A trio of retail spaces designed by FUUR Associates presents three distinct brand characters within a cohesive design framework. Felicia Toh writes.
June 4th, 2015
Photography: Béton Brut
Between the three cousins Vinum Fine Wines, The Whiskey Library and Caveau Wines, Vinum has the full wine-and-whiskey-appreciating demographic cornered. FUUR Associates, helmed by partners Dean Chew and Jasper Chia, was engaged to design these three retail spaces for the prominent gastronomic group. FUUR’s portfolio of F&B projects includes Jigger & Pony, Coast & Co, Jekyll & Hyde and Penny University. The latest trio to join the list is located in the Shaw Centre along Orchard Road.
The brief requested that each of these retail spaces would exude a different personality based on its programme and clientele. FUUR embraced the challenge by tailoring the distinct personalities of each brand with customised material palettes, while tying them together with a consistent ‘point of view’.
Vinum Fine Wines, which offers premium wines with bespoke service, is akin to the luxurious older brother in understated tones of black, dark wood and brass accents. A dark-stained timber veneer wall framed in rhythmic arcs veers away from the entrance, enlarging the reception while drawing guests into the space. A black powder-coated steel shelf laid with rows of fine wines is recessed into the corridor wall, forming a visual display that is integral to the design.
“We wanted to mirror the context through the brass, to reference the site in an architectural sense,” explains Chew, referring to the staggered brass plates within the consultation room, which overlooks the terraced facade of the HSBC building across the street.
Commenting on the need to incorporate three diverse brands into one consistent identity, Chew states, “The challenge was not just accommodating all the elements but creating a retail front that is discreet and very open at the same time.” This involved a tricky reconfiguration of space to conceal back-of-house areas like staff offices, services and storage, while maximising retail frontage.
A consistent language of frames in accents of black steel with warm lighting also threads through all three spaces. Shunning conventional emphasis on ‘feature walls’ in interior design, FUUR has allowed the richness of space to come through adroit planning and rawness of materials. Both of the partners studied architecture, which has lent them a keen eye for proportion and spatial concerns as evident in their designs.
In the same vein, retail frontage along The Whiskey Library was ingeniously rethought. FUUR flipped the facade, lining the backdrop of bottles against the glass, inverting the shop front into a back-of-bar scene. Akin to cosy, dimly-lit bars in New York, this inversion produces a sense of intimacy within the interior, which is remarkable considering the shop front’s glass actually sits adjacent to the mall’s public thoroughfare.
Pointing out a discreet display on the side, Chia shares, “We’re actually working on a proposal now to convert this shelf of bottles to a secret door that connects to a lounge behind.” This conjures images of an elusive passage in the manner of Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ – an amusingly apt metaphor for FUUR’s work, which I discover is more than meets the eye.
FUUR points out that many display shelf mock-ups had to be made to achieve the right angle of inclination for the wines, with lighting calibrated to bounce off the labels at just the right height. It seems that even the most ordinary of shelves was immaculately considered. “We learned a lot of technical science from the clients,” says Chia. “For example, the older the wine is, the more tilted the bottles have to be since the wine needs to touch the cork to keep it moist.”
Ever attentive to details, FUUR continues their experimentation with materials to attain the details and textures they desire. To achieve the rough grey cement interiors of Caveau Wines, which offers affordable wines for budding wine enthusiasts, they developed with the contractor a process of applying cement screed on site and removing the mould before it was fully dry. This was a process they tested previously in Jekyll & Hyde, working closely with a contractor who “really knows how [they] work and doesn’t cut corners,” explains Chew.
When asked if they recognise specific aesthetic preferences in their body of work, Chew muses: “I would say there’s a consistent point of view that is manifested differently based on different client briefs and programmes.” Adds Chia, “We work with a lot of brands, and we’ve develop the design to go alongside the brand, rather than us being the brand. But a lot of people look at FUUR and say we’re pared down, elemental; we use materials in a raw, non-statement way.”
Dabbling in a wide repertoire of projects, from brochures for Lamitak to Kyo nightclub and micro serviced apartments in Tiong Bahru, FUUR certainly has the bandwidth to apply their curated point of view. Nine years since the founding of the studio, Chia modestly notes their evolution as a practice: “To be honest, we’re still foraging. It takes a long time to build a practice. It’s exciting and also the scariest thing. But we’re eternally curious.”
This article first appeared in Cubes Indesign issue 73.
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