Sitting With…Alice Cheng from SHIALICE Spatial Design

Not everyone gets their start working on multi-million dollar projects for a respected Hollywood designer, but Alice Cheng did.  This experience inspired her to found her own interior design business in Los Angeles,SHIALICE Spatial Design.  Bringing thoughtfulness to every project, Alice creates combinations of shape, color, and materiality that complement each given space while making sure to respect the architectural elements already in place. Though she has a great affinity towards antique and vintage objects, she also seeks out new pieces from burgeoning craftsmen around the world whenever possible, even requesting custom work to cater to the unique loves of her clients. We recently reached out to Alice to get her take on interior design.

Have you always been interested in architecture and interior design?

Actually, yes—art was my first love and for as long as I can remember, I was drawing rooms and houses if I wasn’t building them with blocks. After I got a computer in grade school, I started using this super basic “Paint” software that came free with Windows (I’m dating myself) to draw repeating patterns for wallpaper and lay out how I’d hang art. In school and after school my extracurriculars were always having to do with creating environments (e.g., set design, wedding styling). I got distracted for a few years, though, and played it safe in marketing before I finally quit and pursued my passion for design full time.

What’s your approach to interior design?

I love clean lines and a curated environment, but in terms of overall philosophies, I’ve always loved this William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”It’s unlike me to push colors, styles, or items simply because they’re a current trend unless they really align with the form and function of the space. The goal is to surround yourself with items that you really love that works for you.

What inspires you the most?

Nature and food. The former is hard to beat as a source of inspiration for color, texture, and form that is so organic and, well, perfected.  And food: chefs are artists in their own right. I’m a horrible cook so I always feel a sense of awe when presented with a beautifully crafted and architected dish—it’s not the same inspiration designers find from seeing cool ideas in their own field. It’s more of an amazement and wonder you feel at your core that energizes you to want to create something too. And some of the crazy stuff they do with food these days is a great reminder to think out of the box—it inspires me to think more creatively.

Photo Credit: Tessa Neustadt

What’s your favorite project that you’ve completed so far?

What a fun question! My projects are my babies and it’s hard to choose. There are special pieces and moments in each project that I think of fondly: specially commissioned art pieces, custom tile work, a sweet corner I styled with a client’s favorite books from childhood.

For the sake of answering the question, one recent project was for a repeat client for whom we sourced some wonderful vintage modernist pieces like an Arne Jacobson egg chair and a beautiful Greta Grossman bench (they’re such classic, clean-lined pieces—really gorgeous). He also recently got into collecting street and pop art and it was a lot of fun framing and hanging his Murakami and some other fun pieces (just photographed this and hope to share pictures soon).

What do you think is the most versatile color palette?

I tend to be drawn to thinking about a strong texture and materials palette early on and so my colors will often reference these naturally occurring tones of wood, or stone, or raw wool or raw metal. Those colors tend towards neutrals so you see a lot of soothing palettes in my projects that we can keep neutral or build on top of with stronger, more saturated colors.

How much does living in Los Angeles impact your designs?

Tons! I love the energy that runs through this city. The creative industries here nurture a sensibility that values the unique and the diverse and that appreciates a bit of quirk. There’s an appreciation for the story behind a bit of wear and patina on a vintage piece.

How would you define the LA aesthetic?

Easy, comfortable, lived in and with hints of cool places beyond that big Pacific ocean we have over here.

What’s your favorite source for antique and vintage items?

Oh man, so many places. In LA, I love Amsterdam Modern and almost always find something from there for my projects (just happens to work that way). Lawson Fenning always has an awesome selection of well refurbished vintage pieces. I scour 1stdibs for more unique or exclusive finds and, honestly, I love looking at overseas Etsy sellers for objects unique to their history and region. And lastly, I try to pick up interesting things from my travels and offer them to my clients through a client-only shop. My current favorite is a woven wool domed lamp shade from Prague.

What kind of qualities do you look for in vintage pieces?

In short: condition and value.

I’ve been buying vintage since I got my first paycheck out of college and at first I just bought what was fun and different, but I learned the hard way to think about the condition of the piece for its intended use. If I see a cool looking chair for a client, it’d better also be comfortable by the client’s standards and in good enough condition to use without it falling apart. I personally have a high tolerance for patina and wear, but when shopping for clients I draw the line at pieces with anything broken or missing beyond character wear that we can’t easily fix without breaking the bank. The exception is if it’s a rare or valuable piece that is worth the investment.  If it’s a piece from a known maker, I always do some comparison shopping to see if the asking price is comparable with the market.

What’s more fun – designing custom furnishings, or designing interiors?

Gah. Tie.

Do you want to one day create your own line of home goods, or do you just enjoy getting custom pieces for your clients?

I would love to do that! I sometimes commission my own sofas and seating for clients from scratch when we need a very specific dimension or look, but it’s different when you want to create your own line. It’s just a matter of finding the right craftsmen to partner with. I don’t want to sell anything poorly made.

What’s your favorite room to design for?

They can be pretty involved, but I really love kitchens. I do all my cabinetry custom so it’s pretty much a free for all as to what’s possible. Plus, because the design has to follow functional needs, I find that clients are more game to try new things in this space if they know it’s with the intention of maximizing utility and optimizing storage—who would ever object to that? And, I love tile. LOVE tile. 🙂

Who’s your dream client?

A professor of history renovating a historic home. Is that too specific? I love clients who appreciate history behind the objects they collect and I love the craftsmanship you see in older houses.

How have interior design apps impacted your business?

I don’t really know. It hasn’t been a notable issue. I’m certain some of my clients use or have used them, but there’s nothing like having a designer at your side explaining the nitty gritty of making that cool image on your iPad come to life.

What do you think the future of interior design looks like?

I’m hoping that with the maker culture running so strong that we’re headed back towards desiring quality in materials and craftsmanship as opposed to buying disposable trends that will last you a couple of years max. I really hope more and more people start collecting furniture and art to keep.

Thanks again Alice, for taking the time to answer our questions!  Make sure to follow SHIALICE on Instagram and Facebook for some great behind the scenes pics and design inspiration.