At their light-filled Marina Collection apartment in Sentosa Island’s Cove Drive, Verne Maree talked shop with Jamie Gorman and John Galligan, co-owners of The Shophouse.
What brought you to Singapore from Sydney?
John: We moved here for my role when I was sent here three-and-a-half years ago to head up Microsoft’s government relations for Asia Pacific.
How did you get involved in The Shophouse?
Jamie: Laura Bartlett and I had some connections through family friends, so once I’d settled in I took an interior designer job with her. Six months later, in early 2011, we bought into the business. Laura has since moved to Brisbane, but is still involved as a director. My own background is in retail, including working for Gucci and Hermes in my youth, and more recently having my own clothing boutique in Sydney.
How has the face of the business changed since your arrival?
Jamie: Most people would remember our store at Lock Road, and that is where I first worked for The Shophouse. But those properties were taken back by the government, and our main showroom is now in Tan Boon Liat (TBL) Building; the Tanglin Mall outlet stocks home accessories – the beautiful Good Earth Indian crockery brand and so on. Though beautiful, the black-and-white house we occupied in Rochester Park lacked parking for our clients, and its interior space was somewhat limited. TBL is becoming quite a hub, and not just for furniture: architect friends of ours have their studio upstairs, plus we have new neighbours such as The Providore and others that have been added to the mix.
John: Since Jamie came on board, I’ve noticed that the style has changed in some ways, though still retaining much of what people love about the store. With his more modern aesthetic, there’s been a move away from the traditional Indonesian teak that The Shophouse was initially known for. That’s not a bad thing, because tastes and circumstances change. For one thing, expats tend to be a bit younger nowadays. We’ve slowly introduced more Chinese pieces, accessories from Europe and good quality pieces from Vietnam, too.
Why this apartment?
John: Like most expats, we had no real idea about the various options; so our first Singapore home was as city-central as can be – an apartment in Scotts Road. You could go shopping underground and it was like being in a rabbit warren; you hardly needed to come up!
When Jamie suggested looking at a place in Sentosa, I thought we’d need to take a packed lunch! – I’d hardly seen the island and thought it was much farther away than it actually is. Then, when we walked in here it was like stepping into a refrigerator – so stark, so white and so bright – that I didn’t think it was for us. But we loved the views; we’d had water views in Sydney. Jamie promised he could turn it into a home, and that’s just what he did.
How did you go about designing your interior space?
Jamie: When we moved in it was brand new – no light fittings, no curtains, nothing like that. As owners or new tenants you get to choose from an interior design package. For the modern space, I chose white blinds because I don’t like curtains bunching up on windows like this, and I kept the blinds fairly sheer so that we can see the greenery and the marina through it.
I was grounded by the grey-veined marble flooring, and chose a colour palette to fit in with it. As you’ll see, the pale grey walls of the living room become a deeper grey as you move into the apartment, all the way to charcoal in the study.
Your furnishings – are many of them from The Shophouse?
John: It’s not all The Shophouse. Though we do have a number of Shophouse pieces here, we already had almost a full house of furniture when we moved to Singapore.
Jamie: I designed the outdoor seating and dining furniture myself and had it made in the Indonesian factory we deal with. It’s all low, so as not to block the view from the living room, and it’s natural teak, simply lacquered to protect the timber from the strong morning sun. Our dining table is very narrow, just 75cm wide, customised to fit the dimensions of the deck.
Most of the soft furnishings and fabrics come from The Shophouse, because that’s a big part of what we do – sofas, chairs, bed-heads and so on. They soften the hard edges of modern apartments and make them more liveable, I feel. Our L-shaped sofa is from Bo Concept, however; we’re about to reupholster it. We have some terrific fabric suppliers, such as Jenny Lewis from BODE.
How would you describe your style?
Jamie: I like to keep things fresh and simple. I do love flowers, and I’m addicted to vases. Of course I do the flowers for the store, too. I always cut flowers down – I say don’t be afraid to cut them down until they look right. But it can take me two hours to do an arrangement; you have to keep going until it works.
I tell my customers that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on furniture or on artwork. Instead, you can invest in just one beautiful piece that you love; or buy a good vase and some fresh flowers. Just moving things around, or taking away or adding an element, can successfully pull the look together.
John: Most importantly, Jamie understands that a client’s home is not his home, and so he is able to use his talent to help that client express his or her own vision.
Jamie: My design service is not solely about The Shophouse furniture collection. If someone employs me to do their apartment, for example, we’ll source things from different retailers. Style is totally individual, and what you choose depends on your needs. If you spend a lot of time around the table, choose a great table; if you spend time outside, spend some money on outdoor furniture.
How convenient is it to live on Sentosa?
John: For a Sydneysider who never, ever caught public transport – it was inconvenient and never seemed to be going where you needed it to go – it’s blissful now to not have to drive. I catch the shuttle to HarbourFront, and from there it’s a short bus-ride to my offices at NTUC Building.
Jamie: We’d got used to the constant traffic noise in Scotts Road, but the quietness of this place is blissfully peaceful. Nevertheless, there are a number of options if you want to go out. When we moved in there was just Harry’s Bar, plus the 7-Eleven for emergency provisions; and now we have a Cold Storage, a Jason’s, a Straits Wine Company, plus a string of restaurants at the Quayside Isle such as Picotin, Brussels Sprouts and St Pierre, Grillado, Note di Sicilia and more.
Who keeps the apartment so immaculate?
John: We’re generally very clean people, so we just have a cleaner in once a week.
Jamie: Yes… and sometimes I clean up after John.
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