Architect Yi-Hsiu Yeh founded Yeh Design Lab to create a link between architecture and fashion. She explores the role of wearable objects — bags, jewelry, hats, and footwear — as message carrying media and investigates their relationship with the human form. The Lab is also interested in combining advanced technology with traditional fabrication. Here, Yi-Hsiu discusses working from home, being a working parent, and what drives and inspires her designs.
How long have you worked from home? And where is home? I have been working from home since 2007 when I started teaching. At that time, my husband and I owned a live-work loft in downtown LA, which we built out ourselves. Then came the birth of my son and we moved to a more wooded community in Los Angeles to give my son greater exposure to the outdoor environment. I started designing the current line for Yeh Design Lab at home in 2010, just before my son turned two.
When you set up your home/work space what did you have to keep in mind? Were there any particular obstacles to overcome? When a former-student started working for me, I became aware of a psychological barrier — the notion that “working from home” made me feel a little “unofficial.” I was embarrassed about the fact there is a domestic presence to the studio even though my intern and I utilized the domestic area such as the kitchen and the books in the living room during our work hours.
A project I worked on with my husband’s architecture firm Lookinglass A+D changed my view of working from home. For more than a year, a filmmaker client would come to our place for a meeting once a week. The meetings were very long, but because they were supported by an endless supply of tea, seasonal fruit, and good snacks, they were also good. I started to embrace not only the efficiency but also the idea of a live-work home.
What drives your creative decisions? While working on my architecture school graduate thesis, a friend introduced me to a book called Flatland. Written by Sir Edwin A. Abbott and published in 1884, Flatland invites its readers to consider the outrageous possibilities of space beyond three-dimensions. The novel accomplishes this by portraying the perceptual limitations of the inhabitants of a two-dimensional world who are unable to imagine, and do not want to imagine, the third dimension. To me, the importance of this fable lies not in its literal explication of geometrical and dimensional issues, but as a cautionary tale about a collective complacency in culture, and by extension, all of life. Ever since then, in my work I have been interested in devising ways of challenging common sense, collective intuition, and perception.
What about your work has changed since becoming a parent? I try to spend at least five waking hours a day with my son during work days. It is important to shift gears and focus my attention on my family in the evening, although I must admit I have not fully mastered the skill yet. 9pm is usually the start of the “night shift” of my “work day.” I think the working life of creative parents is inevitably chopped up into chunks of shorter hours.
Aside from the work hours, being a parent made me become more thoughtful with my designs. I can now easily imagine people who are parents wearing my designs and I am aware of their greater need to feel unburdened by what they wear.
How does working from home impact your work? Work becomes part of the cycle of my life rather than independent from it. Although work has a different rhythm, that rhythm has many layers/scales. One of those layers has to fit into the cycle of the home routine, constant cleanup, and constant “mode switching.”
What would you change about your workspace? How do you keep it organized? The “official” home office, where the desks for Yeh Design Lab reside, is located on the mezzanine floor with only 145 square feet of space. When there were two interns here, we were all tripping over each other to work. We turned the dining table and kitchen counters into work surfaces on a daily basis. However, sometimes I would need the largest surface I can find. That is when I turned to the floor — especially for the layout and cutting of cow hides. I always fantasize having a 4’ by 10’ long table that is multi-functional.
Currently, stackable storage that I can grow and easily move is one of the things that is keeping me “sane.” In addition to raw materials and products, my studio produces many studies, one after another. New fully-baked designs don’t come out that often, but studies and prototype pile up quickly. Stackable storage keeps things, I would not say “organized” but “under control.”
Is there any piece of home office furniture you covet right now? We have a few Eames Aluminum Group Management Chairs and Stool_One by Konstantin Grcic in the home office. I would love to own another piece of Grcic’s work such as the Medici Chair Outdoor. It will not only encourage us to take breaks during the work day, but might feed our souls a bit in the process. We have a lot of mid-century modern furniture here, but in the last five years or so, every other piece of furniture that caught my eyes turned out to be Grcic’s.
Who inspires you? So many people and their work inspire me, past and present. However, I find myself repeatedly going back to the works of Yaacov Agam, Gordon Matta-Clark, Naum Gabo, Erwi Hauer, and Pierre Charreau. I am also in awe of Eero Saarinen and would like to understand and connect to his work in a deeper way.
Photos: Yi-Hsiu Yeh