Businesses up cool factor to draw crowds

Businesses up cool factor to draw crowds

GREEN SALON

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."

MODERN FAMILY

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 Organisation 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."

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