“What’s the best that can happen?” a chat with designer Shaolin Low

Decor News Now recently talked with Honolulu-based Studio Shaolin founder Shaolin Low about her new venture, Woven by Shaolin, a retail store and design studio in Kailua, Hawaii. (You can read more about the recently opened store here.)

But our conversation with Low was wide-ranging, and we wanted to bring you more, including her thoughts on how feeling uncomfortable can propel you forward, why Facebook groups are a great resource for designers, and what she hopes is next in her fast-moving career as an interior designer and now retailer.

On her aesthetic

Low is known for a modern coastal look, and sustainable, holistic design. But as important as the look of a space is, Low focuses on how a room makes you feel.

Studio Shaolin, founded in 2020, is known for a modern coastal vibe.
Studio Shaolin, founded in 2020, is known for a modern coastal vibe.

“In my spaces, people feel happy. They feel calm. They feel, ‘The energy here is so pure that I feel inspired to do and be whoever I want to be,’” she explains. “That’s how I create and design: I want people to love how they feel in their homes.”

On the value of Facebook groups — and sharing expertise

Low is a self-taught interior designer, albeit one who grew up with a mother who is an interior designer and a father who is a general contractor. At one point, Low’s mother asked her to take Sandra Funk’s Interior Design Standard program focused on the business side of design and to implement its templates, processes and recommendations in her mother’s business. “I went through the entire course in one day,” Low recalls, “and by the end of the day, I was like, ‘Oh, this is how you run a business!’”

Inspired, Low headed to the local library, checked out interior design textbooks, took a few short courses on things like upholstery, and started listening to industry podcasts.

“There’s so much information out there. If you are hungry for it, you’ll find it. (When I was getting started), every time I hit a roadblock, I would go on a Facebook group or Google it and there would be posts from people who’d dealt with and handled the same thing. I could get that information and apply it to my own work,” she says. “I don’t use Facebook in the sense of checking my profile or posting a lot of photos, but the (design-focused) Facebook groups are amazing. You can ask: ‘What’s your favorite white paint color?’ And literally, you have designers in minutes saying, ‘This white is great for this, and this white is great for that.’ I found all my initial vendors through Facebook groups. These groups are full of seasoned designers willing to share information freely. It’s so generous. I respect and love that so much, and I am so grateful to them. Now, anytime I meet a designer who is starting out, I tell them, ‘This is what I did. This is how I do it. These are the programs I use.’”

On starting a new project

Low is comfortable with the unknown and the unexpected and that, she says, has been helpful to her as a designer intent on growing her business in new ways.

“With every project, I’m doing something totally new and different,” she says. “So, it’s like a constant, uncomfortable feeling for me. Every single project has (an aspect) where I’m like, ‘I’ve never done this before. I have no idea if it’s going to be amazing or if we’ll make a bad decision.’ … That’s what it’s like with the new store. I’ve never run a retail store. So, this is all new for me. But that’s what makes it really fun. Why live a life that’s not full of challenges and change? I love being uncomfortable. I love pushing myself. It’s exciting.”

On her goals

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Low is a woman on the move. She visited 30 countries by the time she was 30, and her design business has evolved rapidly, from residential design when she opened Studio Shaolin in 2020 to also doing vacation rental projects and now taking on commercial work, too. And, of course, there’s the new store. “I love to be able to evolve and grow and change,” she says.

Low began designing vacation rental properties, like this Airbnb, at clients’ requests.
Low began designing vacation rental properties, like this Airbnb, at clients’ requests.

What’s next: “I grew up shopping boutiques and I love shopping small, shopping local,” she says. “But I also love Target. I love what they do. I’m obsessed. One of my future goals is to have a Target line.”

She’d also love to design a boutique hotel: “My dream is that a developer comes to me and says, ‘I have this little building that I’m going to turn into a 16-room boutique hotel. Can you design the space? You can come in and do whatever you want.’ And I’d say, ‘Yes!’ That’d be huge!”

On embracing whatever is next

“Sometimes I feel the universe is pulling me in new directions. Instead of being scared or doubting myself, I’m just saying, ‘Yes,’ to what comes next. I think, not just ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ but also ‘What’s the best that can happen?’ When I started Studio Shaolin, I thought, ‘I’ll do a couple of houses. And if I can get published, that will be the pinnacle,’” she says. (She and her work have been featured in Modern Luxury Hawaii magazine, Parents magazine, Sunset magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping and other publications.)

“Then when I got published, I thought, ‘This is amazing! Now, if I could get a million-dollar home.’ And then that happened. When I started, I never would have imagined opening a store, and now here I am opening a store. You just kind of keep dreaming bigger and then the universe surprises you along the way.”

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