MARRIAGE OF IDEAS: The husband-and-wife team behind the Takenouchi Webb firm is the perfect partnership blending British sensibility and Japanese sensitivity.
Takenouchi Webb headed by British-born, Singapore-based architect Marc Webb and Japanese-born interior designer Naoko Takenouchi represents more than the workings of an interior design firm marrying the sensibilities of interior, product design and architecture. After all, the firm is born out of the couple’s passion for design in its many forms. And, in many ways, it is a union birthed out of the best of British sensibility and Japanese sensitivity.
Having given a talk last month at the Kuala Lumpur Design Forum (KLDF) organised by the Malaysian Institute of Architects or Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM), Webb had shared his insights on the theme “About Making” interpreted from the viewpoint of his firm.
Attracting attention by virtue of the concepts that have resulted from the unusual and quirky names of the projects the firm has undertaken, Webb had elaborated on the firm’s processes and approaches besides mentioning the unique location of the office where they work. Covering an event in Singapore at the tail-end of last month, I scheduled an appointment with the couple.
Hailing the cab from the Mandarin Oriental Singapore to take me to “Woking Road” where the couple’s office is based was apparently a big distance for the cabbie. (I discovered later that the furthest distance from one corner to another in Singapore is less than an hour’s drive away.) Navigating his way through a slight slope to finally arrive at the Takenouchi Webb office, I learnt that this was formerly the British Army Officer’s accommodation quarters.
Takenouchi, 38, who is expecting their first child, greets me at the door and we settle down for the interview with Webb, 43.
“We live just a five minutes walk away as we wanted an office nearby our home. We really like this environment (overlooking) lots of greenery. It’s quite unusual to have a “black-and-white” walk-up apartment. Really for us, there’s little separation from home life and work life,” laughs Webb good-naturedly while commenting on the 1,200sq ft office space.
“It’s quite unlike an office space (situated) nearby nature with the (natural)ventilation – except for the current ongoing construction,” says Takenouchi slightly apologetically, considering the building works taking place across the main road that will see a profusion of new office buildings taking shape. Having stayed here for six years now and having worked previously from home, it was only natural for the couple to decide to have their own office at “Woking Road” four years ago.
“Because we were working on similar types of projects, we wanted to go out on our own and we started working on our first project for the Alila Group for a hotel in Phuket. Our first built project was The White Rabbit. From there, we started designing restaurants and bars in Singapore and hotels overseas,” says Webb, tracing the origins of Takenouchi Webb that was established in 2006.
The couple had met when Takenouchi who worked for the Design Studio Spin based in Tokyo, Japan then, was designing a restaurant for a hotel in Chiang Mai where Webb was assigned to work as a project architect. Later, after working in Singapore for several years, both of them decided to establish the firm.
Explaining the design process that combines various elements that need to be brought together to form a coherent expression of an “elegant solution where everything is carefully balanced together”, context, brief and aesthetics are often the focal point of any project. Additionally, every project that the firm undertakes incorporates an eclectic mix of different styles and materials that are nevertheless individually tailored to each project to meet the exact details.
“We always approach each project from a new perspective and try to make the design unique to the specific brief and situation,” shares Webb who previously worked as an architect in London. The decision to begin the practice together has seen the firm expanding their portfolio to include some rather interesting and inspiring projects with innovative names.
It’s all in the name: Ask Webb and Takenouchi “what’s in a name” and chances are, they’ll say “plenty!” After all, judging from the stable of interesting projects that have seemed to find their way over to the firm, the myriad of interesting
names including The White Rabbit undertaken in 2008, A Curious Teepee, OverEasy, Extra Virgin Pizza and Loof – all taking their respective pride of place in the Lion City only serves to pique the interest of patrons to the outlets.
“Often in our projects, we base the design on the name (and concept given by the client),” enthuses Takenouchi.
“We’ve been working with the restaurant group in the Lo & Behold Group that owns a lot of the projects that we’ve done since 2008. That’s why the project names are quite quirky,” adds Webb, summing the restaurants, bars and hotel done for the group.
Recently, the couple was approached by a new client, the Potatohead Group, who asked them to design the interiors for its Potatohead hotel in Seminyak, Bali next to its existing beach club.
“Potatohead saw the work we did on the architecture and interiors of the Tanjong Beach Club in Sentosa, drawing upon the influences from the colonial style building details of old Singapore. The all-day marine yacht club destination feeling, complete with buoy shapes and patterns inspired by the sea for the outdoor area and the port holes in the walls of the buildings that were popular 40 to 50 years ago in Singapore were designed at the drop off areas.
“Following the group’s successful restaurant and café in Jakarta called Potatohead with its slight retro feel like that of Tanjong Beach Club, it has opened the Beach Club in Seminyak that has the feeling of an all-day restaurant beach club. It is also building a 54-room high-end boutique hotel next to the Beach Club. We’re working with an Indonesian architect on the interiors for the public areas and the rooms and we‘re about to start designing the mock-up room,“ he adds.
The couple employed the use of balau for the cabana of the Tanjong Beach Club for the design of the outdoor timber area as an alternative to teak that is too expensive. The outdoor bar area meanwhile showcases custom-made cementatious tiles from Jogjakarta that complement the outdoor pool decks measuring 66 ft by 16 ft with the 4 ft deep infinity pool to striking detail.
“Throughout the project, you‘ll see the patterns of the anchor and rope being revisited in the tiling and interior details. Circular skylights were introduced to invite the outdoor elements inside. Even the screen is inspired by the palm tree. We took a long time to get the design right,” he says of this project that took eight months to design and a similar construction period to be completed.
“For the concrete block walls, we also added apertures in the walls because those days in Singapore and Malaysia as well, you could see a lot of similar patterned walls solving the problem of ventilation being blocked while bringing a motif to the walls,” analyses Webb further.
The firm will also be starting design work on the interiors of a five-star hotel in Sabah for Alila.
A Curious Teepee: A difficult brief received from the client, Lo & Behold resulted in the creation of the retail store named A Curious Teepee at Orchard Road, Singapore that was completed in December 2010 comprising an interesting “space-within-a-space” mix of retail, café, bar, restaurant and exhibition space spanning 2,000sq ft complete with an outdoor area to cater to a young demographic in this all-in-one open surrounding.
“A Curious Teepee was the result of a different way of developing or looking at design. The context of the site we were working on was a new design space which we divided into the café, retail and fashion area. We started with different models (of planning), looking at different spaces with input from the clients.
“The scheme that we (finally) came up with was basically placing pavilions within the space. Since we were unsure of what items were going to be displayed, series of blocks that can be stacked in different configurations and some stacks that can be fixed as well were combined with some of the more permanent fixtures and different palettes of materials as in plywood, pegboard, brass and stone. We also wrapped the bar around the centre of the space,” says Takenouchi, adding that they employed overall “quite bright colours” for the project.
“We wanted to keep the space open and brought out this concept through the different elements of the café and retail areas. We like to customise our designs as much as possible and in this case, we custom-designed the chairs and included a sleek marble bar contrasted with timber elements for the material selection. We combined the use of raw and polished materials to contrast them as in the bar top using an industrial timber palette juxtaposed against marble.
“We needed a flexible space so we developed many ways of displaying the merchandise using a modular storage system. To keep a big open space together, we kept the ceiling open and united the exhibition space and café with yellow horizontal light fixtures combined with suspended, fluorescent and track lighting. Since the whole building is surrounded by glass, we used the fixtures and empty rods to hold up the display.
The finished store with the modular elements draws in hordes of local artists who present talks on various topics.
Extra Virgin Pizza: When Lo & Behold wished to start its first pizza chain, it specified that the Extra Virgin Pizza restaurant be housed in an unusual site at the new Asia Square Building in Singapore. The pizza outlet towers at a height of 59 ft and is spread on a land area measuring 39 ft by 23 ft with just a single door parting the concrete walls.
“The building is very small and narrow but very tall. The challenge was how to make this an interesting, exciting space so we decided to create something that was almost like a room within the space as we wanted to make use of the height. There was no view except for the single door while all the main dining takes place outside the atrium. Outside is where they make the pizza and it’s where the small back kitchen is situated,” shares Webb.
Ensuring that the main fixture was the pizza oven, the design concept concentrated on creating a room within the space, much like a plywood house built inside a tall, concrete shaft.
“We worked on a series of folded veneer models for this and put fabrication on the top roof and a skylight above to introduce the feeling of a window. Besides the oven fitting, what’s obvious from the outside is just the single door.
“Upon entering, you will notice the use of simple materials including a red travertine front entrance. At the back, we built a secondary roof structure from the top and used the sides to highlight the interior display,” he adds.
Employing a range of contrasting materials like white ceramic tiles for the walls and Italian stone in red travertine often used in traditional Italian restaurants for the ceiling, the display shelf and menu board placed at either end of the space also adds warmth to the place.
OverEasy: An all-in-one restaurant, bar and diner named OverEasy at One Fullerton, Singapore designed for Lo & Behold makes up the firm‘s other project that allowed the couple to take the limits off their imagination. As in the similar approach employed by the firm for its other projects drawing on their names as the starting point for design, the same precedence was the case for OverEasy.
“Often, we take an element from the theme and look at the distilled essence of what a diner is and then we incorporate it into the design. We do this for all the projects we undertake,” says Takenouchi.
“OverEasy is a diner and bar. The idea the client wanted was a slight American diner that has a bit of an industrial feel to it as well. We combined the two concepts together as the feel the client wanted was a bit rough. The materials that we used were quite simple – like a concrete bar and to add a slightly retro feel to the diner, terrazzo was used.
“We also worked on the red banquet feel to capture the American diner look. Originally, the diner was a train carriage so the curved ceiling gives you that feeling. We used the same motifs for the back bar but incorporated three different coloured mirror materials to complement the overall scheme,“ says Webb.
Based on the original concept of the diner that is derived from the dining theme, the client specified that the space also employs a flexible plan. Hence, to address the client’s requirement that the space “opens up to the water element”, the firm designed big, sliding metal doors that could open up at the front.
“The metal front has a rustic, patterned look and for the furnishings, we designed custom-made furniture including the barstools and chairs. The materials at the back were laced with brass strips as we always like the combination of polished and raw materials together,” elaborates Takenouchi.
The main diner element was symbolised in the workings of the curved ceiling and red seating area. Opting for a simple but interesting furniture scheme, brass as a novel countertop and tinted mirrors using two or three different types of tints add elements of interest to the interiors. The small bar area was also designed to be wrapped around the LED fixtures.
“Often with our projects, we have very little budget so we have to be creative in achieving the designs we want. Ultimately, we see it not so much a constraint but to prompt us to work harder for the design,” shares Takenouchi.
“We also don’t necessarily like to have everything bright and clean – so we used the black granite and on the other side, you can actually see the saw marks. The contractor was quite confused and couldn’t quite understand what we wanted,” laughs Webb, commenting on the raw, slightly edge look of the project.
On a lighter note, he shares that there were “happy accidents” as in the case of the bar stool that emerged from what was supposed to be a table.
Pics courtesy of Takenouchi Webb.