[dropcap size=small]M[/dropcap]any of us have a similar goal in mind when the year’s end beckons with hard-earned vacation days: Escape. Gani and Katherine Atmadiredja, who run furniture store W. Atelier and culinary studio My Turn To Host (Myth) respectively, are no exception.
“Our parents are getting old, so we try to travel with them and our kids more often,” says Gani. “Last year, the whole extended family – all 40 of us from around the world – visited our ancestral home in Fuqing and it was an emotional experience, as some hadn’t been back since escaping during the Cultural Revolution.”
According to Gani, it looked like a house lifted right out of a Chinese period movie, complete with a courtyard. Says Katherine: “I wanted to bring my daughters along, so they could see where they came from, and to be grateful for everything we have.”
Seeing as Gani is from the family behind PT Surya Toto Indonesia, exclusive distributors of Japanese bathroom brand Toto in Indonesia and Singapore, what they have now is plenty – enough to indulge in the family’s common passion of dining at the world’s best restaurants. But it was Gani who carried over his family business’ success to Singapore, given how the local business had been languishing for over 10 years.
It was one of the first companies in Singapore to import a top-notch sanitary brand, but, in 2004, its only showroom here was a small shophouse in River Valley – distressingly humble compared to its counterparts in Jakarta, says Gani.
He resolved to turn things around. Not only did he manage to make back a decade’s worth of losses within six to eight years, he also transformed the company’s image. Gani is now the managing director of the rebranded W. Atelier, a name associated not just with Toto, but with big kitchen and furniture brands like Zanotta, Fritz Hansen, Siematic, Dyson and Lema – all of which are spread out across its flagship in Bukit Timah and the new 1,858 sq m showroom in Henderson.
It wasn’t easy. “When I arrived, I started at the beginning. I made a lot of cold calls, visited architects and got rejected left and right,” he says. “While I was doing all that, I was streamlining processes: simple things like how our quotations, product ranges and spreadsheets should look, as well as overall branding.”
This last task was crucial. “Our Singapore outpost used to be called Inhwa Marketing, but on our 30th anniversary in 2009, I rebranded it to W. Atelier, where the ‘W’ stands for ‘water’. I wanted it to mark the taking over by the second generation, and to make the brand easier to understand,” he explains.
He also started to bring in more high-end, residential models from Toto and invested heavily in advertising, while organising events with designers and developers.
Gani was far from done. Just a year later, he expanded into kitchens. “We had a kitchen operation in Indonesia making OEM (original equipment manufacturer) kitchens for Toto Japan, but it was too limiting because Japanese households’ unique configurations meant we couldn’t sell them elsewhere. So we convinced Toto to let us make European configurations under its brand for the rest of the world,” he says.
These kitchens, along with imports from Siematic and Schuller Next125, became the gateway to W. Atelier’s furniture portfolio. “Our customers started asking if we had tables, chairs and lighting to go with their kitchens,” he says, illustrating how the business grew the way a home is built – first with toilets, then kitchens, and finally furnishings. “So we’re lucky that we’re strong in the sanitary department, because we get first dibs on new homeowners or those looking to renovate.”
FROM HOUSE TO HOME
Meanwhile, W. Atelier has another secret weapon: Gani’s wife. Months after the $7 million Henderson showroom was built, Katherine saw an opportunity for her own business, My Turn To Host.
Using the showroom’s beautifully furnished space and functional kitchens, she organises culinary workshops featuring top chefs, complete with gorgeous table settings she personally puts together.
“Gani’s passion is in helping people build a beautiful and functional kitchen, and mine is in teaching them how to use it. A kitchen shouldn’t just be decoration,” she says. “My class is not just about cooking, it’s about entertaining. Because of social media, the focus is always on food. It’s not like in the old days where people took the time to get to know one another, to talk, and to connect in a genuine way. One way to do that is to host your friends at home.”
Born into a big family that includes 16 aunts and uncles, Katherine would watch her mother and aunts take turns to host big get-togethers. Constantly surrounded by home-cooked meals and a sense of togetherness, she had long toyed with the idea of doing something in that vein.
But life has a way of sticking people in moulds. So, after she graduated from Boston University, she moved to Singapore to work as a commercial analyst for UOB for two years, before marrying Gani and having two children.
Her passion for cooking and entertaining manifests in ensuring her family has healthy, home-cooked meals daily, and she hosts friends for potluck dinners every couple of months. But, thanks to W. Atelier’s expansion, Katherine’s dream got back on track.
Myth held its first workshop in November last year and what started as a twice-a-month project has turned into a weekly commitment. “I was hesitant. I didn’t know where to start, or how to get students. But, with slow and careful planning, and the opening of the Henderson space, I made it happen and I was amazed at how well-received it was,” she says.
Katherine and Gani are avid foodies and their frequent visits to leading restaurants here have helped them forge friendships with many local chefs, whom she then ropes in for her classes. The chefs themselves also help promote the workshops on their social media platforms, and word spread. Katherine’s weekly class of 20 is now almost always fully booked.
Whether it’s learning to make chef Yamashita Masataka’s Christmas-themed chestnut cake or a Sicilian seafood feast from Gattopardo’s chef Lino Sauro, working women are flocking to Myth. “I don’t have that many socialites in my class. My customers are lawyers, doctors and one of them is even a judge,” Katherine says.
While printed menus, place cards and lush floral arrangements are part of her hosting style (and Myth attendees are privy to her tips on putting a table together), Katherine insists they are not necessary. “You don’t need perfectly pressed table cloths or napkins. If you prefer a casual style with just cheese and wine, go for it, as hosting is supposed to be about laughter, kinship and camaraderie.”
IT’S A WRAP
WE ASK THE POWER COUPLE ABOUT THEIR GREATEST GIFTING MOMENTS.
On the best gift they’ve ever received from each other
Gani: The best gift would be the kids. They’re awesome, and the life and joy of the family. I always look forward to going home so I can see them. I don’t shop too much. Katherine doesn’t either, fortunately.
Katherine: He’s given me a lot of material things, like Chanel and Hermes bags, but I don’t think of them as the best gifts. Gani actually draws very well, and when we were dating, he would send me drawings of me, along with handwritten cards and poems when I was in Boston.
On their most memorable present
Gani: On our first date, she made me Indonesian soto ayam. It took her six hours.
Katherine: That’s because I made everything from scratch – including the bergedil and sambal. It was my first time. It doesn’t take that long anymore.