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Shunji Matsuo Green
01-35A The Grandstand
THERE have been blow-out salons with bars, salons within fashion boutiques and now, the latest concept salon brings the garden into a usually clinical-looking, utilitarian space. Veteran hair maestro Shunji Matsuo - a veritable salon mogul with eight salons under his belt - has recently unveiled a new outlet at The Grandstand filled with lush, tropical greenery.
"I've always had the idea of a 'green' salon but plants need special care," says the hairstylist, who opened his first salon here in 1999. Serendipitously, Mr Matsuo met Vincent Chia, a trained horticulturalist and founder of homegrown landscaping company Tropic Planners & Landscape.
Mr Matsuo's horticulturalist friends from Japan introduced him to Mr Chia, whom they had met during the Singapore Garden Festival. Mr Chia had created an exhibit and helped implement exhibits from international participants. Over a gathering at Mr Matsuo's home, the idea to work together on a garden-themed salon arose.
"I didn't want the collaboration to be one-off," says Mr Chia, whose company employs almost 200 staff and also tends to the maintenance of Gardens by the Bay, among other landscaping projects. "I said to Shunji, let me be a shareholder and work together on this concept like we would on a marriage. This is not the only green salon that we will be opening, we can look to export it abroad, to Cambodia, Vietnam or even Japan."
Gardening and coiffure
The duo spent almost S$300,000 in renovations and plants, and to create a sustainable garden-in-a-salon model, Mr Chia and his collaborator Alan Tan, a former deputy director of Living Collections & Development at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, incorporated artificial light sources called grow lights into the design of the salon.
The lights cast intense rays that boost photosynthesis in the plants indoors and are turned on at night, after the salon is closed, creating a multi-hued nightclub-light atmosphere. Water indicators ensure that the plants are well-hydrated. Mr Tan designed green features such as a plant-covered feature wall behind the reception, tree-lined hairstyling stations and potted orchids on each dressing table. He also worked in recycled elements to create an eco-friendly environment, commissioning the frames of large mirrors to be covered with dried leaves, and crafting a sculpture from dead branches to display colourful strands of dyed locks.
"Customers could spend three to four hours getting their hair done in a salon, so now at least they can do so in a relaxing garden setting that doesn't smell like chemicals or that looks so cold," adds Mr Tan, who was the creative director of the Singapore Garden Festival till 2014. "All this happened because Shunji was very generous with the salon space, when most salon owners would want to maximise the space with the most number of cutting stations or washing areas possible. He completely trusted us."
While foot traffic has been slow at the former Turf City, the salon has served over 250 customers within two weeks of opening. "The neighbourhood feels very relaxed, like some place in Los Angeles rather than a fast-paced city like Singapore," adds Mr Matsuo. "And even my staff enjoy tending to the plants, because Alan has created a low maintenance decor that brings the garden indoors."
Trehaus, 03-01 Claymore Connect
CO-WORKING offices are nothing new, what with stratospheric rents and an increasing trend of networking and sharing ideas across companies and disciplines. But while most shared working spaces are usually neutral in setting, and almost library-like with its functional (read: yawn-inducing) decor, a new business centre in Claymore Connect (the former Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade) is peppered with calming pastel stools, twee bunting signage and cushy armchairs that wouldn't look out of place in a Japanese design magazine.
Oh, and did we mention that fellow cubicle dwellers could be a two-month-old infant in a printed romper, or a toddler attempting to re-appropriate a giant teddy bear as a trampoline? Trehaus, a new family-friendly co-working space, was started by working mums: former marketing professional Rachel Teo, founder of an events and public relations company Tjin Lee, doctor Elaine Kim and educator Elizabeth Wu.
"I came from the corporate world where you only had four months of maternity leave, when the World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed for six months," recalls Ms Teo, who used to work in technology companies.
"I am not Singaporean and do not have my parents here to help look after my kids. Sending my baby to childcare wasn't ideal because I don't know who is caring for my child. I thought there must be a solution for working parents to be productive with kids, but the physical environment in Singapore didn't provide for this."
The open concept space is fitted out with a communal area where parents and their children mingle, a Kids' Atelier - in essence an open concept space where children play under the supervision of child minders, and an adults-only zone where meetings, conference calls or undisturbed work can take place.
A patio also allows members to take a break from work and simply watch the rain to unwind, or hang out over a simple lunch. These communal areas encourage interaction among members who not only network for professional reasons, but hang out to share parenting tips as well. In fact, Ms Teo notices that members tend to gravitate towards the pantry area overlooking the Kids' Atelier.
"They all seem to congregate and watch the kids play because it's just therapeutic to look at children whether or not you're a parent - when they're not having a meltdown, that is," says Ms Teo. "It feels a lot like a family kitchen where everyone hangs around the table and chats while mum is cooking away."
Trehaus came about from the idea of a "third place", a social space like a cafe or park that comes after one's home and work place. "We wanted a calm, soothing space for kids because I've spent enough time at indoor playgrounds that are covered in bright colours, and filled with loud lights and sounds," explains Ms Teo. "Such places try to encourage guests to leave as quickly as possible for a higher customer turnover, whereas we're hoping to keep children relaxed and engaged for as long as possible, so their parents can work." A calming space for kids is all the more important for Ms Wu, who was a former secondary and primary school teacher, and home-schooled her three children for three years. She has designed the programmes for children at Trehaus according to the Reggio Emilia approach, whereby children learn through a self-guided curriculum and an enriching environment.
"We chose this space partly because of the floor-to-ceiling windows because natural lighting is great for kids and we don't even have to turn on the lights," says Ms Wu. "Another reason is the outdoor terrace: we don't lay out lots of toys but instead take the children out to play with sand and get messy. After all, the Reggio Emilia approach is known for regarding the environment as the third teacher."
Ultimately, the founders hope to replicate the space in corporate buildings to encourage more flexible work structures and more parents to return to work without feeling the guilt of being separated from their children.
"This is just our first proof of concept and we hope to educate employers to start a trend and pave the way for an environment that is conducive for parents to be around their kids," says Ms Teo. "We all say had we been introduced to such a space earlier, we wouldn't have left our jobs. This really addresses the social issue of retaining female talent especially in the work force."
GIFT STORE AND MORE
Gallery & Co, National Gallery,
01-05-01-17 City Hall Wing
TALK about a mash-up of ideas: it is a cool souvenir store, fashion boutique, pop-up venue, workshop space, kids corner, cafe, cafeteria and bar. It also happens to be housed in an 87-year-old building that is the nation's visual arts institution, and helmed by four founders from diverse backgrounds.
On paper, Gallery & Co looks set to suffer from a case of identity crisis. In reality, the museum store of the National Gallery is an inviting space, and the ultimate modern-day iteration of the concept store.
Having already received a stamp of approval in the form of a spot on a list of top 10 best museum stores around the world by The Guardian newspaper, the 8,800 sq ft store hinges upon collaborations: it is, for one, a partnership between the National Gallery and lifestyle and design collective & Co - which comprises hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, design strategy company Foreign Policy Design Group creative directors Yu Yah-Leng and Arthur Chin, and Alwyn Chong, managing director of cosmetics and fragrance distributor Luxasia.
An amalgam of retro elements such as flecked formica-finished tables and faded honeycomb floor tiles, with minimalist powder-coated abstract shapes that serve as wall shelves or a centrepiece of two white tree trunks nestled in charcoal, the store is also designed to meld together a variety of products and activities.
"One important design philosophy that we had was making sure we do not mimic or be influenced by any specific design, or look and feel such as the Japanese minimalistic approach, a Scandinavian sensibility or referencing old Singapore," says Ms Yu. "But to develop a design voice that is 'Singapore today'."
Officially opened last Thursday, one challenge for Gallery & Co is to incorporate a broad range of merchandise that also changes on a regular basis without looking schizophrenic, or having to break up the airy, naturally light-flooded store into claustrophobic rooms. To ensure that there is a sense of uniformity, custom-designed grey tiles are used throughout the store.
However, the lengths of the tiles vary according to the zones in which they reside to demarcate one area from another, while hinting at our heritage as a throwback to the mosaic tiles in old-school kopi tiams (coffee shops). Customers are subconsciously led from a gathering space where museum merchandise is displayed, to an airy cafeteria with tropical touches, serving familiar fare such as salads and sandwiches, to dishes with an Asian twist such as an otak stack sandwich or green curry pasta.
After a break in space by the building's stately lobby, the store continues into more intimate fashion, books and children's areas. Various zones will also be adapted into pop-up spaces for designers. Next up: homegrown socially conscious fashion brand Matter, which creates pants from fabrics printed and loomed by Indian artisans, and which will retail its products at the store and hold a block-printing workshop by its craftsmen.
"Gallery & Co's entire space was designed to encourage exploration as visitors transit from zone to zone," says Ms Yu.
"It was our design intent to create a blurring of boundaries between the retail and food services - for our visitors to flow between the spaces easily in the discovery and enjoyment of our spaces."
The project, which was over a year in the making, came with plenty of challenges. For example, no hacking within the historical museum, which was formerly the Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, was allowed. As a result, the counters in the cafeteria and a cosy cafe, run by homegrown cafe company Plain Vanilla and located in the books zone so customers can flip through tomes while enjoying a cuppa, are slightly elevated as the floors had to be raised to fit in the plumbing. Meanwhile, existing columns had to be factored into the overall design.
"A lot of the design effort was spent working around these columns but yet making them 'disappear' into the spaces," explains Ms Yu.
"Ultimately, the space reflects the store's collaborative ethos by seamlessly juxtaposing an array of elements, which in turn hints at our vibrant heritage and status as a cultural melting pot."
"We opted for a design that slightly contrasted this old grande dame simply because we did not want to create a historical looking retail and food service experience," says Ms Yu. "Instead, we chose to represent contemporary Singapore - one that is youthful, energetic, modern and progressive. We think this corresponds well to paying homage to our history but yet looking forward to an exciting cosmopolitan future."
The Knightsbridge Clinic
277B South Bridge Road
MOST people try to make their visits to the doctor's as quick as possible. But at The Knightsbridge Clinic, there's every reason to linger a little longer.
The luxurious experience begins even before you step into the clinic on the third floor of a shophouse unit. If not for the clinic's name at the entrance, you may well think you're entering a fancy boutique.
The clinic's curved facade is cladded in mirrors, and the door discreetly opens when a patient approaches. The nurse inside knows when to expect a patient.
You can't just walk in, as its medical director Dr Israr Wong sees patients only by appointment. Dr Wong specialises in non-invasive clinic-based aesthetic procedures. But once you're in, you'll find yourself in a posh lounge rather than a sombre waiting room.
Forget stark white walls or harsh fluorescent lighting. The lobby area is bathed in soft lighting, and the walls are covered with dappled wallpaper to create a more dreamy environment, says its interior designer Michael Chung from IMBA Studios.
Shophouses usually have hard wooden floors, but the clinic goes plush with its bespoke carpet, designed by Mr Chung. The print on the carpet is an abstract print of floral petals. From the reception area, you go down the hall and along the way, you will see what looks like random hanging fixtures by the side. This is actually an art installation by local artist Justin Lin, titled Through the Thicket of Roots, A Soft Glimmer. The art piece is made of polished and oxidised brass and stainless steel, and is inspired by the roots of the banyan tree.
There are no doors to Dr Wong's consultation room. Instead, thick drapes provide privacy, and the space feels intimate and cosy. The two treatment rooms are bright and airy, with thick curtains to keep out the bustling sounds of nearby Chinatown.
The same lush feel extends to the waiting area where patients can make themselves comfortable here while either browsing magazines or watching TV. Patients can draw the drapes in this area if they want some privacy while waiting their turn. The changing room and the toilets were not spared the luxe treatment. European antique mirrors in various colours fill the walls in these spaces for a more subtle bling look, says Mr Chung.
"The Knightsbridge Clinic hopes to be a premier, classy and upmarket aesthetic clinic in Singapore in years to come and be the trendsetter in pioneering interior design standards for future cosmetic clinics in Singapore and around the world," says Dr Wong.