LEONARD CHANG: Miguel, can you tell me more about yourself?
MIGUEL STUCKY: I’m 39, Portuguese-French – born in Brazil but grew up in Portugal.
LEONARD: How did you land up in Singapore?
MIGUEL: Mainly for our four children as I wanted the family to be together. Gracinha and I travel a lot and it’s hard to be away from them. Since we fly here so often for business, it made perfect sense to relocate here.
GRACINHA VITERBO: The schools are wonderful too!
MIGUEL: Initially, I was uncertain about the big move. But after doing the necessary checks, I realised that she was right, the schools are amazing. We really like Asia, and feel that Singapore is the best place to be – in terms of work and raising a family.
LEONARD: Was it difficult?
MIGUEL: Definitely not. We love Singapore and all its greenery – especially, the Botanic Gardens. That is also the main reason why we chose this particular district. In addition, Singapore was also our honeymoon destination many years ago.
LEONARD: How is it like doing business in Singapore as compared to Europe?
MIGUEL: People here in Singapore work harder, whereas people in Europe tend to have a more relaxed approach. It’s not necessarily a good thing.
Personally, I feel that Singaporeans should take more risks and that has a lot to do with design and creativity. For you to be creative, you have to take risks.
LEONARD: Where do you enjoy working more?
MIGUEL: Culturally, both countries are so different. I’m not saying one’s better than the other. In Portugal, we socialise a lot more at work. [laughs] Personally, I feel that Singaporeans should take more risks and that has a lot to do with design and creativity. For you to be creative, you have to take risks.
LEONARD: Where do you think we should begin –from an individual or institutional standpoint?
MIGUEL: Creativity needs to start at the institutional level. It needs to be nurtured as young as possible. There is a lot of potential for change and having the right frame of mind is important. I am pretty sure that creativity exists – it’s just finding ways to fuel it. Recently, I have been seeing a lot of good work in Asia in terms of fashion, interior design and architecture. It will definitely happen, but it will take some time.
LEONARD: There is hope for us?
MIGUEL: Yes, of course. That being said, being creative doesn’t equate to good management skills. Talented individuals don’t usually have the adequate support to run their businesses effectively, and that is a problem. They should not have to worry about the business aspect, which is why we make a good couple. I take care of the business while she handles the creative side.
LEONARD: A power couple then?
MIGUEL: Oh yes, definitely. I love the idea of us being a power couple.
LEONARD: What are the challenges that you face at work?
GRACINHA: I love challenges. Some people say their house is a ‘problem’. I tell them it’s not so much of a problem but more of a challenge. In fact, those ‘challenges’ have become one of the more spectacular homes I have designed.
We want to bring all those decades of experience and craftsmanship from Europe to Asia. That’s a feature of ours and we have spent the last few years perfecting it.
LEONARD: You don’t see problems as flaws?
GRACINHA: Imperfection is good. I feel that when something is too perfect, it can be too uncomfortable, like a museum for example. You need to have a space in your house that reflects your personality and identity.
MIGUEL: Even so, on the business side of things, it can be challenging to source for our projects. Most of our craftsmen, painters and furniture are from Europe so a lot of logistics are involved, making it quite difficult at times. We want to bring all those decades of experience and craftsmanship from Europe to Asia. That’s a feature of ours and we have spent the last few years perfecting it.
LEONARD: What about alternative sources in the region?
MIGUEL: We still don’t know many craftsmen who are similar to what we are used to back in Europe. You just can’t bring forth a hundred years of design expertise from one place to another so quickly. It’s also about the quality and workmanship. I’m not saying that you can’t get the quality in Asia, you definitely can. But for us, it’s much harder and it takes a longer time to communicate our expectations. [long pause] There is also a language barrier.
LEONARD: Thriving on challenges can be a good thing.
GRACINHA: A client may think that he has a particular style, but after doing more research and analysis, I may realise his style might not be the most suitable for him. Sometimes, I feel like a psychologist – I would ask my clients if they are happy or if they would be open something else. For example, I might tell a young client to do something more classic, yet fresh that is inline with his personality. Other times, I will just do what the client wants because he’s very passionate about his vision. When designing homes, I want people to enjoy their home in new ways which they have never thought before. I had a client who is an avid car collector. Whenever I entered his house, it was through the garage and not the lobby. So I told him I wanted to make his glamorous garage the new lobby.
LEONARD: You’re incredibly passionate about your work.
GRACINHA: I always say that I am a “storyteller” and not a “furniture seller”. Designers these days are “furniture sellers” – they just want to sell furniture and have tons of catalogues. They confuse the purposes of showroom furniture sellers and professional interior designers. They are completely different services. If you go to a showroom, you are buying pieces of furniture, but you are not accurately portraying your identity as a whole. The people selling it most of the time, rarely ever go into your house… they are just selling.
I want to know your rituals or habits, and create functionality and purpose for the space so that your quality of living becomes better.
LEONARD: What about you?
GRACINHA: A professional interior designer understands who you are – at least that’s what I do. I want to know your rituals or habits, and create functionality and purpose for the space so that your quality of living becomes better.
LEONARD: What type of clients do you prefer: one that has his own direction or one that gives you more creative freedom?
GRACINHA: I don’t have any preferences as I work well with both. I’m very versatile and can adapt very well. As a Gemini, I have the ability to multi-task! [laughs] To add, I am also very direct and professional in telling clients what can or cannot fit into a new place or concept. I see projects as investments, so I like to design in a way that provides good market value in terms of re-salability.
LEONARD: Speaking of hats, what’s up with the turbans?
GRACINHA: I started wearing them a long time ago. My grandmother had 400 hats of which 100 were turbans. I was surrounded by very glamorous and strong women from both sides of the family. At some point, hats and turbans became a part of my identity. When people meet me without a turban, they will go, “oh I didn’t see you there!” Each turban represents my mo0d and that applies to my projects as well. I like to wear different kinds of hats and turbans everyday. Slowly, people who saw my pictures in the press started placing orders and that led me to create my own line of hats (Head Couture) which includes not just turbans, but also other forms of headwear.
LEONARD: Do you handpick who gets your turbans?
GRACINHA: No, I specially design for each individual (tailored to their style and personality). Each turban is uniquely different – some can have vintage jewels, while others can have regular ones. I work with a lot of vintage fabrics or special handmade fabrics too.
LEONARD: How can I get one?
GRACINHA: Right now, I have a hundred orders so there is a long waiting time. I don’t sew them myself; I have seamstresses in Europe who make them. But I choose everything personally – from the fabrics to the accessories.
LEONARD: You have a very wide range of interests.
GRACINHA: I have a lot of different arms. I have worked for Star Alliance, Nespresso and many different brands. I especially love designing parties with unusual or imaginative themes because that’s one aspect where I can be more whimsical than a home.
LEONARD: Is it difficult finding inspirations for all your projects?
GRACINHA: I was trained at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design (London) where they taught us to look for inspiration everywhere. I’m a globetrotter who loves different cultures, so I have learnt to absorb everything around me – from something very basic like those macaroons [on the table] –their colours and shapes. Photography is another good tool.
LEONARD: As a couple, does it complicate matters being business partners?
MIGUEL: Not really. Work is work. Home is home. We don’t mix it up. Even at work, she is entirely in charge of the creative aspect and I am on the business side of things. We respect each other. And if any conflict arises, we always ask ourselves what’s ultimately best for the business.
LEONARD: Gracinha is constantly in the limelight, perhaps more so than you. What are your thoughts on that?
MIGUEL: I am incredibly proud of Gracinha and what she does.
LEONARD: One more thing, who wears the pants in the relationship?
MIGUEL: Me. There is no doubt about that.
Edited by Yong Hui Yow and Wy-Lene Yap