International Women's Day: Conversations (and Home Styling Tips) with Women in Design

  • Mar 7, 2022

In light of International Women’s Day, we thought it would be a nice change to hear a more personal side of things, so we reached out to two female entrepreneurs in the design industry, Hong Henwood and Cherylynne Clews, to ask if they could share their aspirations, challenges and proudest moments with us.

*Hong Henwood's profile image is photographed by Andrea Galkova.

Hong, who is currently based in Noosa, Queensland, wears many hats. She is a renowned interior stylist who has worked on homes in both Australia and Singapore, and is the founder of online home decor store ASF and the director of design at Archend Group.

Whereas Melbourne-born Cherylynne ditched her corporate job of 30 years and moved to Singapore to start her own home fragrance business, To Be Calm. From candles and diffusers to home and linen sprays, her scents have graced many a homes (including mine!) in our sunny shores.

We also couldn’t resist picking their brains on home styling, and they’ve shared really useful tips for beginners. Because both entrepreneurs have linkages to the design scene in Australia, we also spoke on Aussie style interiors, which are becoming quite a thing in the Singapore home interior design scene. And what better time to celebrate style from Down Under, now that Australia has finally opened their borders?

Find out what our two women powerhouses have to say in our interview below:

Renonation (RN): Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? What led you to become one?

Hong Henwood: Yes and no, growing up my parents ran their own businesses and I was always working alongside them. I guess this is what inspired my passion to start my own business.

Working for someone else doesn't give you much flexibility to have a small family and find that right work-life balance. I have always had a passion for designing and once I had my first child, I found that I was able to take a step back and follow my dream.

Hong has styled a number of homes in both Australia and Singapore.

Cherylynne Clews: I never initially intended to be an entrepreneur. What led me to become one was very much a combination of factors. At the time, I made the brave decision to take the leap into entrepreneurship, I was a VP with American Express and had a 30 year career working for them in various roles.

However, I was starting to feel that I was missing out on too much of my family life as I had a very demanding global role, reporting into New York, involving lots of travel and late night calls. I recall thinking what would happen if one day Amex said we don’t need you anymore… and I wondered, could I actually be self-sufficient without the corporate infrastructure?

Creating To Be Calm was a challenge I gave myself and I knew that successful entrepreneurs created businesses that they are passionate about. I am passionate about fragrance and people.

Cherylynne regularly conducts fragrance workshops from candle making to making your own essential oils.

RN: What challenges do you face as a female entrepreneur?

Hong: It really depends on the industry and specific sector. I'm in the design and building industry and I find it hard sometimes to gain that respect within my peers there, but I think it's changing. Women in construction and design are making headway and we are able to be at the forefront of design now.

Cherylynne: Interestingly, I find that in the world of entrepreneurship, the challenges of being female are not as present compared to my earlier years in the corporate world where there was an inherent gender bias. The good news now is many corporate companies are genuinely committed to diversity and inclusion.

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A post shared by Hong Henwood|Interior Designer (@honghenwooddesign)

One of Hong's interior design works.

RN: Share your proudest moment!

Hong: Probably being able to start my own company outside of my home country (Australia). Starting a new business in Singapore was hard but being surrounded by the right people and business partners certainly helped.

Cherylynne: Gosh, I think when you are an entrepreneur, there are many milestones and proud moments along the way—there needs to be, to keep you pushing on. The day we opened our first store was a moment of validation to me that I was on the right track.

One of several To Be Calm's stores.

RN: Tell us about your curation process for your respective businesses, ASF and To Be Calm.

Hong: It's taken a while to curate the look we want, but ultimately because I am Australian and have a passion for our designers and makers back home in Australia, I wanted to bring that Aussie vibe to Singapore and share what great designs are available.

The Kimmy Hogan Petal I Canvas Print, available at ASF.

Buy it here

I go to three buying shows a year where we are able to explore and see new brands that might be a great fit for our Singapore store. We try before we buy! Most of the products we have in store are items that I would naturally design and decorate homes with, even my own. So, knowing that I also love the products helps us to sell them to our clients.

In addition, we seek out items that not only look amazing, but are also ethically made and have strong sustainability credentials.

Cherylynne: Our pure essential oil range is very much scientifically based, taking well-documented information and sourcing the best suppliers and blending accordingly, to derive the therapeutic benefits.

For home fragrance with candles and diffusers, it is much more an exploratory process, creating combinations that elicit different responses, from calming, to stimulating or creating an environment where people walk in and immediately feel a sense of belonging.

The Divine reed diffuser, which features a blend of orchid and ginger scents, available at To Be Calm.

Buy it here

I use the natural environment a lot to ideate, spending time at the Singapore Botanical Gardens and MacRitchie Reservoir on evening and morning walks and consciously smelling the air. I like to smell different plants, their leaves and flowers, and am always thrilled to encounter something that is unfamiliar but lovely. It is important to go at different times of the day as the environment releases different scents at different times.

RN: Have you seen more homeowners in Singapore embracing the Aussie style? What is the Aussie style for interiors—is there a standard aesthetic or vibe?

Hong: Yes, we believe so. I think [this trend] stems from the freedom of having the choice to explore their own style.

Aussie style is colour! Whether it be muted or made up of huge colour pops, Australian designs always have such great patterns and colours to them. I feel like Australian Design is naturally inspired by the landscapes and landmarks around us, and there is so much creative influence surrounding us in the various states and cities. We have so many colours and textures that occur organically from mother nature, and here in Australia, they are different from every vantage point across all the diverse scenery.

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A post shared by ASF Home Store (@asfhomestore)

The ASF Store.

Cherylynne: When we first started To Be Calm we noticed that more Caucasians were buying candles compared to Asians, however that has now changed with it being much more balanced. I think that this has to do with some of the styling aspects that you see in Australia: a more relaxed vibe in the living areas, a sense of the outdoors, and open-plan rooms.

Aussie style is hard to describe, it can be very individual and creative—it leans towards more of an elegant casual vibe, with one or two pieces that are quite eye-catching and dramatic.

RN: Hong, having worked on both homes in Singapore and Australia, what are some things homeowners here can learn from people in Australia?

Hong: Australians love to renovate. They love to DIY and get really engaged in their homes. I feel like in Singapore, it’s becoming like that too now.

When choosing pieces for your home, be mindful of how long you are planning to keep and showcase them for. For example, is it something that is only in trend today? Opt for pieces that have longevity.

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A post shared by Hong Henwood|Interior Designer (@honghenwooddesign)

One of Hong's latest work on a kid's room at Archend Group.

RN: What’s a common styling mistake to avoid?

Hong: Placing too much in once space. Always take everything out of the space and start fresh. Make a list of things you definitely need and add those pieces first, and then go on adding after if it makes sense.

Only buy what suits your space and engage an interior designer. At the end of the day, it will save you a lot of time and money.

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A post shared by ASF Home Store (@asfhomestore)

A beautifully curated space done up by ASF.

RN: Cherylynne, how important is scent in design?

Cherylynne: To me, scent is critical in design. I am a firm believer, and science also supports the idea that fragrance is able to reconnect you with memories from the past. The love of the holiday season with the beautiful pines and cedars often transports oneself to their happiest memories.

The Australian Journey candle smells of eucalyptus, pine and fresh grass, available at To Be Calm.

Buy it here 

With my journey series, the design is built around the emotion and memories of the atmosphere created by fragrances—Beach Journey, Paris Journey, Australian Journey. These locations have a definitive and memorable fragrance.

RN: So what inspired To Be Calm’s Australian Journey candle?

Cherylynne: Australia is full of beautiful fragrances and as an Australian, my love for fragrance began as a child when playing in my backyard with many flowers, fresh cut grass aromas, and the eucalypts. Coupled with also knowing many Australians who live in Singapore and many Singaporeans who visit and live in Australia, and staying with our desire to create fragrance memories, it seemed fitting to provide an Australian-centric range.

I have a lovely anecdote; my daughter, who was five at the time, when returning with the family to Australia, would put her little nose in the air and breathe in and say ‘I’m home’—it was the eucalypts that she could smell, so I could not resist recreating that fragrance for her. No matter where she is in the world, she can light our To Be Calm “Explore” or “Australian Journey” candles and instantly be transported to her happy place.

RN: There are different products to scent a space—diffusers, candles, etc. What would you recommend for different areas of the home?

Cherylynne: When you walk into your home you want it to be inviting and not overpowering, a diffuser at the front door (whether electronic or a reed diffuser) is a good idea. If entertaining guests, a candle lit at the entrance creates a nice ambience.

Beach Journey is a refreshing set filled with the scents of sea kelp and peppermint, available at To Be Calm.

Buy it here 

I would always have a reed diffuser in bathrooms. In bedrooms, creating a nice relaxed environment with a candle or an electronic diffuser is a great way to unwind. It is important to put a candle out correctly prior to going to sleep, so that you retain the gorgeous fragrance but not the smell of the smoke if you blow it out.

Importantly, I see candles almost like a wonderful ritual, having one on the coffee table or side table to light and know this is your time to settle in and relax. For work or study, a combination of an electronic diffuser, reed diffuser or candle works well on the desk.

RN: Share your favourite products from your respective businesses!

Hong: I love our curved sofas, vases and candles. My fave would be the Mr. Rosado fragrance from SOH Melbourne.

The ASF Cloud Sofa, available at ASF.

Buy it here 

Cherylynne: I use a number of fragrances depending on the mood I would like to achieve. If I want to wind down I will use Embrace, which is a beautiful combination of Neroil and Lavender.  When I am working, I tend to use uplifting fragrances such as those with peppermint and eucalyptus, and if I want to go to my happy place I may light Beach or Peaceful to take me back to MacRitchie.

The Beach collection of candles, available at To Be Calm.

RN: Who has been your greatest support in your own journey?

Hong: My family, particular my husband and close friends.

Cherylynne: Without doubt my immediate family here in Singapore, particularly my husband. Taking the big step to leave a well-paying job and roll the dice for your dream has an impact on the whole family. It changed things that we did. For example, holidays were not such an option anymore, we had to be more thoughtful about cashflow and the time and effort required to be successful in an unknown, dynamic and ever-changing environment. Having your own business means all roads lead to you.

RN: Tell us a bit about your future plans!

Hong: We are venturing into our own range of homeware and furniture!

Cherylynne: An ongoing focus is on e-commerce, broadening our wholesale footprint and building upon our corporate engagements. We are so delighted that many people who have loved our products in Singapore but have now moved away are reaching out and asking how they can purchase To Be Calm items in their new countries. So, with that incentive, we are launching in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia in the next three months and plan to go further afield within the next six to 12 months!

This interview was made possible by Tourism Australia.

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