Choo Yilin Atelier

[dropcap size=small]E[/dropcap]ating, shopping or taking part in a workshop tend to be mutually exclusive activities – you do one or the other and rarely in the same space.

But more retailers are rolling out multi-concept areas to keep foodies and shoppers lingering longer.

With high rental rates, dividing a space for different uses seems a good way to offer an all-in-one experience, instead of paying rent for multiple standalone shops.

These are more than a mere mish-mash of concepts. New retailers are amping up the experience with specially curated products, creating destination locations or arranging exclusive activities for customers.

These spaces, from a jade atelier in a two-storey Joo Chiat Road shophouse to a sprawling 5,000 sq ft hybrid retail-dining experience in Orchard Central mall, are also places for fledgling entrepreneurs to test new ideas.

Sarah Lim, senior retail lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic Business School, says that multi- concept stores are all the rage at the moment. But she cautions against too many retailers jumping on the bandwagon as that would make such spaces commonplace.

It is also important, she adds, to give all elements equal focus in a multi-concept store. “For these stores to be sustainable, the retailer has to take care of all aspects and not let one do worse than the other.”


Shopping for jewellery can be vanilla: Enter a shop in a mall, consult a salesperson, peer at pieces displayed in locked glass cases and try on a few options.

Jewellery designer Choo Yilin, 36, wants to make the experience more intimate, which is why her three-week-old eponymous atelier at 331 Joo Chiat Road offers more than just pretty displays.

The main feature of Choo Yilin Atelier, which covers 1,800 sq ft across two floors of a shophouse, is its jade bangle interactive bar, which offers bespoke customisation.

In an age where shoppers want to know the story behind the item they are buying, “jade sommeliers” walk customers through how to appreciate the precious stone and show them a curated library of jade pieces.

They can then design their own jewellery, deciding on a specific shade such as emerald or lavender as well as how translucent they want their jade piece to be.

The jade bangles can range from $900 to more than $100,000 each.

“The big price variance makes it important to understand what accounts for the difference,” says Choo, who is married to a civil servant and has been running her eponymous jewellery label since 2009. The couple have no children.

Creating an element of exclusivity, a boudoir has been carved out at the back of the retail area on the first floor for private bridal parties. Guests are served a Choo Yilin house blend tea and Nonya kueh.

Upstairs, there is a workshop space which can host jewellery- making or jade appreciation classes, for example.

A work area has also been set up on the same level, so visitors can watch artisans at work, polishing the jewellery or embellishing a jade piece with precious metals and gemstones.

Choo, who also has a store at Mandarin Gallery in Orchard Road that she opened last year, says: “When you are located in town in a mall, there are strict rules of what (tenants) can or cannot do.

“But in a two-storey shophouse, you’re free to do whatever you want. A huge amount of creativity can be exercised in designing the customer experience.”

Those keen to check out the atelier need to make an appointment.

Adding that there is a “strict curation on who experiences the atelier”, Choo says: “If a client is looking to do a bespoke heirloom piece or would like the privacy of an in-depth consultation, then the atelier would be the perfect space.”

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Monument Lifestyle opened its doors two months ago, offering a chic spot to work while you grab a bite, with retail therapy thrown in.

American expatriate couple Dustin Ramos and Iris Sangalang, both 36, decided to open a space filled with things that reminded them of various cities they had lived in, including California and New York in the United States and Kanazawa and Wakayama in Japan. They moved here in 2015 to work for finance and tech start-ups.

The coffee-and-shop experience in a shophouse at 75 Duxton Road exudes a laid-back vibe – a factor that helped Ramos pick the location over a mall, which would have offered higher footfall. “It’s a charming space that many people walk by and unexpectedly discover.”

The front half of the store is set aside for shopping. Men will love the guy-centric items, which include homeware, menswear, grooming kits and gift possibilities.

The couple handpicked labelsthey are familiar with, as well as mom-and-pop brands that make quality products.

Most of these are American brands, which are making their Singapore debut.

These include Katin, a respected surfing wear label which carries surf shorts and swimming trunks; and Alex Mill, a menswear label helmed by Alex Drexler, son of Mickey Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer of famed clothing brand J.Crew.

A roomy couch separates the retail area and cafe. Sunlight pours through a huge skylight in the middle of the shop, while a colourful mural on the back wall creates a cheery atmosphere.

Coffee aficionados will appreciate the Poursteady, a pour-over coffee machine that makes the perfect cup of joe, with beans imported from the popular Four Barrel Coffee roaster. Tea lovers can choose blends from Samovar Tea Bar. Both brands are from San Francisco.

Diners can also grab artisanal toast topped with lemon curd, Nutella or avocado; or choose from specially crafted sandwiches from local sandwich joint Park Bench Deli.

Sangalang, who is expecting the couple’s first child, says many customers end up shopping though they have popped in only for a coffee break or to have a meeting.

She says: “It’s a good balance of both spaces. You come here for a bite and go home with a nice item.”


Steamroom with The Pillar and Stones (SRPS) is neither a new-age rock band nor a fancy sauna. It is a contemporary lifestyle space – the first multi-concept project by artist and SRPS’ co-founder Wong Lip Chin, 30.

Spread across 5,000 sq ft, the space on the third floor of Orchard Central mall has a coffee and tea room (Steamroom), a restaurant (The Pillar) and a retail and art laboratory (Stones). It opened earlier this month.

In keeping with the hybrid concept, the space also features off- the-wall interiors that take inspiration from three design movements.

(RELATED: Meet the creatives who have probably designed a restaurant you’ve eaten in.)

Wong picked elements from Memphis, a 1980s style that mixes geometric shapes, various materials and loud colours; the Bauhaus movement, which combined fine arts and craftsmanship; and Brutalism, an iconic movement synonymous with the use of concrete.

For a wild touch, naturalist Amos Tan created a glass-encased paludarium inspired by the Amazon and an edible green wall that brings diners face to face with their food.

You could say the place is a hangout for all sorts of enthusiasts.

Tea fans should check out the Steamroom, which focuses on Chinese teas such as Qi Men Kung Fu Red Tea from Anhui, China, and Winter Peak Oolong from Nantou, Taiwan. These are made using a cool Steampunk machine – a high-tech appliance that brews teas using set times and precise temperatures.

At Stones, products are curated by Emporium of the Modern Man, a Singapore-based multi-label retail and lifestyle brand that brings in heritage brands or products with strong craftsmanship. These include grooming label Musgo Real and Japanese knife-maker Banshu Hamono.

A space has also been carved out in Stones for art-jamming sessions.

In July, Wong will host a lithography workshop, where participants can road-test a Klimsch Lithographic Press machine.

SRPS, with its loud, heady mix of styles and quirky features, is unlike anything else on the retail scene.

For Wong, who has worked on the idea of SRPS since 2015, it is about pushing the boundaries of retail spaces. “I never follow a template. We rarely challenge what’s available in the market, so I thought ‘why not?'”

Story first appeared on The Straits Times.

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