Aiden T | Arjan Nijen Twilhaar is a Dutch-born interior designer and founder of the Aiden T interior designer firm, based in Singapore. Aiden T is the anagram of the initials of its principal Arjan Nijen Twilhaar. The award-winning company specializes in residential and commercial environments and provides full design services. His work is defined by innovation, editing, and style, with a focus on clarity, proportion, and light. Following through on his initial concept, the room has a flow that provides new perspectives with unexpected components. Best Interior Designers had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Arjan Nijen Twilhaar to get to know his career and future in the industry.
How did you get involved in the interior design Industry?
From a young age, I was fascinated by how an environment had an impact on how I felt or experienced a space. Especially during my travels as a child, visiting palaces, museums, and cathedrals – had a big impact on me. In addition, my family would always create special experiences through décor for special occasions. This could be setting the table in a certain way or decorating for the festive seasons. This sparked my passion for design and creating experiences. I started decorating my room and helped set tablescapes and transform our home during the festive season. I never thought this could be a profession, so during my studies, I took mainstream classes like marketing and business.
During my studies, I ventured into architecture and commercial interior design courses after obtaining a Mass Comm degree. I thought this would be a more practical approach to interior design, as it focussed mainly on institutions and large commercial spaces. I learned a lot with regard to ergonomics and the technical aspects of design. I started working in the hospitality industry and after a couple of years to get a feel of how these spaces are used on a daily basis and then had the opportunity to join a US-based IT firm to help them set up offices in Asia. This entailed the design of each office. From there it moved to more lifestyle commercial projects and eventually into residential interior design in 2006, which was a good fit, as it’s more creative and focuses on how to transform a home and create an experience for the homeowner. My other studies like mass communication and business helped me while setting up my own company, so while my studies seemed random, in the end, it all works well together.
But interior design is an ever-evolving process. I learn new things on every project and through research and further study, I develop and fine-tune my designs and design style.
How would you describe your work style? Do you have any kind of signatures that help to identify your projects?
I like homes that tell a story and evoke a certain feeling. My design style in general is pretty layered with unexpected details. Over the years, I am more attracted to heirloom pieces, mixing different styles and design ideas. Much like a well-loved home that evolved over the years with different elements added.
For each project, I tend to do research to develop a design root. From this originating point, I then expand the scheme and inject a contemporary twist. My projects aim to reflect the personality of homeowners first and incorporate how they live their lives.
When it comes to signature styles, I am an edited maximalist. Layering would be the key focus, be it in decorating or architectural detail. Key elements that make my home would be the use of tall skirting boards, architectural details for doors, and architraves, but in a pared-down approach to give each home a modern twist. I am not too keen on heavy feature walls in carpentry, but rather look towards focal points in unusual areas, like the ceiling or work with textiles or drapery.
Of late, I am getting bolder in color choices and patterns as well and very inspired by Heirloom designs and patterns by William Morris and Art Deco. There is so much detail as well as a great story behind each design and it’s nice to see these patterns and styles getting adopted in new designs.
Being in love with our work is always the key to achieving better results. Are you in love with this job? What do you love most about being an interior designer?
I love to create and see ideas come to life, so in that sense, I do love my work. I am passionate about working out unexpected details in unusual places. It’s wonderful when working with a client that trusts the design progress and does not try to mix too many styles or deviate from the original design inspiration too much. This process just keeps you excited to explore new ideas, create new spaces. The creative part of the job really appeals to me. Since we are working with clients, not all these ideas come to fruition and we have to compromise a fair bit. While that is disheartening, I maintain a few key elements in each design that spark joy and interest. If clients cut too much of the proposed design, or want to copy exact details from previous projects, I would decline to work on the project as I would lose out on the creative process.
What is your philosophy on design and life?
Try something new and experiment. Trying new things gives a thrill and heightens your senses. I like doing things outside of my comfort zone, learning something new, and putting a bit of extra effort where needed. The most important thing is to enjoy what you and don’t take yourself too seriously.
You might sometimes fail, or some ideas you have don’t work out exactly how you imagined it – but each experience is a learning lesson. So even if something does not work out, you learn and expand your knowledge.
Keeping up to date on all the trends is essential for anyone who wants to conquer this market. In what ways do you keep current with new trends?
While I do read design magazines and watch designer content on various platforms, I sometimes am ahead of the curve. I get drawn to certain styles or colors before they really become trends. Most important for the design to evolve is to do a lot of research and draw inspiration from various areas, not only interiors. For me, fashion sets the tone on where styles are going. Interior design slowly follows these trends, and my preference is for interior design trends that are more timeless.
Which major international events do you attend/follow to get the latest novelties?
International trade shows like Maison & Objet and the Milan Salone del Mobile are key on the agenda, however, I was unable to travel to the Milan show during the pandemic. I visited the Shangai Furniture Fair as well and planning to have another trip to look for tiles and marbles once we can travel again.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
I am a constrained maximalist with a passion for heirloom quality. I prefer my designs to have a nostalgic touch and like to mix various styles. Like a home that has been lived in by multiple generations and each is adding its touch. I recently did a home office, inspired by William Morris designs, but mixed it with French antiques and contemporary touches for an updated look. My preference is to work with natural materials, so the patina from daily living adds that lived in aesthetic over time. I love looking at auction sites for antiques and vintage decorative items. Furniture-wise, I prefer cleaner lines as a lot of homes in Singapore are smaller apartments and a mix of styles seems to work better for these types of places. The more modern pieces help to tone the space down and emphasize the key pieces I would like to highlight.
All artists need some inspiration to work, and interior designers are artists too. So, what or who really inspires you?
Historical people inspire me as well as certain major events. A lot of these themes repeat and I get drawn to an individual story and that then inspires a new look or design. As an example, William Morris started the arts and craft movement as a reaction to the industrial revolution. He felt that because of automating a lot of things, we lost the human touch to design. In a way, we are still in a similar situation. So this really appealed to me as a design inspiration. I then started to dive deeper into the designs and their inspirations for them. Eventually distilling that into a new look. But inspiration can come from a lot of different areas.. and it is always fluid.
Inspiration is something that pushes everyone to create unique things. What makes you see the world in a different way?
the back story behind an object, the way it was conceptualized or produced – I can change my perception towards that. Especially art or decor pieces, I might not have considered a certain style, but when I learn more about the artist and why it was made – a newfound appreciation then makes me want to explore more and try to incorporate those ideas.
If you had to pick one project around the world that you wish was made by you, which one would it be?
it would be most likely a restoration project of an old building that got a new lease of life. Like the St Pancras Hotel, London, or the Raffles Hotel, Singapore.. a lot of research is going into the design, and then it’s adapted to today’s aesthetics and requirements. I find these projects very inspiring.
How important is a perfect chemistry between you and your clients to achieve the best results?
chemistry is the most important aspect when starting a project. It might not always be perfect, but both parties need to understand and trust each other as well as respect their goals and objectives. If a client is not design-driven or cannot commit to certain key elements, then its best not to embark on the design journey together. The best projects are where you bounce off ideas with the client and they take it and give their input and it all comes together as a great collaboration.
Choosing the best pieces to compose a project can be the secret to getting the best overall result. Although it seems easy, this is a delicate task and needs full attention on time to execute. Do you have some tips for those who do not know well how to start a challenge like this?
Pick your key piece that best represents the style or aesthetic. It can be a key piece of furniture or artwork or it could be a wall or window treatment. For me, the key piece embodies all the elements of the inspiration for the design. If we are doing a coastal design, I would start with looking for a furniture piece that has that rustic, sun-bleached, and wind-worn look. That could be a dining table or a pair of chairs. These will be my focal point for the design and this will then automatically set the tone for the rest. But the key is always to reference your inspiration, and if you feel that the piece you picked represents that look – then you picked the right piece.
Do you think working with teams in interior design is better or worse than working alone? Why?
I lead a small team and each designer heads their own project. But we still brainstorm sometimes on certain designs and source new materials. It can be quite refreshing to get another viewpoint towards design. Sometimes ideas are better finetuned when discussed with a few people. But in the end, for residential projects, it’s best that one designer leads the project and sets the overall tone.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I am very drawn to the Belle Epoque era at the moment. The soft curves, the delicate details, and interesting patterns and colors are something that we could reintroduce and streamline into contemporary designs. I am working on a French Colonial project with some Middle Eastern influences. It references the mid to late 19th century designs, with an ethnic twist. It was quite wonderful weaving the story together and working on the different elements that will make the overall design.
What has been your greatest accomplishment as a designer? What goals do you have for the future?
I always feel that we are as good as a designer as our latest project. I have done some nice projects that not only transformed homes but also people’s lives. Next to the TV appearances and magazine features, I always feel the best is yet to come. I always strive to do something better, more detailed, better put together. But I am blessed that I have worked with many great individuals and had many opportunities to showcase and develop my aesthetic. Over the last year, I worked on a couple of strong concepts and I feel that I grew tremendously from these.
Do you have a favorite project or a favorite story about one of your projects?
Each project is unique and holds a special place in my heart. Some projects I love more than others, mostly because I was able to experiment more on design styles and the client was not too involved in minute details. I completed an Art Deco project recently, where we had a bold approach to patterns and colors but had a lot of whimsy as well. There were definitely a lot of highlights for me. I also love the Silk Road-inspired home that I did, just the history and the detailing were pushed beyond what I normally can produce. But if you ask me this question next year, I would probably have a completely other answer. The red thread through all these favorite projects is the chemistry with the client. We had a lot of fun creating these spaces and that is the most important story of each project.
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