Spanning the entire frontage of the ground floor of the City Hall Wing, Gallery & Co. has been the talk of the town since its opening alongside the grand and historic National Gallery last November. An inspired project fusing the best elements of art and design, it is a progressive retail concept seamlessly integrating aspects of the bookstore, café, cafeteria, bar, and store experience. While many may view the museum or gallery shop as a bookend or afterthought to a visit, Gallery & Co. has established itself as destination of visit in its own right. We sit down with one of the people who’ve made the space possible, Yah-Leng Yu, Co-Founder of Gallery & Co. and Creative Director of Foreign Policy Design Group, to find out more.
What was the concept behind Gallery & Co.’s shop layout design? Where did you find inspiration for the project?
We conceptualised Gallery & Co. on the idea of it being an ‘Entrepôt of Visual Dialogues’. Harking back to early Singapore’s role as a trading port, the space is designed as a confluence of fine art and applied art, where inspirations and ideas can collide. The project is also about bringing people together – part of our idea as the space being an entrepôt, where visitors can come to view art pieces at the Gallery and enjoy applied art (whether it be in the form of a product or F&B) at our design shop. With that in mind, our intent was to blur the boundaries between retail and F&B spaces, and to have a continuous experience without any breaks.
Was there any particular look in mind while designing the store? What were some challenges you’ve faced?
For the look and feel, we wanted it to be light and youthful, so that we highlight Singapore’s progressive side, which perfectly counterpoints the stately Gallery’s awe-inspiring and monumental building. After determining these factors, it really was about looking at the problems and resolving them using the most efficient, aesthetically pleasing, yet functional solutions. We had to overcome challenges like low ceilings, numerous pillars dotting the space, and a vast marble lobby that was part of the museum’s public area, and ensure that visitors had enough information to find their way to through Gallery & Co.’s two wings.
You’ve mentioned the wings to the design space. Would you take us through some of the components that make up the store?
Certainly. We were inspired by one of the simplest tools of creativity for the right wing – physical origami, but on a magnified scale. Wooden origami blocks were what most of us might have played with as an infant or a toddler, so we referenced it as a beginning of our wonderment and curiosity towards the arts, regardless of the level of our understanding.
We designed the left wing of the retail space on the basis of it being a continuum of experiences. We wanted to create unique transitions as visitors progress through the various belts, as they move from the colour-filled iridescent fashion area, to the green vintage-inspired café, on to a monochromatic book section, and being delighted by the cheery colours of the kid’s section.
We took inspiration from the patina of wrought iron and gilded structures found in European patisseries and cafés for the Gallery Café – hence the green and ‘aged’ palette. We also aimed to spark a certain joie de vivre: sitting outside on the sidewalk, relaxing, catching up with friends, as one slowly sips on an espresso or tea.
What did you feel was your biggest achievement while working on the project?
I think it’s the challenge, and finally the achievement when it’s all done, of having worked on the branding, space design, and way-finding for not only retail, but also the Gallery Café and Cafeteria, as well as product design for all the museum merchandise, product curation for all the brands and labels we bring in locally and internationally, and visual merchandising – all these disparate disciplines converging into one final product that spans 8,800 square feet as the design retail element of the National Gallery, over a period of a year.