A love for the finer things in life
By PREMA JAYABALAN
From designing an English-themed home, bringing greenery into your abode, creating a tranquil atmosphere through a Balinese theme to designing an ultra-modern office, she has done it all.
She exudes exquisite taste and has an eye for detail, traits that epitomise a creative interior designer. She is Dhana Thiagarajah, the founder and design director of Odil Design, an interior design company established in 2004.
“As a child, my favourite past-time was drawing. I was always doodling on paper with my coloured pencils. Initially, it was designs of dresses. It eventually evolved to designs and materials that would make houses look lovely,” she reminisces.
However, fate took a different turn as she pursued a degree in IT (information technology) after her SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) secondary school examinations. This was due to her mother’s insistence.
I loathed IT and couldn’t wait to complete it. Once I was done, I realised that my passion was in interior design. I managed to persuade my mother to allow me to pursue my dream.
Dhana then enrolled herself in the St Joseph’s College in Bangalore, India and obtained her degree in interior design. She started her career as a freelance designer while studying. Some of her work is displayed in a number of places in Bangalore.
Upon competing her studies, she came back home and started working for a design company.
The entrepreneurial path
“I must thank my husband for Odil Design. I am from Ipoh and after marriage, moved to Nilai. I knew no one there and for the first two years, I was a stay-at-home wife and mom, doing freelance design work. My husband found my designs beautiful. He encouraged me to start my own business and helped me start it up. He passed the word around to friends and acquaintances. I got an offer to design a home and there has been no turning back since,” explains the mother of three.
Dhana now has an array of clients. She has even designed for big organisations such as Petronas, AirAsia and KLIA2.
With regard the mechanics of her job, she said:
Firstly, I meet with potential clients. Some know exactly what they want and have a budget for it. Some have a vague idea on the theme and engage me for professional consultation.
I enjoy this part of the work as I get the opportunity to propose the latest themes. After a thorough discussion, I prepare a proposal. If they are agreeable, then I go ahead and sign a contract with them. Next, I proceed with the 3D design drawing that comprises insertions of materials that will be used for the space that needs designing. Once approved by my client, the groundwork kicks off.
I work closely with the contractor to ensure all renovation work goes according to the layout. It’s crucial to engage with the contractor to avoid mistakes in renovation which can affect the overall design. I visit sites on an agreed number of times to ensure all work is progressing according to schedule.
When the contractor is done, Dhana comes in with her carpenter and starts work on built-in furniture, cabinets and feature walls, working closely with him/her to ensure all measurements of custom-made items are the correct fit.
It’s never a routine
“As a business owner, there is no fixed working time for me. My day starts with meeting clients and visiting sites. In my line, I am responsible for a project from the day I take it on until the day I hand over the keys to the client. I also accompany clients to purchase furniture, lights and materials for kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms,” she explains.
According to Dhana, she has a weekly staff meeting every Monday morning where they update her on the status of projects. This is also the opportunity to address any issues that surface.
“When I visit sites, I check on the work done by the contractor and make sure that they are all according to the plan drawn. One of the challenges I face is when the construction work does not follow the plan. Usually, when this occurs, the client looks for the interior designer instead of the contractor. At times like this, the matter has to be handled delicately and I have to ensure that the client’s requirement is heeded.”
“I have had contractors and carpenters who have not complied with the measurements of materials. As a result, the cost to rectify them had to be absorbed by the contractor or me. Thus it is very important to always follow through with them on all details, even though they may seem small.”
Once she is home in the evening, Dhana looks after her children and family matters. Towards late evening, she is on the internet doing her own research.
She believes it’s very important for her to keep abreast on the latest designs, technology and materials that revolve around the ‘design and build’ field, in order for her to provide the best consultation to clients.
Dhana finds it unique to create something from scratch and turn it into something beautiful. She is constantly challenging herself to come up with creative designs that will impress her clients.
Our clients pay us a lot to get their dream home or office, thus they only want the best. I am very happy to turn my passion into a career as I find immense happiness when I see the satisfied smiles on my clients’ faces when I hand over the final product.
Dhana does not deny that it’s not a bed of roses all the time. She has encountered a number of difficult clients throughout her career. Her challenge has been to manage them effectively.
“The secret is to be patient. Patience is important in this line as you meet many different characters and some can be very demanding. Only if you are patient can you tackle these people well and secure the business. Likewise, you must also be approachable to your contractors, carpenters and even the labourers to ensure communication flows smoothly. This is a guarantee the job will be completed within the time frame,” explains this cheerful lady.
To those who want to pursue a career in interior design, Dhana’s mantra is to move forward with determination and equip yourself with all the knowledge and experience to be the best in what you do.