Founder, Valternative Pte Ltd, Singapore
Words By Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen
There is something uplifting about walking into a well-designed space and we are not just talking aesthetically. The space should give a sense of freedom and sanctity, if you will. I always liken the feeling to that of an awakening and I believe interiors should shape and seduce our minds. That is exactly what we feel when we ventured into Valternative’s creations.
We had a chat with the Founder, Croatian-British Valentina Doncevik. Currently based in Singapore, Valentina founded Valternative after a career in hospitality and finance in London and later, in the Lion City. Valentina also manages a UK-based property investment company, focusing on prime London real estate.
We caught up with this very inspirational soul in her office, at the award-winning conserved building, National Design Centre of Singapore via Zoom and talked about everything interiors and creative.
Valternative is a Singapore-based interior design and consulting firm. Walk us through on the kind of work you do, Valentina.
At Valternative we offer a full suite of services from interior design, architectural design and planning, design consultation to project management. We can scale effortlessly from very bespoke luxury residential to large-scale commercial and hospitality projects.
Besides, being an Entrepreneur and Interior Designer, we heard from the grapevine that you are also an award-winning poet. Would love to know more.
I’m flattered that my foray into poetry has reached your ears. Poetry for me started as a way of expressing my deepest feelings, almost as a form of self-therapy. I experimented the most while completing my degree in Creative Writing and English Literature. I wrote poetry mainly for self-consumption, though in 2009 I entered a competition in London almost by chance and was very pleasantly surprised when my poem was announced as the winner and was published. This just confirmed to me that anything one does with utmost dedication and which comes from the heart can bring joy and recognition in the most unexpected ways. I continue to write poetry and at the right time plan to publish a small collection for anyone to enjoy.
Valternative prides itself as being unique and different from the rest out there. Walk us through that.
People are our main focus and they will drive the design of the spaces we work on. What we do is more than just offer good design solution; we believe the design should reflect the people that inhabit the spaces – be it their homes or workplaces. We spend time listening to our clients and understanding their ethos and then start helping them to translate that into their space.
We also have a biophilic approach to interior design and the fundamental understanding of the inherent human need to connect with nature is omnipresent in everything we do. For example, we maximize natural light and incorporate natural elements into the designs, while paying close attention to sustainability. The final design always speaks to the eye and soothes the soul without ever compromising on functionality.
Merging the contemporary with heritage is incorporated in most of our projects. We are not about a formula – we are about the personalities that define the spaces.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Nature. People. Tradition. Experiences. At times, it is the space itself and just walking through it, physically or in my head. I revisit each spot, and feel. I feel creativity runs free when you stop engaging only the logical part of the brain and let the feelings take over. I am also very inspired by old heritage pieces or artworks and need to find a way to incorporate it into the space, no matter what.
My philosophy is Everything is Possible and it is that attitude that makes the possibilities of design endless.
Besides Singapore, Valternative also has presence in India, Croatia and UK. How different is it working for clients in each of these countries?
We thrive by operating in varied settings, and as such, the clients we look after are of different backgrounds – be it culturally or demographically. Between my partner Jyotsna and I, we have lived in each of those countries which means we have a deeper understanding of the local environments, and the intricacies that each of those countries represent, as well as the cultural nuances of the clients in each country.
Our clients are very different and yet in some respects are very similar in that many are very well travelled and have homes in multiple locations with a global outlook so our global experience helps a lot. And clients, irrespective of their location, have some very common requirements of us – the ability to transform their thoughts into quality, beautiful spaces that they can enjoy for years to come.
Can you walk through with us and help us picture the process – from the time you speak to a client, up till the time your work with them is complete.
The most critical part of the journey is to understand the client where the initial conversation is a key element. We like to have that at a location that the client choses and to see what they like, and where they feel most comfortable. We take all the information from our discussions into consideration, visit the space that needs to be designed, research the history of the property and its area (if it is an existing building), and let it all morph.
At our studio we exchange ideas, look at the colours and materials that we think of presenting to the client, in a form of a design direction. Throughout our three stages of the project – pre-design, design, and implementation, we communicate with the client as much as possible and ensure everything is taken care of. We love to spend time onsite and get our hands dirty and even if the sites are in remote locations. The design director or I always travel there periodically to ensure that there is no compromise on quality of finish and timelines.
There used to be a time when engaging the services of an interior designer was considered a luxury. Is it still?
Luxury is a state of mind. I don’t believe luxury is about dressing up for others but is about pleasing oneself. Likewise, with interior design – nowadays there are so many interior designers, and inevitably just as many gradients of quality and service offered. It can still be considered a luxury but I do believe getting some inputs from a designer is always a good thing and is now more accessible. A good interior designer can create the feeling of luxury even in simplicity – it’s not just about the cost.
Good interior design is more than churning out a tried and tested design. It is a service that springs from innovation, creativity, understanding, functionality, relevance, to name a few. If one is to engage an interior designer, he or she should receive thorough guidance and help in all design aspects throughout, from when an idea is formed to when the project is fully completed.
How has the industry evolved through the years?
The industry has evolved in a big way in the past decade – be it technology, materials used, new renewable sources, and the breadth of services on offer.
Technology has allowed us to rapidly moving online; for example, visualisation, the use of virtual reality and ease of access to information is crucial when clients and designers are in different locations. It saves time and effort to how traditional designs used to be delivered.
It is very encouraging to see the shift of consciousness within the industry. There is an increasing number of designers who focus on sustainable and zero-waste projects, and Valternative is on the forefront of that. When we have a design that takes all the elements into consideration, from low environmental impact, use of natural resources, zero energy, to choice of materials, then we know that the work we do matters and has a lasting positive impact.
Nowadays there is a lot of collaboration at play across countries and continents, amongst different studios or/and specialists in their field. One such collaborative platform is Paperspace Asia, of which Valternative is a member alongside carefully selected and complementary businesses spanning architecture and interior design. We work together not as competitors, but as partners who, as a collective of knowledge and experience can offer so much more to our clients.
What’s your most memorable project to date?
The first residential property we did in Singapore. The brief was to incorporate ancient and heritage pieces within a contemporary interior, making the entire home feel like a travel to the past and back. It is a powerful combination and dearest to me, when old and new work harmoniously side by side.
I need to add one more project, which is taking shape right now, and it is so special to me that I keep talking about it to anyone I can. It is a forest and farm retreat we call Mala Vila (Little Fairy) – set in rural Croatia, with a focus on sustainable design, nature, supporting local small businesses, and of course our food heritage with healthy local nutritional produce. Please come and visit us in 2023 when it opens!
In your opinion. what are the traits that make a good interior designer?
In addition to being a little quirky, to have plenty of empathy. An interior designer provides a creative service to someone who needs to transcribe their living/working wishes into reality. The designer is the medium that takes the client’s input and transforms it into the utmost functional and beautiful space. Patience and flexibility also rate high on the scale of qualities a good interior designer should have because each client is different and the designer has to constantly listen with a nuanced approach.
What can we look forward to in the near future?
We are looking to extend our interior design and architecture services not just within Singapore but also in the region, and Malaysia is the first step, once the travel restrictions ease up. Valternative also works with partners such as family offices and the like to offer bespoke interior design services for their clients across geographies.
Singapore remains our base and our work at the National Design Centre of Singapore/Paperspace collective continues where we collaborate with design specialists and engage in corporate social responsibility projects. I am very proud of one such project that Valternative has initiated with Paperspace in which we are working to highlight and promote migrant workers’ rights in Singapore.
For those who wish to get in touch with Valternative, how can they do so?
Call, email, or reach out via our website or Instagram. We would also love to host you in Singapore at the National Design Centre.
+65 9005 2804
+91 99711 05214
+44 79326 38736
111 Middle Road
National Design Centre 03-01