Its move from Dempsey to the CBD meant Tippling Club had to translate the greenery of its former premises into the concrete jungle of the city, writes Iliyas Ong.
22 January, 2014
The words “approachable”, “eclectic” and “purpose-built” pop up a lot when we speak to greyMatters’s Alan Barr on Tippling Club.
The American designer is responsible for the revamped premises of the 70-seater restaurant–bar in the heart of the city, a far cry from the rustic Dempsey enclave it had previously called home. The new location spelled a few challenges for the 39-year-old, the foremost of which was to appeal to as wide a range of customers as possible.
According to Barr, it was precisely because you’d expect an upmarket establishment in the CBD that he went against the grain. “The food, service and drinks are fine dining, but the space was not meant to be ‘white glove and bowtie’,” reveals the designer. “We wanted to make the place very approachable to everyone, so I’m okay in jeans and I’m okay in my suit.”
The first step was to bring the natural environs of Dempsey into the three-unit shophouse space along Tanjong Pagar Road. Not literally so, clarifies Barr, but as a form of “inspiration”. To that end, he used 26 different shades of green—in the upholstery, chairs, tiles, drapes and so on—throughout Tippling Club’s bar, dining and private dining areas.
Upcycled natural material also figures prominently in the space, furthering Barr’s organic aesthetic. For example, wooden planks that once took the form of shipping pallets were treated with the traditional Japanese scorched-wood technique of shou sugi ban and affixed on the ceiling and as wainscoting. And the heavily scarred tables in the 12-seater private dining room are made of recycled timber and old metal pipes—a reaction, perhaps, to Barr’s observation that Singapore has a “proclivity for polished and clean and new”.
This emphasis on quirkiness extends throughout the space. When visitors walk in, they’ll be greeted by a cocktail lounge whose Peranakan floor tiles playfully clash with the brutal concrete slabs on the walls beside the bar. Vintage lamps on the bar counter complete the whimsical touch. And once visitors enter the two dining rooms beside the bar, Barr says he wanted them to “do a double-take”.
The first dining room appears straightforward enough—until you look up. Light fixtures in varying shapes and sizes dangle haphazardly over uniform tables and chairs. Barr intentionally left them at odd heights and positions to juxtapose against the neat herringbone pattern of the wooden floor. This contrasts with the private dining room towards the back of the establishment, where the same lights hang over an assortment of chairs, each bearing a different hue of green.
“My experience from the US [is that] we can be very whimsical,” explains Barr. “And you can’t just put the same thing across the whole space. [This is] a new theme for Singapore. It’s early days for it, but the customer is coming around to it.” The designer adds that in the next five years, cafés, bars and restaurants will look completely different from those we see today.
To clinch this fresh ‘boutique’ look, Barr insisted on designing purpose-built furniture and fixtures. Almost all the pieces in Tippling Club—from the floor to chairs to tabletops to lighting—were wrought in this way. Barr commissioned shops in Thailand, Bali and India for the lights, and even lugged suitcases of lightbulbs and boat cleats from overseas.
“My mantra is: Anything that we can design, we should design,” Barr says. “It’s easy to pick things off a shelf, and if it’s off the shelf, someone else can buy it, too. If a new client comes in and says we want that chair from Tippling, they’re not allowed to have it. We might redesign it and change it into something else, but we’ll never take the drawing for that and stick it into the next space.”
And as though to hammer home the point, Barr shows us a minute detail on the back of the bar stools. Instead of Kartell or Knoll on a label, there’s a small logo branded into the wood: the Tippling Club one.
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Serie Architects’ founding principal Christopher Lee has single-mindedly designed with utmost consideration of the city and the cultural and societal norms that come along with it. The resulting works are thoughtful contributions to the cities they inhabit.