Learning from the Best

Furniture and product designer Jarrod Lim lands a coveted working apprenticeship with Patricia Urquiola at her studio in Milan

Patricia Urquiola is one of the most coveted architects and designers today. she is known for her contemporary experimental yet simple designs with playful colour and ethnic charm that communicate with us. The Milan-based Spanish designer, together with WOHA, created award-winning OASIA Downtown in Singapore.

She is also very selective and elusive. It takes Singapore-based Australian designer Jarrod Lim several tries. After shyly approaching Urquiola at an event in Melbourne while he was a university student and asking to work with her; after sending numerous emails that came to nought; after travelling to Milan and showing up at the designer’s studio with portfolio in hand – dream becomes reality. Urquiola finally says ‘ok’ and Jarrod earns a 15-month working stint at her studio in Milan.

“Her studio in Milan was very small at the time with just 10 of us and it was all very hands on. It was like being back at university, sanding things, making models and that sort of stuff. She was great to work for and took me to all the big manufacturers she worked with like B&B Italia and Moroso.”

After Milan with Patricia Urquiola, and invaluable insight into International Design and its exceptionally high standards, Jarrod returns to Singapore and opens his dream studio in Joo Chiat.

Jarrod Lim Designs and owner Jarrod Lim begin to create furniture and products with beautiful International and Asian aesthetic simplicity that go on to win several awards.

A Chat with furniture designer Jarrod Lim about working with Patricia Urquiola in Milan

1 Why did you choose Patricia Urquiola and Milan after your design studies in Australia?

Patricia’s studio was one of my top choices to work at. It was 2003 and Patricia’s star was really on the rise at the time. I had been following her work for a while while I was studying, and really loved what she was doing. I just connected with her design style.

2 How did you get the famous Spanish designer to let you be her apprentice at her studio in Milan?

She came to Melbourne to give a talk while I was still studying there, so after the talk I timidly approached her and asked if I could come and work for her. She said to contact her studio when she was back in Milan so I emailed a few times without any real replies. Then I just turned up in Milan and asked again in person. Nothing was confirmed before I arrived so I hoped just by being there that she would let me in – and she finally said yes.

3 You showed her your portfolio – what do you think caught her eye?

I think what caught her eye was that I was making my own small items in ceramic at the time and that I was quite experimental.

4 What did you learn and what did you do to polish your design skills?

What I really learned was an international perspective on design; how top level designers think and work with the best companies and how they view trends, materials. I learned about the entire life of a designer.

5 You stayed for 2 years in Milan. How has the city itself influenced you creatively?

Milan is a very hardworking city. It’s really a meeting point for designers and manufacturers more so than an ‘inspirational’ location. A place where design-business occurs. So I think the influence I gained from Milan was more about how designers and studios operate. But it did open my eyes to the possibilities of what a designer can achieve and gave me a broader perspective on the design industry.

6 What food did you enjoy most in Milan?

Pizza for sure. We had some really nice pizzerias near our studio. Plus the pizza was quite cheap so for a young designer on a very tight budget it was excellent value.

7 An eyeopener was being exposed to the business aspects of a designer’s work, and owning your own studio. What did you learn about the business part of things?

I learned about the relationships that the designers have with top-level manufacturers and companies. I realised that the relationship between designer and manufacturer, and the sharing of ideas and viewpoints, are extremely important in every project.

8 Patricia was part of the design team for OASIA Downtown hotel in Singapore. Which elements of the project’s design immediately takes you back to Patricia’s studio and your time with her?

The use of screens and patterns, especially on the carpets and walls, is so typical of Patricia. The patterns were all custom designed and made especially for the hotel. Those immediately took me back to Milan; working on patterns for products and exhibitions.

9 What furniture collection of yours shows both flair in Asian and International Design aesthetics?

The Koi chairs best show that. The collection was designed when I first came to Singapore so I was inspired by the Singapore surroundings especially the gates and window grills which were something new to me. But I had only just left Patricia’s studio so I was definitely still working in that European direction.

10 What piece of advice from Patricia Urquiola stays with you till today?

Not to overcrowd a design with too many focal points. Each design has one main story that it is trying to explain. Whether it’s a new material or a new manufacturing method. If you have too many stories or focal points the design is confusing and the main idea is lost.

Respective photographs courtesy of Jarrod Lim Design; Patricia Urquiola photograph copyright Marco Craig

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