Pushing Boundaries to Change the Industry – Uditha Illeperuma

A perfectionist by nature, Uditha Illeperuma, the CEO of Clove Republic affirmed that – “Every project I take on needs to be executed exactly according to plan. It’s a case of ‘do it right, or don’t do it at all’. I am also extremely detail-oriented, which is probably either a result of my perfectionist nature, or a contributor to it. Either way, it works out positively, as being detail-oriented is critical in what I do with Clove Republic; which is a challenging role that requires a fine eye for detail. Personally, I love the challenges my work brings as it is the only way I am able to push the boundaries of my capacity and competencies. On the flipside, my personal life revolves around my family and any free time I do have, I make sure that I spend it with them.”

Describing that which drew him to interior architecture, Uditha explained, “The whole concept of design as a whole fascinates me; and not just interior architecture. Be it graphic design, product design, and of course, architecture; all forms of design captivate me. Even in the simplest design, there are intricacies to be found. This is especially true in architecture. A plain plaster wall, a simple ceiling moulding; all of it requires an almost art-form level of execution, including a whole lot of skill and finesse in order for the outcome to be a quality piece of work. When it comes to interior architecture, the complexity increases by a hundred-fold. I am just completely taken in by the sophistication a finished interior or work of architecture presents. Additionally, extensive travelling and being exposed to different cultures, styles and forms also played a major part in the development of my affinity for interior architecture.”  

“Clove Republic came into being over time across a period of several years. I was an IT professional and had no background in architecture save for my passion. The only architecture I had encountered till then had been to do with communication networks and software systems. My late-wife Ranjala and I started off by first doing up our home in Melbourne. The real estate developers who saw the outcome, offered us the opportunity to carry out the remodelling work on their properties. But we had already moved back to Colombo by that time. While here, we started renovating and building our own properties from the ground up, and in the process learnt the essentials of the trade, while also establishing a good network of suppliers and contractors. With time, more and more opportunities opened up through friends and architects who wanted us to provide solutions for their interiors. Our biggest challenge in turning out most of these projects was that the items and technologies required had to be sourced from overseas. The links that were established in doing so however, ended being a strength as we now had strong connections with many overseas architects, product designers, vendors and suppliers. Even at this point, the whole prospect of interior architecture was still a passionate hobby and not a business venture. But the foundation of what was to become Clove Republic was laid during this time. The whole hands-on approach gave us a holistic view of what the discipline of interior architecture encompassed. From there on, it was a matter of learning, understanding, and application.” 

“The brand Clove Republic was created in the form of a passion project for my late wife Ranjala. Once she and I realized that during the time we had spent doing so many interior projects for family, friends and acquaintances; we had mastered the art of interior architecture, the next sensible step was to actually launch what we did as a branded service. We shared the vision that there existed immense potential in developing an interior architecture culture here in Sri Lanka, and that Clove Republic could be a catalyst for it”, added Uditha.   

Of the self-teaching process that he went through to learn about interior architecture, Uditha said, “As mentioned before, a lot of learning was done through experimentation. It was a process of trial and error. We spent a lot of time working on different projects on our own, and the experience helped us understand all the things that would work in a setting and all the things that wouldn’t. It helped that we took a few risks here and there on several of our pilot projects. Risk-taking is the only way to explore limits, and the only way to figure out how you can expand on those limits. With each risk we took, we either identified a weak point or learned of a strength we could capitalize on. Interior architecture has a lot to do with how you tune your strengths into making them a part of your design tool kit. My eye for detail for instance, is a strength I give a lot of emphasis to when working on a project, and naturally, practice makes perfect. This one time, I ended up rebuilding a chair 18 times in total till I felt that it was perfect in every way. Ranjala and I also learnt about the differences in interior architecture across different cultures and geographies while travelling. The exposure was critical towards developing our thought process to go beyond a Sri Lankan-only perspective.” 

“The biggest challenges came during the execution process. During conceptualization and design, I only need to rely on myself. But when it comes to the actual fabrication, you are compelled to rely on different suppliers, contractors and workers. In most cases, they will not share the same vision that I hold in relation to the project at hand. As a result, it becomes extremely difficult to achieve the final concept physically in output. Sri Lanka as a whole lacks people of the right skill, technology and support services. It doesn’t help that a lot of contractors and service providers also lack accountability in that they under-deliver and leave you stranded for solutions. All these limitations I just mentioned, makes the life of an interior architect much harder than it should be”, responded Uditha, when questioned about the challenges he has faced while learning the trade.

On the topic of the theme of Clove Republic, Uditha disclosed, “With every interior project we carry out, the overlying theme is always elegance. As a brand that creates living spaces that reflect individuality, we need to merge and integrate different styling elements and design disciplines on many occasions. Ensuring that there is no disconnection between either of the interior facets proposed by us requires a certain finesse, particularly during execution. It is this finesse in seamless integration of elements that we translate as the brand theme of elegance. To put it into perspective, you could ask for a decidedly French-provincial dining setup, but with a mid-century modern chandelier overhead. The options we propose for this combination of styles will invariably be interlinked in some aesthetic sense, thus creating an overall sense of elegance with regard to the overall interior appointment. That said, we also specialize in interiors that reflect a uniform styling concept and are one of the few brands that can deliver French-provincial, Hamptons, contemporary and modernist interiors.”    

Speaking of the vision of Clove Republic, the CEO stated, “The vision of Clove Republic is to create and grow an authentic interior culture in Sri Lanka. I say authentic because at present, interior modelling or designing is a process that is given second priority, while structural design and construction takes immediate precedence. Where an authentic interior culture is concerned, both structural and interior design are looked at together, with maybe a slight emphasis given over to interior spacing and conceptualizing. Done correctly, the structure should be designed in a way that compliments the living space arrangement as defined by an interior concept. It is this thought process that we want to inspire in the Sri Lankan market as driven by the Clove Republic brand.”

Asked about the unique services provided by Clove Republic, Uditha responded, “Clove Republic specializes in providing complete interior solutions and is one of the very few brands / businesses in the country operating in this area of expertise. We are what you could call a ‘one-stop-shop’ for interior architecture, considering the fact that we have the capability and the capacity to address every facet of interior architecture; from furniture to lighting, accessories, curtaining, carpeting and wall-covering. We do our best work when clients approach us with the project before finalizing the build plan, allowing us the opportunity to propose the optimal degree of space planning. From that point onwards, we overlook the entire project; across construction, interior staging and final delivery in ensuring that the concept has been executed as specified. Our approach is quality-driven and therefore, we limit the number of projects taken on at a given time as we commit a significant amount of effort perfecting each element towards meeting the highest standards.” 

Discussing the impact of the import ban upon the Interior Architecture industry, Uditha opined, “There are many who say that the import ban provides an opportunity for local sectors to come forward and promote their respective businesses. While this partly true, it should be pointed out that high-end businesses such as Clove Republic that import high-quality furniture and interior decorations are not competing with local brands since we are catering to a completely different clientele. Although, companies such as Clove Republic provide local carpenters, decorators, builders, etc with an understanding of international standards, trending designs, innovative ideas and much more. Such exposure in turn, helps these local vendors develop their product ranges and offerings, and basically, up their game and improve their standing in the industry. So, it’s paramount to support high end businesses like us, as we bring in the international exposure that will aid in taking the local industry to the global sphere.”

“Honestly speaking, and considering the nature of what we offer, I am not looking to scale up immediately. For all intents and purposes, Clove Republic is still very much a passion project even though we’ve grown as a brand and earned a great reputation. Before we look at business expansion, I first want to perfect our value delivery through the adoption of new technology and design orientations, as well as more affiliations with international brands. Taking on more projects than we can handle for the sake of growing the business will only lead to a drop in quality, and that is not something we want for Clove Republic. We will however, continue to reinvent the interior architecture offering here in Sri Lanka by achieving globally relevant and in-trend solutions that would ultimately uplift our market competitiveness to the next level. In this capacity, I believe that we can still strive towards realizing our vision of totally revolutionizing how people perceive the creation of liveable interiors, while at the same time building the foundation necessary to take Clove Republic to a global scale”, concluded the founder on his vision for Clove Republic.     

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