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Queena Qiao, Founder of UNFOLDESIGN, Shares Insights on Interior Design and Entrepreneurship

We at LO'AMMI had the pleasure of speaking with Queena Qiao, the founder of UNFOLDESIGN, an innovative and rapidly growing interior design company. As an industry leader, Queena herself is an accomplished designer who has worked on various projects, from boutique hotels to car showrooms. In this interview, we discuss the journey towards entrepreneurship, design philosophy, and how UNFOLDESIGN balances functionality and aesthetics to realize their clients' visions.

Queena Qiao founder of UNFOLDESIGN

Queena Qiao, founder of UNFOLDESIGN

L'A: Can you tell us about the founding of UNFOLDESIGN? What inspired you to start your own interior design company

QQ: My journey towards entrepreneurship began unexpectedly. I studied environmental art design in college, but my desire to open a business and a store made me open several designer clothing collection stores instead of pursuing design. These stores were opened over a decade ago, but with the advent of China's e-commerce era, physical stores were severely affected, and I had to close several of them one after another. During this difficult time, a friend asked me to help with the design of their new office, which led me to build several office spaces. Eventually, I decided to start my own interior design company.

L'A: UNFOLDESIGN has worked on a diverse range of projects, from boutique hotels to car showrooms. How do you approach each project and ensure the design suits the specific atmosphere and culture?

QQ: Our team consists of designers who excel in different project types and have extensive experience in each one. However, the fundamental principle for all projects remains the same - thorough research and development is crucial. We believe in communicating effectively before starting the design process. We believe that understanding our clients' brand culture, characteristics, and business operations is crucial. That's why we engage in in-depth discussions with them to find out what they are good at and not so good at, what they are expecting, and what problems they are trying to solve. During this process, we explore and generate ideas, and sometimes, ideas are born in a matter of minutes of conversation. Our design philosophy is focused on helping the client solve their problem from their perspective rather than showcasing our talent or personal opinions. We are committed to ensuring that each project reaches a natural and appropriate state that aligns with its business attributes, functions, and qualities. Our goal is to create designs that allow end users to quickly memorize features and interact better with spaces, products, and brands.

Sake MANZO Project Drawings

Sake MANZO Project Drawings

L'A: How does UNFOLDESIGN balance functionality and aesthetics when designing a space?

QQ: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of design. The approach taken for residential and commercial design can differ greatly. When designing for residential spaces, the primary focus is on functionality, taking into account the individual living habits and needs of the occupants. The choice of materials used to decorate the space is also different in residential design, with a focus on texture, touch, and personal preferences. Furnishings and decor are also carefully chosen to create a comfortable and beautiful living atmosphere.

Sake MANZO After Renovation by UNFOLDESIGN, photography by TOPIA

Sake MANZO After Renovation, photography by TOPIA

In contrast, commercial design may prioritize aesthetics over functionality. The visual effects created by the design are intended to reflect the value and image of the brand. For instance, fashion brands often aim to amplify the characteristics of their brand through their store layouts and decorations, even if they are not necessarily practical. Their goal is to leave a lasting impression on customers.

L'A: Can you discuss some of the technological advances that UNFOLDESIGN has implemented to stay at the forefront of the industry

QQ: In the interior design industry, there are many outstanding teams, and we are dedicated to learning from the best teams worldwide. We believe in keeping ourselves up-to-date with industry knowledge and gaining practical experience on every project. This experience is invaluable to us. Furthermore, we encourage our teams to explore cross-disciplinary fields while maintaining a curious and explorative mindset. This method is the foundation of continuous progress.

Sake MANZO After Renovation, photography by TOPIA

L'A: What are some of the top considerations, especially from a project/ construction management perspective, when your company takes on a new project?

QQ: This involves carefully considering the project's quality, time, and cost. Quality encompasses various aspects, such as the project's basic requirements, environmental quality, and specific needs of the customer. For instance, we determine whether the customer prefers high-quality outcomes or quick delivery, and we also assess the budget's flexibility.

Time is another crucial factor that we evaluate when we receive a project request. We determine whether we have sufficient time to provide a high-quality design. If time is limited, we help the customer find the best-balanced approach based on the situation.

When it comes to cost, we assess the project's budget, the alignment between customer expectations and the budget, and whether the budget can ensure that our team achieves reasonable profits while promoting healthy relationships and internal circulation.

L'A: How does UNFOLDESIGN approach working with clients and ensuring their vision is realized in the final design?

QQ: Effective communication is crucial in any collaborative process. To ensure a successful outcome, we should communicate with decision-makers directly in the early stages. By doing so, we can gain a deep understanding of each other's needs and establish a solid foundation for the work.

SAMATHA Resort Project Drawings

During the design process, it's necessary to have perfect project management, control of critical milestones, and agile adjustment of strategies to help customers plan and implement their ideas.

During the design process, we understand that not all our customers are familiar with specific design aspects, and some may have never run a store or restaurant before. Therefore, we always consider how to make our designs understandable and easily digestible for all stakeholders.

We constantly strive to provide excellent service by being proactive in solving problems and addressing any concerns that may arise. By doing so, we can ensure our clients' satisfaction with the final outcome.

L'A: Can you tell us about the research process that UNFOLDESIGN undertakes to understand what matches the story and feel of a client's business before designing the interior of their building?

QQ: To begin with, we need to conduct thorough research on the customer's project, taking into account various factors such as location, climate, lighting, and local customs. The next step is to effectively communicate with the customer, understanding their requirements and expectations and the key aspects of the project the clients want to showcase to their audiences. After that, we identify suitable shapes, elements, colors, and textures that align with the project's objectives. In order to do this, it may be necessary to use images or abstract representations to convey the desired message.

SAMATHA Resort After Renovation by UNFOLDESIGN, Photography by ZHANYING Studio

SAMATHA Resort After Renovation, Photography by ZHANYING Studio

L'A: Can you walk us through the design process for a typical interior renovation project, from initial consultation to completion?

QQ: We have just finished renovating Manzo, a Japanese sake restaurant located in Beijing. For over 17 years, the restaurant has been promoting Japanese wine culture in China and has worked closely with 35 wineries. Additionally, Manzo is known for serving the best Hitsumabushi (Nagoya eel rice) in Beijing.

Our design concept for the renovation was centered around the essence of sake culture, which is rooted in the combination of rice and water. Water is the lifeblood of sake, and rice is its backbone. Sake is made by refining the essence of rice through a precise brewing process. Water and rice, the source of sake, are subtly visible in the design concept, abstracted into intentional forms of different dimensions that emerge in the space. One of the most popular dishes at Manzo is Hitsumabushi (Nagoya eel rice), which can be enjoyed in three ways. The concept of "Rice" is crucial to the dish, and it perfectly matches the design inspiration.

We wanted to highlight these elements in the restaurant's design, and we did so by incorporating rice husk paint on the walls, white granular lanterns, and rice spike flower installations. Throughout the process, we took multiple samples of the rice husk paint to study the different effects of various proportions. We also made several versions of the white lantern's wooden frame and metal shackles. Our team, along with flower plant artist Guan Yue, hand-picked and assembled the rice ear art installation on site. The wine cabinet is fully stocked with wine bottles, flasks, and cups, which are classified and displayed according to their shape, color, and other features. Additionally, we have included a pot of Nantian green plants at the entrance, which were personally selected by our team from the nursery. We always pay attention to every detail.

L'A: How does UNFOLDESIGN keep up with the latest design trends and incorporate them into your work?

SAMATHA Resort After Renovation, Photography by ZHANYING Studio

QQ: Thanks to the development of social networks, design platforms, and design media, we now have access to the best design ideas from all over the world. We get to see new, fresh ideas and trends that are emerging in the field. Among these trends, we are more willing to accept and absorb cutting-edge ways of thinking, as well as methods of solving problems. I believe that these are the things that can be internalized and transformed into practical solutions. There may be an opportunity to apply these ideas in a project and put them into practice.

L'A: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in interior design?

QQ: It is important to identify your interests and strengths in the various categories and areas of interior design. Despite the vastness and diversity of projects involved, it is crucial to choose a direction that you enjoy, work towards achieving excellence, and keep building on your experience to improve. This way, you will be better equipped to face any future challenges and opportunities that come your way.

L'A: Can you share with us a project that you are particularly proud of and why?

QQ: We recently completed a boutique hotel project in Dangyang, Hubei Province, which is located near the famous Yuquan Temple. The hotel officially opened in October. Guests have shared positive experiences and appreciation for design details on social media. It's great to see that our team's efforts during the design process have been appreciated by the guests.

While working on hotel projects, we need to be open-minded and balance changes in trends, special highlights, and peripheral details, as these projects usually take a long time to complete. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we managed to finish on time, which makes it rare and gratifying to have it successfully completed and win people's love.

SAMATHA Resort After Renovation, Photography by ZHANYING Studio

L'A: Can you discuss any upcoming projects that UNFOLDESIGN is working on

QQ: I am excited about an upcoming private villa project that we have. The owner is the head of a high-tech glass company, meaning that this time, we will be incorporating many high-tech electric glass elements into the space, providing a unique and innovative experience.

L'A: Finally, what sets UNFOLDESIGN apart from other interior design companies, and how do you plan to continue to innovate and grow in the future?

QQ: Every firm excels at certain aspects, and UNFOLDESIGN's competitive advantage is project management and integration, which allows for more careful consideration of efficiency, deliverables, and problem prevention. We prioritize customer service, not just during the project but after it is completed as well, ensuring that the space is properly adjusted for use. We continue to learn from our experiences and mistakes as we grow. Despite the current challenging times in the industry and unfavorable economic environment, we, as design practitioners, remain hopeful and passionate.


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