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Welcome to Room Envy, a series where we ask interesting people about a favorite room in their house. From minimalist living rooms to vibrant kitchens, we’re zeroing in on the best features of the most enviable rooms.
As the founding principal of The Only Way Is Up Design (OWIU), Amanda Gunawan has spent the last five years designing and building residential and commercial spaces around the globe. The Indonesian-born millennial is a graduate of the Southern California Institute of Architecture and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 after spending most of her childhood in Singapore. She founded OWIU in 2018 and describes it as a firm that specializes in design that’s “very thoughtful,” and, with their own build team in-house, they have quickly gained attention for their ability to deliver across the full course of each project—from design to build and styling.
So when Amanda purchased a 1,800-square-foot loft as her new home in 2019, she used the same principles to create a space imbued with her own personality and Asian roots. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, the corner loft never materialized as her personal home, so Amanda transformed it into her company’s office. “I didn’t design it with the intention of making an office,” she says. “Coincidentally, I always imagined that the firm that I have would be an extension of my family, that’s the culture of our office, so there’s so many intersections between how I would design my residential spaces and how it ended up working as our office space.” (The brand’s recently launched ceramics line, OWIU Goods, is the by-product of taking ceramics classes together.) Four years later, Amanda now uses the space to host parties, team dinners, and more.
Amanda’s favorite room in the makeshift headquarters is a Japanese tea room that was once her guest bedroom. She turned the rarely used guest room to serve as a space where friends and employees could relax, seek creative inspiration, or have an intense conversation. “Every time I throw a party that room becomes the place where people have really deep conversations,” she says. “Everyone could be like partying outside and then we would peer into the room, and we would see some intense conversations happening. I don’t know why, but it seems to spark that seriousness or that therapy feeling.”
Location: Arts District in Los Angeles, California
Square Footage: 280 square feet
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I like things that are very thoughtful and sentimental. That’s of course subjective to the person, but I like more than just an aesthetic—I like a feeling. I would say there are so many Asian influences in everything I design, whether it’s coming from a philosophical standpoint or it’s more directly visual.
Why did you decide to make a tea room?
It was actually planned to be a guest room, but to be honest, I rarely get guests. I rarely have people visiting, so I felt like it was such a waste of space for me to just put a bed in there, and then all of a sudden it’s dead space for the rest of the year. I wanted to create this platform so that I could drink tea and hang out with my friends when there’s no guests staying over, which is the case most of the year, and when I do have a guest, I could take out a futon and it becomes a platform bed.
What was the inspiration when you were designing the space?
My inspiration for residential rooms is always to create a space that will evolve with the inhabitant, and what that means is that we leave room for the future, for the growth of it together with whoever’s moving in. So it’s never to complete it fully or have the sense that it feels complete. In order to do that, we always leave some things empty. Another thing that plays a large role in my inspiration for residential spaces is to always avoid any extremes.
The goal is always to achieve that sense of calm or serenity because I think that feeling or attachment to a space is very consistent versus if [buy] something that’s a big investment and then it screams something. It’s grabbing your attention and that to me never feels good in a residential space. Because it was designed to be part of my residence, there was a sentimental element that I wanted. I wanted to try and bring in as much of that as possible, whether it was going on a trip and then bringing an item home and then thinking about that trip as I’m using that item.
The first part of designing the space was functionality. I was like, “Okay, this needs to serve as a guest room and a communal space, but to achieve all of that is mostly materials.” From there, it starts to become a material decision. It was meant to feel like somewhere that people want to hang out and spend time. And lastly, of course, there should be a lot of light, and the pieces that go into the place should be pieces that accentuate the natural light that comes in.
How have you been using the space?
Right now, it not only serves as that communal space that I always envisioned, but it’s also our meeting room. I go over there, and I take meetings because it’s soundproof. It’s a nice, calming space that changes seasonally too. For Christmas I had my friend who’s a floral artist come in and redecorate the entire room, it was really fun.
What’s your favorite piece of decor in this room?
What are you currently shopping for?
I’m pretty much shopping for something all the time, and I shop for clients as though I’m buying for myself. One of the reasons I love LA so much is because there’s this community that’s constantly supporting you. I always go to the people who I am attached to the most if they check all the boxes. For example, if a friend of mine has somebody who’s looking for an architect, it’s a no-brainer that she calls me. So in the same way, if I’m looking for artwork and I know whatever this person is looking for fits under the category of an artist that I already know, I immediately call them. It’s quite personal. I’m currently working on a wellness area for my residence, so I’m shopping for a lot of things in that space, particularly a nice sauna and tatami mats.