When Alexandra Beggs set up A Common Thread in late 2019 — a design studio headquartered in Singapore with a global clientele — she wasn’t quite ready for the world to turn on its axis and impose travel restrictions in the months that followed. "I envisioned that I’d be flying over the Pacific Ocean a few times a year checking up on clients, but that hasn’t quite happened yet,” she laughs.

What she was definitely prepared for was conducting most of her correspondences online — something she’s already been doing for many years as an interior designer for international design firms with offices around the world. “Technologically, we were already working on a cloud, so it wasn’t really a big adjustment for me and my team. The lockdown just meant we couldn’t be out on the streets to meet with vendors or visit clients’ homes. But once we went into Phase Two, everyone was just chomping at the bit to get out again, and that’s when work really took off for us,” she shares.

In the past year, Beggs has noticed an unusual demand for rebranding exercises from many of her clients, such as hotel conglomerates needing to update their old-fashioned look, or businesses wanting to create a subsidiary or sister brand. “The pandemic put renovations on hold, but our brand projects went through the roof, especially with our hospitality clients. As soon as they realised things were slowing down, they started to ‘clean house’. We did brand refresh after brand refresh for about 16 companies last year,” she reveals.

Once restrictions were lifted, Beggs observed a spike in home improvement queries with a focus on drawing clearer lines between the work, living and sleeping spaces. “People were sick of staring at the same four walls and same people every day during lockdown, so they started investing heavily in home renovations or even moving into bigger homes.”

She adds that a large number of her residential projects also revolve around creating the perfect physical backdrop for Zoom meetings. “We have been designing more Zoom backgrounds than dining rooms at the moment!” she laughs. “The aspirations and ideas that people have are so eye-opening, it’s incredible.”

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Depending on the size of the project or level of luxury, Beggs assures that her fees are not exorbitant and she won’t say no to small-scale jobs if she can help it. That includes e-styling packages where her team can remotely create a whole interior concept based on a floor plan. All the client needs to do is follow the sketch-ups and buy what’s on the shopping list.

On the future of hotel design, Beggs notes that the industry is moving away from communal spaces in the lobby to more isolated, socially-distanced waiting areas with check-ins done straight in the room. “I’m in two minds about the long-term design of hotels but I’m quite certain that when everything clears up, a majority of it will go back to what we’re accustomed to.”

Rendering Skin Boutique Los Angeles - THE EDGE SINGAPORERendering for a skincare boutique in Los Angeles

Citizen of the world

Although raised in Singapore, Beggs has spent most of her adult life living overseas. She holds a Bachelor in Architectural Design from Monash University and started her career in Australia spending six years working for a communications agency in Melbourne.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect, but when I went through high school, things changed and I ended up studying marketing and communications. After a few years in the industry I decided to change career paths and went back to design school to study architecture,” she says in her hybrid Australian-American accent.

At the age of six, she had her first taste of interior design moving around the furniture in her parents’ black and white colonial bungalow. Her first real paying job was at 26 for a friend’s family home in Singapore which she took on as a side hustle. “That was very eye-opening for me because it was the first real project that involved budgets, timelines and deliveries, where everything was on me to oversee from start to finish,” she says.

She moved back to Singapore in 2015 to hone her interior design skills for renowned hospitality studios like Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) and Blink Design, with a portfolio of prestigious brands from the wellness, lifestyle, F&B, luxury retail, and resort sectors.

Three years into the job, she relocated to HBA’s Los Angeles office to open a new brand-building division, HBA DNA, focusing on fashioning and building new hospitality concepts for global clients.

“I had always wanted to work in America. At that point it was like, London done, Australia done, Asia done. So America was the last frontier for me. I went there for a holiday in December and by June I was already working there!” she recalls.

A city where everyone rises before the sun, Los Angeles gave Beggs two fulfilling years of high-profile hospitality jobs and a deeper insight into industry practices. According to her, interior design in the US works quite differently than in Asia as the cost of labour is incrementally higher.

“In the US, the detailing on a lot of the projects is very minimal because it’s just too expensive. Hotels, for example, tend to fit in wallpaper and paint, and jazz up the rooms with a heavy use of furniture. Whereas in Singapore, you can have luxurious details like carved marble walls and amazing light installations at a fraction of the cost,” she explains.

I do like a mix of things: You develop a real relationship with a lot of the furniture vendors in America, but at the same time, you really have these great opportunities to work with craftsmen and artisans to custom-build unique pieces of furniture. It just goes to show that design can be beautiful across so many different price points. -Alexandra Beggs
 

Rendering Corporate Office Singapore - THE EDGE SINGAPORERendering for a corporate office in Singapore

The journey home

With opportunities abound in Asia and the prospect of living closer to family — her Eurasian mother and former thespian, Sheila Wyatt Beggs, lives in Singapore — Beggs decided it was time to make it out on her own and return to launch her multi-disciplinary studio. “Part of the reason for my early return was because I wanted to expand into Asia where I also have a strong network of contacts,” she says.

A Common Thread delivers one- of-a-kind brands, holistic experiences and evocative interiors with a West Coast-Californian aesthetic for clients seeking something unconventional and personal. “California is one of the few places in the world where you have three very beautiful and different terrains in one location: the ocean, the mountains, the deserts. To really bring out these landscapes and infuse them into the living spaces, the interiors tend to be more muted and toned down. It was nice to finally have a name to this type of aesthetic,” she jokes.

By sheer happenstance, under her is a team of women specialising in areas of design and communications. That also extends to those in her satellite office in LA and a global outreach of creatives with whom she can engage when the need arises. “I have always seen the value in what they do and they just happen to be women. Regardless of gender, it’s good to support each other and bring out the best in one another,” she says.

More than just an interior firm for both hospitality and residential portfolios, the studio also offers brand management strategies and market research right down to creating brand books and service and experience manuals. “Unlike other marketing agencies who will come up with concepts, we’re able to look at it from a design perspective as well as an operational one. And this can start from an ID project and blossom into a whole branding exercise, or the other way around.”

Becoming more involved in the area of brand creation with various hospitality operators and owners, she discovered her flair and love for developing new hotel concepts from scratch. Notable brand projects include Mondrian Living, Hyde Living and Tribe Resorts.

Essential Marble Incense Holder Rajasthan Emerald - THE EDGE SINGAPOREMarble Incense Holder in Nero Marquina marble, US$65

Branching out into merchandise

With a tasteful eye for detail, the stylishly chic 33-year old also helms the creative studio’s lifestyle goods line, A.C.T. Essential, a collection centred around peoples’ personal daily rituals.

Admittedly, this retail line is Beggs’ passion project stemming from a lack of nice and affordable incense holders for her own personal use. “It drove me nuts so I worked with one of my vendors to create my own and next thing you know, I’m taking orders for it! In a way, this was a creative outlet for us during the lockdown when we weren’t able to handle any interior design projects,” she quips.

Available in various offline and online stockists around the world including its e-store, A.C.T. Essential currently retails a variety of smooth marble trays that can be used for a range of everyday items from jewellery to loose change and even vitamins.

Essential The Multi Marble Tray Calacatta Viola - THE EDGE SINGAPOREThe “Multi” Marble Tray in Calacatta Viola marble, US$220

“We’re in the business of making people feel good. That sensation you get when you step into a beautiful home, or the amazing experience you want for people stepping into your hotel, or just the euphoria of using our products — that essence, that common thread, is the reason why I created this holistic concept,” she explains.

Beggs lives with her UK-born husband in a rented apartment near Orchard Road where her home aesthetic is a reflection of her minimalist, androgynous style that blends contemporary furniture with lots of rare antique finds. Her go-to place for antiques is Pamono or 1stDibs, both online platforms selling one-of-a-kind global antiques.

Essential Marble Spoon Rest Calacatta Oro - THE EDGE SINGAPOREMarble Spoon Rest in Calacatta Oro marble (limited edition), US$110

Her hope for the future is being able to travel again, not just to reunite with family, but to reconnect with old clients and establish new ones. The goal is to gradually set up more satellite offices around the world where she can have people on the ground to service local clients directly.

“Honestly, I’m just interested to see what the other side of this pandemic looks like. I can’t wait to see how much better projects will become once we can start reconnecting on ground with our suppliers and vendors,” she says.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF A COMMON THREAD AND A.C.T ESSENTIAL