Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DIY home decorating takes root in Taiwan

Publication Date:09/30/2012
Source: Taiwan Today
By Rachel Chan

When it comes to creating a dream living space of one's own, there is a rather unusual trend in Taiwan—almost everyone prefers hiring an interior designer to mastermind the project.

These designers are viewed as one-stop solutions to a homeowner's every request, from contracting construction jobs such as tearing down partition walls and rearranging the floor plan, to offering opinions on furniture and buying decorative art.

Jerry Tsai, founder of Taiwan's first online home decor community, DECOmyplace, told Taiwan Today May 15 that interior design in Taiwan is entirely different from the practice in Western countries, as it combines design, renovation and interior styling.

In Western countries, he said, interior design comes with an emphasis only on planning the functional design and effective use of space. The service can be very costly so Westerners tend to remodel their residences using all kinds of do-it-yourself techniques, resulting in a strong personal touch.

Against this backdrop, there are hundreds of thousands of European and North American home decor websites, such as Apartment Therapy and Stylizimo. Taiwan lacked such websites until Tsai launched DECOmyplace in 2009 as a platform for sharing all kinds of home styling and DIY ideas, as well as examples of decor to help renters and homeowners find inspiration and develop a better understanding of what they want to do with their own places.

It quickly distinguished itself from other Taiwan interior design pages that are full of "professional work," according to Tsai.

"People have great expectations for turning their homes into ideal living spaces, but there are several prevalent myths, including the belief that designers have better taste and style," the 32-year-old said. "The truth is that often householders end up spending a lot of money on overly designed and unnecessary things."

According to Tsai, the most common examples include patterned ceilings, as many custom-made storage cabinets as possible, and a "washitsu," or Japanese-style study room.

In terms of style, one may be asked to choose from American country, contemporary, European classic, minimalist or Scandinavian, Tsai said, while as a matter of fact Finns, for example, would never describe their homes as being in "Finnish style."

"A few pieces of good furniture with decorative textiles used in strategic places are all it takes to create an aesthetically pleasing living space without having to spend a lot of money."

In keeping with this spirit, Tsai created a fully fitted living room with bookshelves, sofa, TV stand and floor lamp from the Swedish home product company Ikea.

He turned a 190-centimeter-long wooden dining table into a desk and added bright accents to the room with smart choices of colored fabrics such as area rugs, drapery, throw pillows and upholstery.

A large checkered cloth used as an alternative for wallpaper creates another focal point in the space, Tsai said, adding that the total cost of decorating his living room was no more than NT$40,000 (US$1,350).

To make a statement about his fun personality, Tsai displays his hundreds of "Star Wars" and Japanese cartoon character toys, which he has been collecting since elementary school, on the expandable Ikea bookshelves.

"Changing fabrics is the simplest remedy for dull walls and dreary furniture and the quickest way to update a room to a seasonal look," he said. "In many countries, home decoration and furnishing have developed into mature industries while in Taiwan they are still in the initial stages."

Tsai, who used to work in advertising, said he sees house decorating as a niche market with great potential in Taiwan, which is why he invested NT$1 million in setting up DECOmyplace.

Over the past three years, the website has grown at a steady pace and now has more than 20,000 registered members and averages 10,000 hits per day, Tsai said, adding that it has gathered posts from 120 countries and become the largest home decor website in Taiwan.

Evidence of the site's popularity includes good reviews from its users. Nicole Huang, a 26-year-old teacher, said she was glad to find such a helpful website in Taiwan where she can search for ideas for sprucing up her newly bought apartment.

"Browsing the site is like rehearsing for what I'm going to do with my place. In particular, I was enlightened by how others can work around problems in an apartment and make the place look unique and fun," Huang said.

Tori Yao, a young interior designer, said the website is very useful as there are interesting decoration ideas and a variety of styles posted by foreigners for her to learn from. "I also advise my clients to visit the site to get a better idea about their own preferences."

According to Tsai, all of the website's revenues come from advertising by clients such as Ikea and home improvement retailing company B&Q. He estimated income at NT$2 million this year and NT$3 million to NT$5 million in 2013. Looking ahead, he is planning to expand the site through collaboration with household appliance and real estate companies, which usually have big budgets for advertising and marketing.

He also hopes to make the website more attractive and easier to use, so it will function better as a social network where members are friends sharing their dreams.

"There is no shortcut to creating a dream home. It can be a grueling process, but with a great sense of achievement at the end," Tsai said. "With the right tools, everyone can become an interior designer since who else knows your taste better?" (THN)

Write to Rachel Chan at ccchan@mofa.gov.tw

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