Ben Lee's Second Career

Bringing a New Design Aesthetic to His Native Taiwan

For many people, retirement provides the opportunity for leisure, travel, taking classes for personal enjoyment. But for Ben Lee, retirement means studying for a new career.

After a long career in the Taiwanese financial industry, Lee and his family moved to San Francisco—specifically so he could pursue the Certificate Program in Interior Design and Interior Architecture and re-invent himself as an interior designer.

"When I retired," Lee says, "we redecorated our two houses in Taiwan. The result was not good. My wife recommended that I study and then do the decoration myself. When I compared Taiwanese programs to UC Berkeley's, I immediately thought, 'This is the one I want. It has a thorough program.'"

You're almost finished with the certificate. Do you have a favorite course that you've taken?
Before I started the program, I thought design would be simple, you just create a beautiful space. But Design Studio IV emphasized that you have to think about what the people who live in this space want. What are the constraints? Is it budget? Disability? Future expansion? The instructors—Melissa Mizell and Amy Kwok—were also great. We were eager to go from idea to digital presentation quickly, and they wanted us to take it slowly and think more thoroughly. That kind of process takes you back to your original ideas again and again. Also, I enjoyed instructor Lauren Mallas who taught Origins of Influence: Asian Architecture. The way she designs her courses helps encourage our learning.

What do you plan to do once you've completed the certificate?
I would like to start a new career in Taiwan. There, they rely on the interior designer, but they don't ask many questions. Designers don't offer a lot of suggestions, either. You don't get detailed designs or 3-D demonstrations.

After taking this certificate, I have a good idea of how to outdo the competition. I'd like to start a company and do the project management aspect of a design. I have some good connections from my business experience. I know this group of potential clients and what they want.