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Read and shop in style at Beach Road

The hip quotient at Beach Road has been raised, thanks to a new public reading room and trendy shops

A public reading room, a lifestyle gallery shop selling trendy wares from Japan and an Asian contemporary furniture store have brought a slice of style to three conserved shophouse units in Beach Road.

Singapore labels Supermama and Scene Shang, each with its own brand of design, have been attracting furniture and souvenir hunters to the heritage cluster since they moved in earlier this year.

The latest addition to the neighbourhood - the establishments are near the hip Haji Lane and Arab Street enclave - is Looksee Looksee, a reading room with a collection of books curated by Singapore stalwarts in industries such as food and beverage, fashion and design.

Looksee Looksee is by The Lo & Behold Group, a hospitality and F&B company which has restaurants such as The White Rabbit and the two-Michelin-starred Odette.

The company rents the three two-storey shophouse units, which are next to one another, and sublets two of the ground-floor spaces to Supermama and Scene Shang.

Its office, which has more than 30 employees, takes up the next floor across the three units. The company moved there from Odeon Towers in May.

The Beach Road store is the flagship outlet of Supermama, which also has three other stores. For Scene Shang, it is its first retail and flagship store.

The Straits Times checks out the three establishments.


Looksee Looksee

Where: 267 Beach Road, Level 1; open: 9.30am to 6pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday

Beyond the three pebble-studded concrete arches fronting this shophouse unit lies a chic space with bookshelves hanging off one wall and a row of scalloped banquette seats lining the facing wall.

Its sweet pink-grey-tan palette is inviting, beckoning curious passers- by to enter for a look-see.

Hopefully, people will come in and leave inspired.

MR WEE TENG WEN, managing partner of The Lo & Behold Group, on opening public reading room Looksee Looksee, which has scalloped banquette seats

And that is what you should do the next time you pass this shophouse. Looksee Looksee is a new public reading room opened by hospitality and food and beverage company The Lo & Behold Group and can seat 25 people.

The group's dining concepts include The White Rabbit in Harding Road and Tanjong Beach Club in Sentosa. Last month, its fine-dining restaurant Odette at the National Gallery Singapore was given two Michelin stars.

The 538 sq ft reading room is on the ground floor of one of three conserved shophouse units rented by the company. The other two ground-floor spaces are sublet to furniture and homeware accessories store Scene Shang and lifestyle store Supermama, while The Lo & Behold Group office takes up the second level across three units.

Instead of using the remaining ground-floor space as an office lobby or to expand its office space, the company decided to turn it into a communal space for the public.

Managing partner Wee Teng Wen, 35, says a reading room is a good way to "give back to the community".

"As a hospitality company, it would be wonderful to have a component that is open to the public - as an extension of our hospitality values."

The 11-year-old company, which has more than 30 employees, moved there from Odeon Towers in May.

Architect John Lim, who used to work at Buro Ole Scheeren in Beijing, is the interior designer for the reading room and office space, while OWMF Architecture worked on the building's structure.

Mr Lim, 31, who is Mr Wee's friend, says working on the ageing shophouses - they were built in the 1820s and were simple in style with no ornamentation - had its challenges. There were no right angles to work with and some walls were slanted.

The furniture and accessories in the reading room have "gentle curves" to keep the look soft and welcoming. At the back is The Lo & Behold Group's conference room, which is decorated with lush plants.

Mr Lim adds: "The bookshelves and seats were placed along the sides so that the space really opens up. And while the seats are in a row, they curve a little to create nooks."

The main draw is the collection of books. Mr Wee enlisted the help of 20 people, which included the who's who of various lifestyle industries, from food to fashion, to curate the collection.

Among them are multi- disciplinary design studio Asylum's Chris Lee; chef Bjorn Shen, owner of Artichoke in Middle Road; and founder and fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam of the Ong Shunmugam label. They were asked to pick books that are more visual and have inspired their work and life.

The 120 titles include Get Some Headspace by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe; Architecture And The Architect: Image- making In Singapore by creative agency Do Not Design; and Momofuku, a cookbook by American chef David Chang and former New York Times food writer Peter Meehan.

Mr Wee plans to add new books every six months to keep the library "evolving". He says: "It was hard to predict what the list would look like, but each contributor extended well beyond his profession. Chefs were contributing books about architecture, for example. It was fulfilling to see the breadth of the selection."

The books are only for browsing and cannot be borrowed - hence the name of the space.

Can people read their own books there? The company says it would prefer people to read the content available there and not their own books. Doing work and studying there are also not encouraged.

Visitors get a cup of tea, made by Singaporean speciality tea company A.muse Projects, served in handcrafted vessels by Singapore ceramist Ivan Lee. They are encouraged to tip or buy A.muse Projects' blends and products on sale there.

Mr Wee says: "Perhaps we're being a little naive (to make it free and open), but we wanted to create something impactful and wonderful. Hopefully, people will come in and leave inspired."


Scene Shang

Where: 263 Beach Road; open: 11am to 8.30pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

Stepping into Scene Shang is like being transported back in time to old Shanghai.

The shop is elegantly decked out with a striking deep blue wall and dark-wood floors.

In a courtyard deep inside the long space, an indoor tree grows beneath a glass skylight.

Jazz, piano and old Shanghai music is piped through the speakers, while pictures of old Art Deco buildings from Singapore and Shanghai hang on the walls.

We are in an area that has culture and heritage, which are elements in our furniture. The area also reminds us of Shanghai too - there's always something going on in the streets.

MS JESSICA WONG, on opening Scene Shang in Beach Road. She is seen here with store co-founder Pamela Ting

The store's decor is in part an homage to the time the two owners spent in Shanghai.

Ms Jessica Wong and Ms Pamela Ting, who are ex-Raffles Junior College schoolmates, left their jobs to move to Shanghai in 2013 to explore starting a business with products inspired by the history and culture of the Chinese city.

They decided to hone in on furniture and home furnishings as Ms Wong, who is architecturally trained and co-founded a graphic and interior design firm, found a niche in the furniture market. Her clients appreciated Chinese-styled furniture, but wanted them to be more contemporary to suit their modern homes.

The duo launched Scene Shang online a year later.

When they returned to Singapore at the end of 2014, they worked out of a studio in a colonial bungalow in River Valley. Customers who wanted to view the pieces before buying had to make an appointment.

Ms Ting, 32, who was a vice- president in a bank, says: "Furniture is one of those things people still want to touch and see before they make a decision."

They decided to try out a retail space, opening a pop-up store at Millenia Walk for six months last year. But the mall did not draw the kind of shoppers they wanted.

Ms Ting adds: "And the space we were in has to be charming and storied to fit the products we're selling."

They found that space - 1,000 sq ft of it - in Beach Road and set up shop in April. Ms Wong, 32, says: "We are in an area that has culture and heritage, which are elements in our furniture. The area also reminds us of Shanghai too - there's always something going on in the streets."

The brand made its name putting out contemporary pieces with classical Chinese design elements.

One of its most popular items is the Shang System, which won a special commendation at the 2014 President's Design Award.

Taking inspiration from the Ming dynasty, the hand-carved, stackable set of drawers has curved edges. Prices start at $1,400 for a set with a tray, a drawer and a stool.

Other than its own brand, the store also carries homeware and decor pieces by Asian-inspired independent brands, such as Kinto Glassware from Japan; American porcelain label Middle Kingdom; and carpets from Singapore company The Rug Maker.

•A selection of Scene Shang's homeware and furniture is also available at Tangs at Tang Plaza, 310 Orchard Road, Level 4; and Robinsons The Heeren Penthouse, 260 Orchard Road, Level 5.


Supermama

Where: 265 Beach Road; open: 11am to 8pm (Monday to Thursday and Sunday), 11am to 10pm (Friday and Saturday) Supermama's flagship store in Beach Road would fit right in in Tokyo's trendy districts.

The 1,000 sq ft store, which sells Japanese homeware and lifestyle accessories, has a minimalist decor - it has white-washed walls, part- concrete, part-wood flooring, and is filled with natural light shining through a large skylight.

The cashier desk is clad with ceramic tiles with butterfly designs from Gifu prefecture in Japan.

A 9m-long display island stands in the centre of the store, taking advantage of the shophouse unit's length, and a tall shelf on one wall displays the shop's porcelain wares.

Supermama made its name selling Japanese-made porcelain crockery adorned with familiar Singapore motifs such as Housing Board flats and the Tembusu tree in the Botanic Gardens. It also has outlets in the Singapore Art Museum, Gillman Barracks and the Esplanade.

Founder Edwin Low, 36, has always liked the nearby Haji Lane and Arab Street area, which draws a vibrant crowd. But he preferred a quieter spot in the neighbourhood and the Beach Road location was perfect as it was slightly away from the busier hipster enclave.

Sitting between furniture store Scene Shang and reading room Looksee Looksee, the shop opened during Singapore Design Week in March.

The offerings for the Beach Road store are more Japanese, harking back to the brand's early days when it started out selling Japanese products. Singapore-themed items are on sale too.

The bigger space also accommodates larger items such as furniture. There are furniture pieces from Japanese brands Ishinomaki Laboratory and Legnatec, as well as lamps from Danish lighting manufacturer Louis Poulsen, a brand Mr Low loves.

There are also canvas bags from Southern Field Industries, which is in Japan's Saitama region; and bento boxes from Japanese bento box- maker Hakoya, based in Kaga City.

The product range has expanded to include fashion, such as Singapore menswear label Faculty.

Mr Low has hosted in-store exhibitions of products by Japanese craftsmen from various trades such as metal casting and glass-making.

Having designed the space himself, he says: "This shop is truly my own space. I can sell whatever I want."

And in line with National Day next Tuesday, Supermama has launched five porcelain plates featuring prominent buildings in neighbourhoods such as Kampong Glam. Each plate costs $24.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'Read and shop in style'. Print Edition | Subscribe