C74 June/July Issue
A Sound Space
At LongPlay, Neri&Hu Design and Research Office demonstrates their flair for executing authentic design experiences even in the smallest of spaces.
Ever since opening the mod-themed Hotel 1929 at Keong Saik Street, Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng has gone on to create a string of successful establishments – among them in Singapore the New Majestic Hotel, Wanderlust, Esqina and recently, Sorrel and Meat Smith – under his Unlisted Collection brand. Usually located within charming neighbourhoods with heritage, a dedicated focus to good interior design has done much in creating welcoming ambiences with high hip quotient.
A contributor to this oeuvre is Shanghai-based multidisciplinary architecture and design studio Neri&Hu Design and Research Office. Led by Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, it first worked on the Waterhouse at South Bund boutique hotel in Shanghai – a project that helped to further the firm’s name internationally. To date, this project still remains widely photographed and talked about today for its bold and experimental design concept and equally brave defiance of conserving an old warehouse in an era and place where brand new is often preferred.
At LongPlay, located in a shophouse along the hipster enclave that is Haji Lane, the architects’ brand of industrial luxe and attention to detail is again at play (pun intended). The name of the bar-cum-lounge alludes to the phonographic music that is the theme here. On hand are over 3,000 vintage vinyls traversing Jazz, Motown, Blues and Glam-Rock from Loh’s personal collection, appealing to the audiophile’s desire for a good dose of nostalgia.
Working with a tight deadline and budget, Neri&Hu decided to approach the design simply: “by celebrating – what was conceivably a constraint – a very long and narrow existing space,” says Neri of the layout. While the most straightforward – and conventional – solution would be to tuck the kitchen and facilities at the back of the shophouse and cluster seating in front, Neri&Hu has instead tucked all functions and furniture to the sides, creating a path that cuts through the middle to connect the entrance at Bali Lane to Arab Street behind.
“From the beginning, it was important for us not to lose this relationship so we designed it in a way where we celebrated this one long corridor that takes you from one street to another,” affirms Neri. “By bringing the outside in, in the process we also brought the interior out.” The bar counter, lined with a row of utilitarian high stools is placed right in front and customers have to shuffle past this social area to the more contemplative double-loaded space behind that has individual booths on one side and low bench-and-armchair seating on the other. A DJ booth in the middle of the bar straddles the front and back spaces.
“LongPlay is about celebrating the music and the music is all about listening. Our layout suggests two kinds of listening experiences: shared, in the lounge séparés or individual along the communal desks,” Neri explains. This double-loaded layout, he points out, also helps to maximise the tight confines.
Throughout, an intimate atmosphere is concocted with the use of dark wall paint, cement screed flooring, walnut wood joinery and blacks and browns in the furniture’s leather upholstery. Wire and brass accents in the ceiling panels and details, such as table mirrors, wall hooks and menu holders, custom-designed lighting fixtures, add an industrial touch and a dash of aged glamour, matching boudoir with gentleman’s cave in streamlined fashion.
Rather than clichéd pictures of framed vinyls or posters as may bars are wont to do, the only hints at the musical theme are subtle elements such as the custom-designed circular brass low tables. Off-white curtains hang loosely from metal hooks to divide each cluster of seating in the lounge area, delicately lightening the dark tonality and masculinity of the palette. Agrees Neri, “they help “to create a softer, more intimate feeling and break the spaces to give it a more domestic feel.”
A stainless steel path on the floor and ceiling is a key architectural element that connects the entire length of the space. Explains Neri, “The material options were limited due to the tight budget and time constraints, so we focused our efforts to create this one central feature…whose light and reflection it captures makes it stand out throughout the space.”
Metal mesh storage is another motif prevalent in the space: at the bar counter, they hang above as semi-open storage for the kitchen; behind, they are seen in the door panels of the cabinetry above and below the individual desk-like booths to store/display the records (that will potentially reach 10,000). These are elegant space-spacing solutions that enhance the domestic approach and, as Neri describes, turns “the storage requirement into an intricate design feature.”
Neri and Hu’s design prowess lie in their ability to create original experiences; they are a rare breed of architects who eschew copy-paste, instead taking delight in referencing the past and reinventing these precedents. From the inconspicuous single-leaf glass door for the entrance to the warm mood lighting created with incandescent bulbs, the entire experience at LongPlay is one that is tinged with mystery but is also familiarly inviting and laid-back. Disconnected form the distractions of the city’s cacophony, one is eased into a mesmerising musical encounter.