INTERVIEW: Lian Eoyang

  • Designer Lian Eoyang caught our eye from across the other side of the globe with her smart and stylish designs. Founding her own firm, ViF Studio, in the creative hub of San Francisco seven years ago, Lian Eoyang has a knack for bringing places into the present.

    With a refreshing design take on 21st century living, Lian’s work is a credit to her wealth of knowledge and long list of experience. Her principle of ‘thoughtful living’ anticipates the future and incorporates the past; considering each space, at every scale.

    Est sat down with Lian to chat about her design process and where she draws her inspiration. We soon learned of Lian’s undeniable love for all things local in Dogpatch, her close-knit community in San Fransisco, and a geniune passion for global design – perhaps a trip to Australia will be on the cards soon!

    WORDS Sophie Lewis | PHOTOGRAPHY Cindy Loughridge, Bob O’Connor and Mariko Reed

    You’ve worked for some pretty renowned names in architecture – when did you decide to found your own practice and how did you make it happen from there?

    In larger firms, one typically works on only a small portion of a project, often with very little first-hand context. Most young designers rarely get the chance to emerge from behind the computer, and advancing up the corporate ladder can take a lifetime.

    I jumped at the opportunity to design and manage my first solo project (a loft in Hawaii for a remote client), as it required a tremendous amount of interface between the myself, the various stakeholders, and the site. The experience underscored how important it is for the designer to maintain consistency and clarity throughout all phases.

    I often say that great design cannot succeed without great execution. I believe this so deeply that our firm name stands for “Verify in Field” — a common construction term and a nod to this philosophy.

    With a diverse client list, would you say VIF Studio has a distinct aesthetic, or is it more of a philosophy?

    Definitely a philosophy. We strive to create spaces that reflect the unique individuality of each client, feel a tiny bit too good to be true, and are practical for their particular way of living. Ultimately, we want our clients’ spaces to reflect the best versions of themselves — old yet new, refined yet familiar, aspirational yet timeless. Each of our clients is special and unique, so each space should be as well.

    What does a ‘thoughtful home’ mean to you?

    A thoughtful home should both remind of the past, but also provide enough visual space to allow for a new future. Our spaces are not cluttered or over-stuffed, and instead are populated with just enough to let the eye rest where it naturally wants to. On the flip side, we also eschew empty, soulless boxes (as some minimalist modern spaces can feel).

    A thoughtful home should also bring a level of thorough consideration at every scale. From the flow or space planning of a room to the details and build quality of individual objects, our aim is for everything to work effortlessly and with a sense of delight. To this aim, we strive to select furniture and small goods that aren’t easily recognizable, yet are of clear quality. This often leads us to refined pieces from small-batch artisans who craft goods infused with impeccable aesthetics and tactility.

    Has working with a number of projects for startup and growth-stage businesses influenced your process as a designer? If so, how?

    Growth-stage companies are quite unique compared to residential or other commercial projects. Things often change so quickly that the designer must stay nimble throughout the design process. Everything from schedule to budget to headcount can all fluctuate dramatically, both upwards and downwards.

    Additionally, our clients typically need to balance an inspiring work environment with an appropriate budget. The many stakeholders present conflicting constraints: staff have diverse needs (engineers versus sales, for example), potential new hires want Instagram-ready moments, and investors don’t want to see a lot of financial burn. As a designer, it’s certainly a fine line to walk.

    As with our residential work, we craft the space for the uniqueness of each client. It should reflect the company’s core values and help catalyze an emotional investment in the workplace. To achieve this, it helps to curate personalized elements throughout: team photos, employee book selections, and/or visuals of the company’s history.

     What part of your work do you find the most enjoyable and what part the most difficult?

    I love the relationships we build with our clients. Most become close friends, and usually we form a long-standing bond of trust. Clients depend on us to make informed decisions with what is often a substantial portion of their net worth. Because of this, much of our work comes from repeat clients.

    Of course, the most difficult aspect is to achieve the right integration of work and personal life. When you head a company, the buck stops with you. It’s important to make sure everything lives up to our standards, and that level of attention can be exhausting. Thankfully, I have an excellent team (currently 100% women!) who excel at what they do. They all possess initiative, attention to detail, and a broad worldview — an immense help.

    Who are some other designers or creatives that inspire you, and why?

    Meghan Faulkner runs Oakland based Local Language, an awesome fabrication and design studio. They act as a conduit between local artists and clients in the commercial and hospitality sectors. I love how Meghan has figured out a way to stay creative and engaged, yet still make time to raise a family.

    Sosolimited are good friends from my Boston days, and over the decades they have always made my jaw drop. They work at the intersection of art and technology to produce truly stunning installations, usually involving data visualization. They often collaborate with another heart-achingly inspiring artist, Jeff Lieberman.

    Dash Marshall is also comprised of friends from graduate school. An architecture and strategy firm in NYC, I really admire the way they think about their projects: smart, considered, and deeply conceptual.

     What haven’t you achieved yet? (either for VIF Studio or individually!)

    Honestly, I’d love to take six months to a year to immerse myself in the Australia and and New Zealand design community. I’ve always been so inspired by the aesthetic: effortless yet refinement, fresh but not contrived… so much to learn from. I’ve spent time in both countries (and actually got married in NZ) so have had a small taste of life there, but would really like to take a deeper dive.

    And now, a couple of local questions;

    Where do you live in San Francisco and what do you love most about it?

    I live in a neighborhood of SF called Dogpatch, a small community in an area historically known for ship building. These days, there are a lot of makers who live and work here: fabricators, designers, fine food purveyors, and other small businesses. Though this neighborhood is changing like the rest of the city, it still feels like a close knit community. People still recognize each other and their dogs, of which there are many (after all, it is called Dogpatch!).


    Favourite place/s to eat:

    All of these are in Dogpatch:

    Neighbor Bakehouse is a daily habit, on my route to work. The owners Greg and Christine make delicious everything; the pistachio croissant will change your life. They started a while ago as a pop-up inside a nearby ice cream shop and now have a huge following.

    Serpentine is a great place to unwind with a cocktail and dinner. It doesn’t hurt that they are in the same building as VIF Studio.

    Stem is a new local place we love to bring friends and family. You can sit outside, play bocce, and enjoy a killer view of the bay. They also have on-site gardens from which they source their farm-to-table dishes.

    Favourite place/s to drink: (morning or evening!)

    Also all Dogpatch:

    I love to meet up with friends for a glass of wine at Piccino.

    Third Rail has great bartenders, amazing cocktails, and a beef jerky bar(!). What more could one as for?

    Favourite places/ to shop:

    In Dogpatch:

    Bryr, a local maker of the most beautiful and comfortable clogs you’ve ever seen. Women-owned, made on-site, and another neighbor of VIF Studio.

    Industrious Life has a very nice selection of home goods, often featuring local, small-batch makers.

    Olivier’s Butchery is the go-to for the best cuts. They offer dry rubs that you have to order months inadvance, but it is worth it.

    Outside Dogpatch:

    Future Perfect and March, next door neighbors to each other and purveyors of beautiful things for the home.

    Bookshop in Oakland’s Temescal Alley features a highly curated book selection, custom shelving, and lighting.

    Love + Luxe showcases one-of-a-kind jewelry by local designers at their Mission District shop.

    Weekly local rituals: On a good Saturday, I’ll meet up with a group of ladies for a training run organized through Fleet Feet. Our runs take us through the Presidio, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and up a lot of hills.

    Afterwards, my husband and I like to take our pup to the beach — Crissy Field or Fort Funston are heaven for dogs. Later, we make catching up with friends a priority; we love taking out-of-towners to  The Farley Bar at Cavallo Point.

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