Cliff Tan, the 33-year-old London-based architect behind the firm Dear Modern, started posting feng shui TikTok videos for fun. Over the past 10 months, however, the response to his TikToks has completely transformed his work and his business.
Tan creates educational, and at times seemingly impossible, feng shui and interior design videos. Using a pen, paper, and model furniture, he shows viewers how to place furniture in order to optimize space and have the best chi (energy) flowing through a room. His first viral TikTok posted in January, a video about how to place a bed in a room, currently has over 7 million views. (Spoiler alert: the command position is always the answer.) Today, he has 1.4 million followers on the platform. He was surprised at how curious his audience was about feng shui and how many people had misconceptions about the practice.
“People thought it was a superstition,” Tan tells the Daily Dot. “People thought that by doing certain things, their life will change, or by not doing other things, bad things will happen. But they don’t make the connection to the practicalities of it. A lot of it is about how you feel, and from how you feel, how you perform.”
His videos prompted a lot of requests from viewers who wished for Tan to fix their homes. Since opening Dear Modern in 2016, Tan has worked on bigger projects involving large lots and budgets. However, after seeing the positive response to his TikToks and a desire from his audience to learn more, he has pivoted to doing more affordable design consultations.
“Traditional form of architecture is not what I’m interested in anymore because [TikTok] revealed to me how much people need this advice, how much people need this kind of personal, cheap, affordable help,” he says.
Architecture and interior design can often be expensive and inaccessible to the average person. Architects typically deal with clients who are in the process of remodeling or building a new house. Through TikTok, Tan has found a clientele for Dear Modern that has completely different needs. Typically, these are folks who may not be able to afford professional design help, don’t need as much assistance, or just want tips for improving their home by themselves.
“There is that gap where people don’t want to spend to pay an architect or they can’t afford it,” Tan says. “Now, at least there’s someone for them to reach out to and ask simple questions.”
Nowadays, Tan’s videos are pulled from real experiences with clients. Tan says the smaller spaces are an interesting, fun challenge for him. He also enjoys being able to meet and help a lot of new people who have different rooms, needs, and situations.
“When it’s small, you really need to get creative, you need to make it work to start with, rather than make it look nice,” Tan says. “And to make it work is the fun part because if you make it work, then the person can use a space, and then they can feel better, they can perform better, and that’s what feng shui is all about.”
His viewers are able to book consultations through Tan’s website. The demand is high though, and the wait for an appointment is currently three weeks. When asked if he would ever return to traditional architecture projects, Tan said he didn’t think he would, at least for now. In a typical architecture firm’s lifespan, he says most people work on 50 or 60 projects—100 max. Today, he gets to see hundreds of people.
“Within half a year I have seen more projects than I ever would dream of in my whole life,” Tan says.
Looking forward, Tan has a book with Bloomsbury coming out in February called Feng Shui Modern. It’s a book about feng shui that has tips and tricks for every kind of room, and Tan wants it to open the door for people who are skeptical about the practice. Beyond that, he hopes to have more people take on this kind of affordable, small-scale design work.
“I’m hoping to have a few other designers to help me do the same thing, and hopefully through this, other people can just open their own companies to do the same thing so it becomes more normal,” Tan says. “Then there’ll be little design firms springing up offering consultations and then it‘s nice, everybody can have access.”