Hej Sweden

Last week I went to my version of Disneyland (aka the happiest place on earth): IKEA town in Almhult, Sweden. 

We were part of an international media group that was there to witness Democratic Design Day. Flying from Singapore to Stockholm with a 2.5-hour layover in Bangkok, we went on a train ride through the countryside to finally arrive in Almhult, where all the magic happens — design development, product testing, producing the catalogue, even warehousing. 

Of course we stayed at the IKEA Hotel (and ate IKEA food!).

 When we checked in the day was almost 2/3 done, but after a warm Swedish meal and a shower, we were off to Sjostugans Camping for dinner, where the golden hour stretched from five to eight pm.

On Day 1, Democratic Design Day, our hosts took us to see IKEA Communications, where the catalogue is conceptualised, photographed, laid out and put together, and the Test Lab, where new designs are tested. After lunch we were ushered into the old IKEA store, which is being transformed to become a bigger IKEA museum, for the Democratic Design presentation by the big guns. The day ended with a Swedish smorgasborg party.

On Day 2, we visited the IKEA museum, located in the basement of IKEA Tilsammans, and the distribution center that services Europe, before we were whisked off to do our interviews.

After the interviews, we had a lovely dinner at Brasserie Goaroije.

 We took the train back to Stockholm, and I had to leave the group a day early…but was able to explore the city for a couple of hours before my flight. 

Juxtaposing rural Sweden on the left, and urban Sweden on the right in this montage:  

And I stumbled upon City Hall and the new cultural center on my short walk.



Here are a couple of photos taken by one of our hosts, Nuch, and the cameraman from the Thai TV crew, Edwin.




Think pink

Before this month ends and I completely forget (it’s a busy, busy month!), can I tell you about the coolest design initiative by Xtra?

They’ve put together a collection of fun, lighthearted furniture and accessories in the color of breast cancer awareness (because that’s what this month is).

First up, Ron Arad’s Voido rocking chair for Magis: it’s been ‘transformed’ into the Infinity chair in this lovely hot pink. The Magis Puppy also comes in two shades of confetti-print pink (so tempting to buy a sister for my black Puppy, but where do I put them?). There are a few other items on the collection, like notebooks, but what I’d like to highlight is my friend Erricson’s marble-base lamp. In the sweetest shade of pink (that may or may not be intentionally shaped like an implant), he says it’s inspired by the feminine form and “invites the beholder to caress the lamp with boss hands”.

Anyway, make your way to Xtra at Park Mall to see these lovely pieces till the end of this month…and hopefully you’ll like them, too, and pick something up in support of breast cancer awareness.


Wearing their hearts on their sleeves

While hipster dining joints are popping up everywhere — and some of them even espouse socially responsible causes (read: Food For Thought), there are the unique handful who boldly declare their faith.

The Assembly Ground, where I hung out last weekend with two different sets of friends, reportedly takes its name from Genesis 28:3 “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you become an assembly of peoples”. Located at The Cathay, it serves well-balanced coffees, interesting cakes, and yummy brunches.






Saveur, that affordable French restaurant, is not new, but it has a new concept: the affordable Italian bistro Concetto by Saveur. It’s also located at The Cathay.

What I love about Saveur and Concetto is that their menus (and website…as I found out since I couldn’t locate my photos of Saveur, so I did a screenshot instead) open with a Bible verse. And then they don’t preach anything in their decor, etc (there was a pizza place I used to go to that named pizzas something religious…fun, but a bit, er cheesy) anymore. EXCEPT they practice what they preach, by pricing their lovely dishes reasonably, without sacrificing quality (they even care to do fine dining-style plating, see?).





The Assembly Ground
#01-21/22/23 The Cathay
Closed on Mondays

Concetto by Saveur
#01-11/12 The Cathay

Singapore Design Week

With Maison & Objet Asia’s debut show opening the week, and the International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS) closing it, the Singapore Furniture Industries Council teamed up with the DesignSingapore Council to pad up the decor and furniture fairs with events like Singaplural and the 48 Hour Challenge.

The highlight for me, though, was the opening of the National Design Centre on Middle Road. Taking off from the original structure, a convent school, design firm SCDA adapted the building into the offices of the DesignSingapore Council, complete with prototype lab, design appreciation lab, exhibition galleries, event space and cafe/retail space.





Currently on exhibit are the finalists and winners (shown here) of the Furniture Design Awards, which are held in conjunction with the IFFS.



Here are a few snaps of Maison & Objet Asia



Singaplural: 30 LifeStories




And the 48 Hours Challenge at Park Mall and Robinsons



5 things I learned at Art Stage Singapore

This post could just as well be titled: Art Appreciation for Bimbos.

First off, I’m no art expert. My meager collection consists of a pair of tiny watercolor scenes of San Gimignano by Gino Corsi, bought when I went on a road trip through Tuscany with my aunt; and a silkscreen of a Singapore heritage building by Safaruddin Bin Abdul Hamid (aka Dyn), commissioned by IKEA for its democratic art campaign. I once had a Gabriel Barredo candlestand, which the reclusive sculptor gifted when I interviewed him about his home, but I left it in Manila, and I don’t know what’s become of it.

Secondly, my philosophy on art is this simple: whatever makes you smile. So whatever the pedigree of the artist or the provenance of the work, if it brings a smile to your face, it’s good art. The ballerinas of Edgar Degas make me smile; his other stuff, not so much. Joan Miro always makes me smile, and dream, and remember — that, to me, is fantastic art. It was nice to see some Miro paintings at Art Stage Singapore.



For the most part, this edition of Art Stage Singapore made me smile. It didn’t blow me away as in previous years, but I enjoyed it. So seeing art that made me smile, and not, taught me a few things about myself on the Saturday afternoon I spent at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center.

1) I’m a magpie. I was enchanted by Iranian artist Reza Derakshani’s party-inspired pieces. They had glitter.

2) I love, love, love color. And geometry, apparently. Like Israel-born artist Yaacov Agam’s polymorphic works, and Singaporean artist Jane Lee’s tiles.


3) I generally like art about urban design, architecture and furniture. Like Australian artist Joanna Lamb’s light sculptures, Singaporean artist Michael Lee’s treehouse piece, and this voyeuristic apartment building that I couldn’t identify.




4) I really like Japanese artist Fumihiro Takemura’s acrylic three-dimensional maps and table settings, and someday I hope to own one of his works.




5) I generally don’t like art that makes you think about the sadder things in life. A lot of works (by Asian artists) are socio-political by nature (others like to deal with disembodied guts, for whatever reason — I don’t care about those works). Some pieces, like the Mark Justiniani installation exhibited at the Southeast Asia platform in Art Stage, are so pleasantly done however, that the somewhat-depressing subject matter can be forgiven.

Here are a few more scenes from Art Stage Singapore 2014. It ends today (January 19); luckily the bigger galleries have their own space at Gillman Barracks (and the really big galleries at Ion Orchard), and hopefully they’ll have some of the Art Stage pieces there.


















(So much fun to caption some of these photos: Shine bright like a diamond, Cake decorating is an art, I don’t understand this too, Is the wolf really humping R2D2? (Yes, the name of this sculpture by Norwegian artist Dolk is “Puppy love”), etc.)

Architects do it with models

Do their jobs. With miniature models. What were you thinking? 😉

At Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the urban planners do it with models, too. Mohd Yazid, model-maker extraordinaire, has been crafting these scaled-down buildings for the past 30 years at URA. I just read about him on URA’s online magazine, Going Places.

Friends who’ve visited me from other countries may have been taken on my Chinatown walking tour, which begins with the URA City Gallery, crafted by Mohd Yazid (now I know!). One of my favorite places in Singapore, the City Gallery shows a three-dimensional bird’s eye view of the city-state. There are models of buildings that are currently being built, and some that have not yet been built, showing what Singapore’s ever-changing skyline would look like in a couple of years.


The detailing on finished buildings is really fantastic.


Just before I moved here, my friend Hannah who was getting her master’s degree in urban planning from the National University of Singapore, took me to the City Gallery and showed me that hallowed room where Mohd Yazid works. I thought: wow, dream job! I wanted, wanted, wanted to spend my weekends there, carving balsa wood with my craft knife, prying my mighty-bonded fingers apart, and watching a building take form in mere days. To be honest, model-making was the part of my six years studying to become an architect that I enjoyed the most.

Take that, copycat!

“Getting a knock-off doesn’t give you the Eames experience. It only mimics the look of a piece, but not the way the designer intended it to be — its function, and how it lasts more than 20 years.”
-Eames Demetrios

“Education has to trump worrying about (less famous) designs being copied.”
-Eames Demetrios

Over a hundred pieces of furniture, paintings, short films and archival things by Modernist icons Charles and Ray Eames are on exhibit at the Art Science Museum in Marina Bay Sands, from June 29, 2013 to January 5, 2014. It took one 20-foot and one 40-foot containers only to bring over the pieces from Herman Miller, official manufacturer for the Eames Studio, says Herman Miller’s Jacky Low. That doesn’t include the personal and archival pieces sent over by Eames Demetrios from his famous grandparents’ home and design studio, and the decorative props by exhibit designers Wy-To Architects.

Eames Demetrios is in Singapore to give Curator’s Guided Tours and a Curator’s Talk only this weekend: June 29 and 30 (tours at 11:30am and 5:30pm; talk on Saturday at 2:30pm).

The guided tours are first-come, first-served, but do brave the queue/crowd, because hearing Demetrios is a really good way to learn more about the design duo, including their love story and personal life — and for those who’ve become disenchanted by mid-century modern design no thanks to all the bad knock-offs out there, a really really good way to like Eames again.


Eames Demetrios

A mock-up of The Eames House in California

His grandparents were notorious collectors of objects, especially toys

Some elements of the exhibit are interactive

The Eames House of Cards

Ray’s love letters to Charles

The furniture gallery

Interesting new factoid I learned: Charles & Ray Eames channelled their moulded plywood technology into creating leg splints for injured soldiers during World War 2

An activity area where you can make your own miniature furniture because Charles & Ray Eames’ design process was mainly modeling

For more information about Essential Eames: A Herman Miller Exhibition click here.