Cat Wei makes up one of three designers on the DIY (Do It Yourself) Network’s show Material Girls. Cat uses her interior design skills to transform what is already in a room into a redecorated work of art.
Cat received her bachelor’s degree in environmental design at the University of Colorado and her master’s in architecture from Columbia University. While in graduate school, she worked for high-profile firms, and her first jobs after graduation included work on a more intimate scale at a design-build firm and as a designer with Fada Design.
There, Cat joined fellow Columbia classmates to develop and conceptualize design packages concentrating on commercial lifestyle spaces such as hotels, bars and restaurants. From there, she further pursued her interest in interior design. She taught architecture studio to freshman at the New York Institute of Technology. Cat practices in New York City as an architect and interior designer and is thrilled to share her craftiness with her audiences.
ASIANCE: Tells us about your background and where you grew up?
Cat: My parents are both Taiwanese. They’re from Taiwan. I grew up in New York City. I was born in the Bronx. They came here when they were 30.
I really like art and both of my parents told me to do something professional, just like every Asian family tries to have their kids do.
ASIANCE: How did your parents come up with the name Cat?
Cat: It’s short for Catherine. It’s a college nickname. The funny thing about my name was that my mom and dad were expecting me to be a boy so they hadn’t come up with a name yet. They were running around the hospital trying to find out from the nurses what their favorite girl’s names were. So that’s where Catherine came from. The nurses took a vote. My name is Catherine Victoria, so it was the top two winners. Since they did not speak English that well, they were like, “What do we do?”
ASIANCE: What made you decide to get into interior design since you were schooled in architecture?
Cat: I still do both. I got into architecture and design because I was really interested in 3D sculpture. I really like art and both of my parents told me to do something professional, just like every Asian family tries to have their kids do. They steered me towards architecture.
And for interior design, I worked for Richardson Sadeki design. They’re very interior spaced. Often times what happens in the city is a lot of the firms are building things from the ground up. So they end up doing a lot of interiors, which is a good thing and a bad thing. So that’s how I sort of got more involved in interiors. And of course all the TV shows I’ve worked on involved interior design.
I have my own business but I recently switched my job paths. I got a job offer to work for Kiehl’s. They offered me a job as director of Global Store Design. Retail design and that sort of world is new to me. So I took it. It’s kind of crazy. It’s a big transition for me. I’ve never been in a real corporate job before.
It’s been really fun. I like to spread myself out and find other disciplines.
ASIANCE: Describe your steps to a project. If someone hires you to do an interior project, take us through the steps.
Cat: Each project is different, but mainly it’s a process we take on ourselves. There’s always one out of every ten. You should make sure you and your client are on the same page. Make sure you have a good rapport with the client. Have a good client relationship.
Walk through their space, see what their style is like, see what the space it like. Find out what their needs are. Go through what their goals are for the space. What they want to transform it into. What kind of budget they have. Tell them to rip out tear sheets from magazines. Anything they like; art, music, fashion magazine, just to get a feel for who they are. You can tell a lot about someone’s current home. It’s back and forth for a while. Just keep doing it until we finish the project. It can take a long time. It depends on the lead time of receiving furniture. It depends on where we buy the furniture. If it’s from Crate and Barrel or some more budgetary places, it’s much faster. But if it’s from Holly Hunt or Ralph Pucci it usually takes about 12-16 weeks for the production of the furniture. On average our projects run about 1 year.
Television is much faster but it gives people false expectations that they can get their home done in 2-4 days.
ASIANCE: Give us one thing every girl should have in her home?
Cat: A comfortable, beautiful chair. So it could be any thing of your taste. It can be a swan chair or a womb chair, which are some of the great classics to having a really great wing chair… .a place where you can cozy up and read a book.
ASIANCE: What would be your ultimate dream project?
Cat: A hotel!
ASIANCE: Name one of your favorite designed hotels and why?
Cat: It’s not that exciting. I like the Mercer Hotel. I like the feel of it. The size and portions are so perfect. The rooms are generously sized and it has a very intimate feel. It’s the first innovative Andre Balaz Hotel in terms of the materials. It was before its time and it spawned off hotels just like it. It’s a classic.
ASIANCE: Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?
Cat: Everywhere. I just finished this book called Material World. It came out in September. It’s spun from the show. My show is called Material Girls. Material World is about bringing fabric and home dÃ©cor together and just giving you some project ideas.
It’s really an inspiration book. There are 50 projects in the book. Each project has an inspiration and that is what I was trying to say in that book… that you can find inspiration everywhere. For example in that book, there is a project where I was inspired by my mom’s placemats. They’re like these wax plastic strawberry placemats that I absolutely love. A lot of them come from my past and memories.
ASIANCE: Which designer do you look up to? Could be any area of design.
Cat: I love Tadao Ando. He’s a Japanese architect. I think his structures and buildings are simple. They’re very minimal with beautiful geometry and peace throughout the buildings. A lot incorporate elements of earth and water. Really beautiful forms.
ASIANCE: How did you get your job on the DIY network?
Cat: I started off in television. I was out of work. I friend of mine who’s girlfriend was working on Trading Spaces said he knew they were looking for designers on Trading Spaces. I didn’t know what that was about. They told me to check it out. So I called my agent and told him that I wanted to try out for the show. I auditioned and got the job. Then I got roped into DIY.
I also work on a show call She’s Moving In. It’s about a girlfriend moving into a boyfriend’s apartment and how to design for both of them.
Check out Cat Wei on Material Girls which airs Saturdays at 5pm on the DIY Network.