Monday, 1 September, 2014

Published March 22, 2014
Home & Garden
Making room for work
Co-working spaces were once the domain of new technology companies. Now they're housing start-ups from the other end of the tech spectrum: local artisans who prefer to work with their hands. Tay Suan Chiang reports
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The tenants at Mettle Work are involved in hands-on work; as each tenant does different work, 'there are higher chances of collaboration with each other', says floral artist Jeremy Chu. - PHOTO: ARTHUR LEE

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Mettle Work

50 Lorong 17 Geylang

WITH its endless rows of rooms constructed from wooden planks, Mettle Work is not your typical co-working space. But that is precisely what makes it so unusual, coupled with the fact that it's right in the heart of Geylang, alongside streetwalkers and durian stalls and on top of a metal factory.

Mettle Work is the latest co-working space started by Daniel Tay, who also runs other co-working spaces such as SmartSpace at Waterloo Street, Space at 8 at Joo Chiat and Club 71 at Ayer Rajah Crescent, under cowork@SG.

But what makes his latest venture different is not only the set up but also the types of users the space attracts.

"Mettlework is catered for makers, craft folks, industrial designers and artists specifically due to the nature of the space and it is in an affordable and accessible location," says Mr Tay.

Think of Mettle Work as an industrial chic space, that is a little like the "early days of the then gritty meat-packing district - now art lofts in Manhattan" according to its website. Each room comes with a wooden sliding door for privacy. Forget plush carpets, there's only painted cement screed here, and some rooms come air-conditioned while others do not. The offices look makeshift, but they are permanent structures. In place of large glass windows typical of sleek offices, tenants make do with old-school aluminium louvred ones. There is also a common area at the back, with a metal cage, which comes in handy when users want to hoist big items up from the ground to the third floor where Mettle Work is. The long corridors recently became runway space for a fashion company, which is renting a space here.

Unlike other co-working spaces which tend to attract desk bound or IT jobs, the tenants here are more involved in hands-on work.

For example, there is married couple Dennis Tan and Yoshimi Endo, who founded Harou Studio. Mr Tan is an architectural designer who makes furniture such as wooden tables and benches, as well as pop up coffee booths, while Ms Endo is a bespoke jewellery maker. He builds his furniture in the common area while she handmakes brooches in her own studio in one of the rooms.

"This is the perfect space for us, we can do our building and making here, and we like the creative vibe of the space," says Mr Tan.

Rent starts at $399 a month, with the option of storage and workshop space from $600.

Other tenants at Mettle Work include artist Dorcas Ng who runs Kidcucumberinc. She used to work from a desk at home, but now with a proper studio space, she can do sculpting, soldering, framing, painting, and lacquering of her art works.

Floral artist Jeremy Chu says he appreciates the "sense of community of the place". He adds that as each tenant does different work, "there are higher chances of collaboration with each other".

But still there is no escaping an IT person setting up office here. Leonid Warguez runs AppsBrewer, a Web and app development company. Apart from running his business, Mr Warguez also helps design some of the other tenants' websites. In addition, he is launching his line of electric scooters Chop Chop. The scooters will be launched next month, but in the meantime, some tenants are already using it to get around Mettle Work.

Already, Geylang is known for its food and sleazy activities, now add a place for prototyping, modelling and craft to the list.

A nice mix

Keong Saik Collab

29B Keong Saik Road

THE fast-paced life and buzz of working in Shanghai were what sparked couple Lionel Ang and Carmen Low to start Keong Saik Collab, a co-working space.

While working there for four years, he as a project manager in an oil and gas firm, and she as a public relations executive, the couple saw the value proposition that Singaporeans have. "For example, Singaporeans are culturally sensitive to both western and eastern cultures," says Mr Ang.

They pondered over the idea of starting a co-working space where like-minded entrepreneurs could come together, and also tap the couple's network of contacts to grow their business.

They returned to Singapore and started Keong Saik Collab this year, out of the second storey of a shophouse.

Keong Saik Collab has 12 permanent desks, at monthly rental rates of $700 for at least three months. "We like to have tenants that are hungry and are entrepreneurs," says Mr Ang. "They should also be makers, designers or from the technology industry."

Mr Ang elaborates that this mix will ensure that all tenants get a better understanding of how to grow their business. "For example, by having a tech person working alongside a designer, ideas that are more accessible to a general audience come forth, rather than one that is either very technical or only caters to a niche market."

The couple did the interiors themselves. "Most people working in start-ups spend more time at work than at home," says Ms Low. "We wanted to create a place that is conducive for creativity and efficiency."

The space feels more like a home than a proper office. Work desks line the walls and also in the centre of the space. "We like to use recycled furniture," says Ms Low, indicating to a work table that was previously a sewing machine, and a bookshelf that they had picked up from the streets.

Their tenants include tech start-up onelegato which runs human resource management systems, graphic design firm sarahandschooling and accessory label theKANG.

theKANG's designer Heng Kang Yong uses metal chains and cable ties for his pieces. His "studio" consists of a hanging rack to display his accessories, and a workspace that is compact. "I've always wanted a studio that I can be proud of, and I enjoy inviting customers to come take a look," he says.

Part of the work that Sarah Tang and Alison Schooling, founders of sarahandschooling do, include print layouts and book covers. The duo were previously working out of a book publisher's office, but now that they have moved in here, "there are more opportunities to collaborate with other parties rather than just editors", says Ms Tang.

onelegato's co-founder Gordon Ng says that he could have easily joined a co-working space with a higher number of similar tech start-ups. "But I didn't want to mix in the same crowd, since I already knew most of the people in the industry."

If necessary, Mr Ang and Ms Low can play matchmaker and hook their tenants up with business consultants and even government agencies. "We are all about helping local entrepreneurs," says Mr Ang.

Shake and bake

Kitchen Lab 1

156 Macpherson Road, PSL Industrial Building, #01-01

WHEN Sheryl Lim started her online baking business some years ago, little did she think that one day, she would be running her own commercial kitchen. "I liked baking and sold a small selection of cakes to friends. But when that got bigger, I realised it was illegal to be selling food from home to the public," says Ms Lim, now 26.

Not wanting to run afoul of the law, she stopped her home baking business and considered finding space at a licensed kitchen.

The former National University of Singapore food science and technology student says the challenge for her then was finding an affordable kitchen and people to share it with. "It was next to impossible to find partners. Even though there were others looking for a licensed kitchen space, no one wanted to pay the security deposit, the first month's rent and be tied down with a contract," says Ms Lim.

She eventually found a small commercial kitchen in an industrial canteen that she could afford to rent even though she only used it on the weekends. "I also received enquiries from other small caterers, bakers and specialty food makers who were looking to share the space with me," she says.

She saw potential in leasing out a licensed kitchen space to others who also had an interest in the food business.

After having worked two years in food development for a frozen seafood company, "so that I could build some capital first", Ms Lim started Kitchen Lab 1 last year. She also has a website called Budget Kitchen Rental, where people can find out more about renting a kitchen space.

She plonked in about $30,000 to renovate a licensed kitchen space along Macpherson Road. Apart from putting in sinks and water outlet points, Ms Lim also invested in two commercial baking ovens, commercial baking racks, chillers, freezers and mixers.

Kitchen Lab 1 is open 24 hours daily, with rates starting from $9 for off peak hours from 9pm to 7am, and from $15 from 7am to 9pm. Bookings are on a first come, first serve basis.

A stickler for hygiene, Ms Lim only accepts users who do "clean items, and baked products. So there must be no raw meat involved, and no pork and lard in the ingredients used", she says.

Her "tenants" include Joey Gan who makes his own jam under the label GSH Conserves, and Herbert Salim who makes nut butters under The Hunters' Kitchenette label, as well as three other tenants who do macarons, cake pops and granola bars.

"This is the place for people who have an interest in starting up a food business, but they want to test the market first, so they can use the place to make their products to see how well they can sell," she says. She also helps them sell their products by placing them on her Kitchen Lab 1 website, where shoppers can buy baked goods and the nut butters online.

Ms Lim says she has had many enquiries from interested parties who want to rent the space, and most of the time, slots available have been taken up. She has plans to open another kitchen, this time for cooking. "I've people asking if they can do cooked food, such as sauces and pasta, so I may consider another kitchen for that," she says.