Studio Juju Designs an Office for Benel
“A functional art project” is how Studio Juju describes their refreshing design for furniture brand Benel’s new Singapore office. Luo Jingmei reports.
Be it coffee tables with organic shapes (the Rabbit and the Tortoise collection for Living Divani) or bright-coloured table lamps that toggle on rotund bases (Duck lamp for SaloneSatellite in Milan), Studio Juju’s oeuvre is tinged with delight, inciting childlike wonder while incorporating clever functionality. Even the studio’s name – Juju means ‘to give and to receive’ in Japanese – is charmingly representative of the partners’ approach in listening to each other and responding accordingly in the design process.
Established by Timo Wong and Priscilla Lui in 2009, Studio Juju have won many awards for their sophisticated designs that include both furniture and products. In recent times, their discipline has expanded to include interior design. It is interesting to see how their design philosophy translates from smaller scale objects to three-dimensional spaces.
Studio Juju have recently completed the Singapore office space of furniture brand Benel at 140 Paya Lebar Road. Benel started producing upholstered office chairs during the 1980s, and has factories in both Singapore and Malaysia. Their Singapore headquarters and factory is based in Loyang, but they wanted a new satellite office located in a more accessible location. Wong shares that more than just a convenient location, the new office had to showcase the brand’s products appropriately, allowing clients to walk through the space and view the brand’s offerings.
At the same time, this was an opportunity for the brand to be presented in a more updated manner, having just undergone a refreshed branding and identity exercise. “A new and exciting generation has taken over the family business, so we designed the office to have a sense of youthfulness and energy,” says Wong. “The concept of the space is experimental and imaginative compared to what a mundane office is like… spatially, we thought this space, apart from offering products and providing services, needed to communicate the company’s own vision of what their ideal office is like. That forms an interesting design direction, where we can be more creative with the design – this is a space where a person walks in to work, feeling inspired.”
This explains the absence of mundane, sterile cubicles, uninspiring neutral colours and harsh white lights. In its place is an engaging environment that incorporates natural materials and a well-coordinated palette of fresh, modern colours.
A winding wood veneer wall greets clients at the entrance, gently guiding them inward to an open space. This material continues to back a row of cubicles that is partially screened by racks doubling up as material and catalogue shelving and capped at the end with a cheerful wall of green plants. At the other end of the office, a short flight of stairs leads to an enclosed meeting room that is privy to the rest of the office space via a large picture window. Not least, echoing the curvilinear entry wall are chair displays that line up against the curved window.
Most offices would seat staff near the window for the view but interestingly here, the products are placed in this coveted spot. Wong shares that this was a strategic decision. Lining the mesh-based office chairs against the window allows the natural light to underscore the quality of the mesh material. Similarly, he adds, “The rack is constructed with perforated metal surfaces to communicate lightness and ventilation – just like the mesh chairs.”
A key challenge was to design the office in a way that was integrated with how the products were presented – both as showcase pieces and functionally like how they would be used in a natural office setting. This is what Studio Juju has succeeded in doing. The space is simple but not boring, functionally versatile but with key visual anchors. It is definitely a refreshing design of an office space, but without any of the gaudy features that pepper many office designs of today that try too hard to go against the norm. In other words, it is the designers’ version of an office space that delights but still maintains a good amount of decorum in its image as the office of a trusted supplier of professional, quality products.
Wong shares that this comes from a clear understanding of what the studio has to offer. “Many commercial/retail or F&B interior spaces try to be immersive in communicating their brand, services or products. While we acknowledge this approach, we are not a marketing company.”
He adds, “We like to think of designing interior spaces in a way that people can experience the spirit of the moment. This can mean the ability to explore and discover the space and its purpose though the quality of the atmosphere. We focus on the execution of functional physical elements that constitute this atmosphere. It is fundamentally like an artful composition of big and small elements based on scale and proportion, lines and curves, materials and lighting, etc. It has to be something that draws people in – a functional art project.”