OWIU puts craft and wellbeing at the forefront if its California practice

Los Angeles’ OWIU – whose practice spans from architecture to pottery – features in our series on emerging California studios

OWIU California
(Image credit: Justin Chung)

OWIU (an abbreviation for ‘only way is up’) was founded by Joel Wong and Amanda Gunwan in 2018. Since its inception, the boutique firm (which started with its two founders as its only employees and now has a staff of 15) puts craftsmanship and wellbeing at the core of its approach, encompassing a construction arm within its business to celebrate the process of making as a central element in design and architecture. 

OWIU studio in California

(Image credit: Justin Chung)

OWIU: projects and narratives

This focus on quality, texture and meaning extends to the type of work the pair choses to embark on. ‘We like projects that are on sites with rich history. In the same way, we love clients whose brands and identities have strong narratives and convictions behind them. Having a rich narrative really fuels the design,’ say Wong and Gunwan. 

OWIU firm in California

Co-founder Amanda Gunawan

(Image credit: Alexandra Lopez)

A key example of this is one of their ongoing projects, the renovation of a Ray Kappe-designed home. ‘When we started this project, we really wanted to take the time to study the existing DNA of this house and learn about how Kappe designed it,’ the team explains. ‘Why he chose to make certain design decisions and the intention behind the existing structure. We then worked to add in our footprint, with the intention to improve [the property’s] current state while rendering it still relevant to present times.’

loft apartment interior

OWIU’s Biscuit Loft is a Japanese-inspired 1,620 sq ft apartment in Downtown LA’s prestigious Biscuit Company Lofts building. The upper mezzanine floor functions asa semi-private study/reading room, which rests above the open kitchen and living area

(Image credit: Justin Chung)

OWIU’s sensibility, centred on craft and materiality, can be applied to the smaller scale too, as the studio recently launched OWIU Goods, a line of ceramics, made by its own team in Los Angeles. The idea was born during the pandemic, when the founders gifted their employees a pottery studio membership as a way to bolster morale and support mental health. 

OWIU co-founder Joel Wong

Co-founder Joel Wong

(Image credit: Justin Chung)

‘The team enjoyed producing so much that in late 2022 we formally launched a shop carrying the pieces,’ say Wong and Gunawan. ‘It was very organic and unplanned but also surreal that we have graduated from that studio membership and now have a facility of our own and a team of potters.'

OWIU Goods ceramic pot

(Image credit: Nastassia Bruckin)

'We are still extremely involved and still very much make a lot of the pieces. Having a product line as well as an architecture firm has enabled us to learn how to shift from a micro lens to a macro lens.’ A line of furniture is now also in the works. 

stairway in house

(Image credit: Justin Chung)

This piece is part of our January issue's profile series of emerging California studios in the architecture and spatial realm. The January 2024 issue of Wallpaper* is available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today


Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).