana for the living room), the generous use of bright pink, and the nostalgic nod of old-school tiled flooring at the entrance.

What were the factors that made you choose this home?
Ryan: Once an Eastie, always an Eastie. For me, the decision was a no-brainer. It's near my family and friends.
Ella: I wanted to move away from the neighbourhood that I was familiar with and to have a change of environment and experience. The community spirit here in the East is really strong. My favourite pasar malam happens almost every other festive season!

What are your favourite items or pieces of art?
Each object in this house has a different memory from our travels or experiences, so it's really hard to have a favourite. The artist prints that we've collected over the years, the dining lights that we bought from Pomelo, the Muji glass cabinet for our turntable, and the fortune cat Kamisama that we brought back from the fortune cat temple are just a few of our most precious objects.

Do you have any organizing or design hacks?
Good spatial planning goes a long way. Think about how you want the space to work for you and you can turn a conventional HDB into something different. Keep your home a work-in-progress always. It's more exciting and functional to decorate your home progressively than to fill up the space at the start. Have a good storage system to ensure your home is always clean and tidy.

What do you listen to at home?
Ryan: Bedroom-pop, indie rock, and jazz.
Ella: R&B, indie rock, and oldies.

Where do you look for design inspiration online and in real life?
Ryan: People around me, long bus rides alone, travels, Pinterest, Instagram, books, and sometimes Behance.
Ella: I am on Pinterest often. It's my virtual inspiration sketchbook of scenes, objects, fashion, happy reminders, and designs I love. I also find inspiration through my surroundings, especially in Singapore. I do take inspiration from mundane objects we often overlook such as the green fence that surrounds a school, a railing in the playground, or tile patterns found in an old store.

What are your favourite places to shop for homeware?
Ryan: Muji, IKEA, Courts, Lazada, and Taobao.
Ella: IKEA, Muji, Daiso, Carousell, and vintage stores.

What's the best thing about your neighbourhood?
Ryan: Sheng Shiong, a nice bakery, and lots of greenery!
Ella: It is designed nicely and has great community spirit!

What's your idea of a perfect day at home ?
Ryan: Lazing in bed watching Netflix or playing games without having to worry about work, household chores, or cooking meals.
Ella: Doing a weekend handicraft project without a care or lazing in bed reading manga.

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