If you are like us and just cannot tolerate another rustic retreat or another architect-trying-too-hard-to-be-cool stack of oblong concrete-and-glass boxes, there’s always the chance that you’ll run across a classic.
A brand-new residence that has all the characteristic of a timeless beauty. A low-profile building that really fits its surroundings. A stylish home where the outdoors is the key feature.
The Alterstudio team that included Kevin Alter, Ernesto Cragnolino, Tim Whitehill, Matt Slusarek, Jessica Connolly and Joanna Hartman garnered quite a few awards and accolades with this project when it was completed, and its confident design will stand the test of time for decades to come.
Located in a grove of mature oak trees and overlooking the 200 acre Bright Leaf Preserve and the Colorado River, the house takes full advantage of the exquisite natural setting.
The 5,900-square-foot (550 square meter) house for a family of four has three relatively small bedrooms plus a separate guest suite, as it puts all of its energy into making the most of the public/family areas with living, kitchen and dining rooms lined up along the glass wall that overlooks the huge patio, the gorgeous pool and the view beyond.
We also love the garden in its all-green colour palette and low-profile planted areas. Of course, this residence also has many of the other features that we are drawn to: Smart use of wood and other natural materials, unpretentious and minimalist forms and colours, plus a nice mid-century modernist overall air.
This is one of those dwellings where you feel you can really breathe freely. There’s room for the eye to roam, yet the scale is human. Perfect. - Tuija Seipell.
We hesitate to use words such as charming or sweet here as they might imply excessive cuteness, but the recently completed tiny chapel on Cyprus does have a welcoming, approachable appearance that made us contemplate tiny, cozy spaces.
However, we were also immediately aware that this is sanctuary, not some dwelling for friendly trolls.
We were also drawn to reflect on visits to small Greek mountain villages where tiny white churches cling to seemingly inaccessible cliffs.
And glancing inside and seeing the gorgeous hanging lighting fixtures, we remembered our visits to stalactite caves on several Greek Islands.
Cyprus-based, 35-year architect Michail Georgiou, with collaborator Theresa Kwok, has created this 56 square-meter (602 sq.ft.) gem of a Greek Orthodox chapel using an experimental building technique.
The light-weight structure consists of a steel frame and a thin ferrocement shell.
The 5.5-meter (18-foot) high doorway adds a sense of welcome and transparency, as one can see through the structure that from this angle appears as if it were just a dome of a temporary structure.
We are always excited by thoughtful design that manages to combine the traditional and the contemporary techniques and languages. This is right up Georgiou’s ally as he holds a MSc in Adaptive Architecture and Computation from the Bartlett and a MArch from the NTUA.
In addition to being a practicing architect with both residential and public projects, he also lectures on Computational Design and Fabrication at the Department of Architecture in the University of Nicosia (Cyprus). We expect to see more innovative work from him. - Tuija Seipell.
Photography by Charis Solomou
We have encountered dramatic, elegant and inviting yoga studios, spas and salons, but this is the first time that we’d like to include a boxing center on that same list.
In Taipei, Taiwan, local designer and principal of MW Design, Michelle Wei, has conjured up a dramatic environment for Boxing+ Wellness Center.
Located on the basement level of an industrial building, the entire space of 562 square-meters (6,050 sq.ft or 170 Taiwanese Ping) has an aura of dark strength without being boring or off-putting in a predictable over-masculine way.
Instead of the stereotypical solutions of lots of black fake leather, neon lights, tile, metal and functional but unimaginative showers, lockers and common areas, Wei has used environmentally friendly plywood, metal mesh, black iron, and recycled timber to create a sense of low-key elegance.
The interior design supports the goal of Boxing+ to be a comfortable space that suits both male and female guests of all ages who wish to learn and enjoy boxing.
The shoe lockers located under the entrance staircase are made of recycled timber, and wood paneling is used in the reception desk and several other feature areas as warm accents.
The shower rooms’ gray floral tiles and light gray marble countertops add a feeling of luxury and pampering for the guests after their vigorous exercise.
With the help of Chubic Lighting, Wei has also incorporated dramatic lighting in many areas. The main lockers have grey doors and each has its own spotlight for both exclusivity and a bit of stage-show drama.
During match nights, multi-color lights focus on the ring producing a professional-like experience for the audience and the boxers. Tuija Seipell
Photography by Figure x Lee Kuo-Min Studio
Imagine any city as if it were the human body and think of all the crucial aspects of it which keep us living. Within a city you could consider the people to be the blood; the thing which circulates constantly and gives life. Transport systems are the vessels which allow that blood to move and public infrastructure is the brains of the operation which facilitates the growth and movement of blood cells.
Equally important though is that essential organ called the heart. From a geographical sense, the centre of the city is considered the heart however more importantly it's the spaces within a city which have character, inspire and shape society that are indeed the most heartfelt.
Rainbow Chapel, located inside the G+ Park in Shanghai is a new addition to a large organ of cultural landscape which has redefined this large bustling Chinese city. It's a collaborative effort between award-winning design agency COORDINATION ASIA and logon urban.architecture.design; who have so successfully used the credo of 'developing art spaces which nourish a city' to form their concept.
The team from COORDINATION ASIA have featured previously on The Cool Hunter with their designs for the Shanghai Office and Kids Museum of Glass. They continue to tackle interesting social projects in a market which is ever growing and developing; Rainbow Chapel certainly is no exception to this as founder Tilman Thürmer explains its conception:
"Over the years of operating the museum park we experienced an increasing demand to have a new type of venue that caters to the Chinese public, now avid for living a creative life, gathering new and exciting experiences and mixing art and lifestyle. There was a lack on the Chinese wedding market that mainly offers city centre locations and classic settings and we went on to fill that gap."
Designed around the Shanghai Museum of Glass the G+ Park recently celebrated its 4 year anniversary by unveiling a lifestyle addition to its premises that includes the Rainbow Chapel which is attached to the museum park. It's a first for China and provides an alternative to classic wedding venues which appeals greatly to young and creative couples looking for something different.
It's only fitting that the structural form of the Rainbow Chapel is a circle, as essentially a circle is an infinite line. This was indeed the intention of having a circular form within a square as it alluded to the nature of the connections made inside the place. It was also intended to represent fundamental Chinese symbolism with the circle representing fullness and unity, whilst the square stands as a symbol of honesty and virtue; when combined they lend a sense of perfection and provide good-luck.
The building in total covers 390 square meters and is a vivid and fascinating exploration of the endless possibilities of glass.
The façade of the building appears to be kaleidoscopic as it comprises of 3060 elements, using 65 different colours and mixture of both transparent and semi-transparent glass. As the sun moves around the structure and the lighting changes so does the effects of the glass on the interior; creating a clever moving instillation. This effect brings the chapel to life.
Sitting just next to the chapel is a banquet hall which covers 1200 square meters, built upon a former industrial glass workshop. This workshop has been converted into an elegant and sophisticated space which marries in well with the Rainbow Chapel. Whilst extremely elegant it's also highly versatile and is capable of facilitating a wide range of events from weddings and anniversaries to concerts.
The Rainbow Chapel is modern, it's sleek and highly artistic; most impressively though it maintains these aesthetics whilst still having character, heart and a deep connection to those using it. It's a perfect cultural response to a gap in society and a heartfelt addition to Shanghai City - David Mousa.
Andee Hess, founder of Portland, and his Oregon-Based Osmose have done their magic in Miami where they have helped revive what was a tired Coral Gables neighborhood bank by turning it into Small Tea, a tea boutique concept by Daniel Charles Joseph Benoudiz.
Small Tea extolls the benefits of real human connection via the consumption of tea under a canopy of 1,250 boxes wrapped in abaca or manila hemp, a type of banana-tree fiber used for baskets in some tea-growing areas.
We, of course, notice the elegant use of wood and wood slats, and oval and rounded accents, all of which helps evoke a tranquil sense of order and serenity.
Last fall, Hess and Osmose helped Portland’s Stumptown Coffee establish its swanky presence in New York’s Greenwich Village with reclaimed church pews and other previously loved pieces creating a great been-here-forever atmosphere. - Tuija Seipell.
Humming puppy? That’s quite a kooky name for a luxe Melbourne yoga studio – the humming is a nod to the Arup audio engineer designed sound system that delivers an exquisite hum soundtrack around the yoga studio; the puppy is a nod to the ubiquitous downward dog yoga pose.
Clients leave a nondescript inner-city Prahran side street, climb a set of industrial stairs into the studio (known here as a shala) and enter a cocooned space where every detail of the design – custom lighting, soundtrack and interiors is geared towards preparing yogis physically and mentally for their practice.
Co-founders Jackie Alexander and Chris Koch wanted to create a different yoga studio experience – part day spa pampering, part ‘get on that mat’ yoga practice and worked with architects (and yoga practitioners) Louisa Macleod and Karen Abernethy and ARUP to create a new kind of studio.
The studio space features Silvertop Ash shiplap interior cladding that gives it a minimalist barn feel. Walls have extra layers of soundproofing to genuinely cocoon clients from the outside world. The 380 square metres yoga studio (known as a shala) features three tiers of mats, accommodating up to 39 students per class, soaring 10-metre high ceilings and engineered oak floorboards. Clients can book specific sanitized mats online before classes.
“Conceptually the preparation area (front of house) is intended as a 'refuge' - pure, simple and white with touches of timber,” says Louisa. “Whereas the yoga practice space is intended as a 'sublime' space, a universe of its own complete with pure black walls and linings.” The entire studio is sound proofed (well there is a pole dancing studio next door) and a Sonos system pipes in a specially commissioned soundtrack of soundwaves at 40hz - a frequency associated with ‘gamma’ brain wave activity and states of peak performance; it is meant to help people tune into the practice and not get distracted. Another layer of sound comes in the form of a 7.83hz, otherwise known as the Schumann Resonance that helps to 'ground' yogis during practice. Together they create an unmistakable hum that resonates throughout the classes. The shala is heated to exactly 27 degrees by a series of radiant heat panels too so it is all rather idyllic for yoga practitioners.
Clients can just turn up in their yoga gear – all props such as mat, belts, blocks, shower/workout towels and meditation cushions are supplied. Bathrooms offer five-star standards – fresh towels, toiletries, hair straighteners, driers even lockers with phone charging capability.
Amenities aside, real innovation here is the ingenious soundtrack. Co-founder Koch (an IT entrepreneur who created successful startup 1Form) had a “lightbulb moment” to add the gamma soundtrack to classes to stop people getting too distracted during their poses and tune into their practice. Humming Puppy also does the “afterclass”; offering chilled coconut water and warm green tea. Humming Puppy seems to have found a happy balance between luxury and simplicity. Says Louisa: “Luxury can be attributed to the generosity of space. This balance is maintained by a simple and raw material selection combined with fine detailing in the construction and the touches of more fine materials (brass etc.) in some of the fittings.”
For co-owner Jackie, the afterclass experience is key. “We wanted a place where people could hang out,” says Jackie. “We felt what was lacking in a lot of yoga studios.” There is a clear advantage in the architects genuinely understanding the end-users’ needs. Says Louisa: “The fact that we both practice yoga and have done so in many places all over the world definitely informed the design process as we know how a good yoga studio should function. We are aware of the rituals and how the spaces should flow.” - Emily Ross.
Over the past two years, architect Robert Mills (Robert Mills Architects and Interior Designers) and his yoga-enthusiast spouse, Lucinda Mills, have created a sophisticated yoga and Pilates emporium in Melbourne’s South Yarra neighbourhood.
The business, One Hot Yoga, is divided into four studios that occupy space at three addresses. Studio 1 (One Hot Yoga) is at 36 River Street, Studio 2 (One Hot Yoga and Mat Pilates) is at 46 River Street, and right next door at 48 River Street is the newest addition, Studios 3 and 4 (One Hot Pilates).
In total, the studios take up nearly 800 square meters (about 8600 square feet) of space. We love the reception area with its minimalist customized furnishings, glass-covered display case and views of the inner courtyard with its lush greenery.
Simplicity, natural materials, finely controlled lighting and tone-on-tone colour schemes create a gracious and calm environment for all of the spaces. Elegant touches, such as heavy linen curtains and beautiful change rooms enhance the ambiance of understated luxury. Tuija Seipell
A science and engineering museum’s café project inspired interior designer and photographer Anna Wigandt to create a cool space for enjoyment and study, but she also invented a few products of her own.
The Science Cafe & Library is located in Wigandt’s home town, Chişinău (formerly known as Kishinev), the capital city of Moldova on the river Bîc.
The main features of the self-serve café and library are the jigsaw-puzzle table and the book displays.
The table’s inspiration, according to Wigandt, was German astronomer Johannes Kepler’s 1596 book, Mysterium Cosmographicum (Cosmic Mystery) that dealt with the proportions of celestial bodies.
The modular table’s various configurations allow set-ups from small: each café visitor can form their own work table, to large: lecture groups to gather around one big table.
The surrounding book displays are divided into eight topic areas ranging from Shipbuilding and Astronautics to Nuclear Science and Biological Engineering, each identified with the striking lettering.
The greatest achievement in this project, however, is the lighting. The designer ended up inventing a few engineering marvels of her own in the process. The chandelier was created specifically for the space out of 408 actual test-tubes. The same tubes were used for the pendants hanging from the meatal rigging above the table.
The celestial darkness of ceiling give the entire space an aura of being outdoors, under midnight sky. We also like the hexagons, chevrons and honeycomb patterns on the walls and floor. - Tuija Seipell.
Many of the trends we are seeing – and liking - in retail, hospitality, services and even urban planning, deal with smaller size because a strong, growing segment of us is tired of Big.
We want small, independent, pop-up, mobile, local, rogue. But – and this is an important but – we want it served up to us in a professional manner, we do not want amateur fumbling even from the smallest providers.
In essence, we want what we cannot have from the mega-malls, big boxes, airports, big brands or grocery giants. And that leads to another important ‘but’. We want small BUT we still want the big, too. Nothing new here, but it still seems that many brands, marketers and researchers have a hard time dealing with the fact that we are not black-and-white, either-or. We are both-and, plus a little extra.
You cannot divide consumer habits into age categories or behaviours the way you could a decade or two ago. We are indeed picking and choosing from each basket, and we will continue to do so, but we are choosing small significantly more often than we used to.
It is hard to imagine someone whose ideal living environment - city, town or village – would be a vast expanse of gigantic malls where global brands offer indistinguishable wares in boring lookalike stores, or where cavernous big boxes ply cheap goods stacked up floor to ceiling. Acres of parking lots; people always in cars. And actual “living” taking place separately in isolated enclaves, and working in yet another isolated location.
More and more frequently, we envision the ideal living environment as something quite similar to a traditional small town or vibrant village. Or a neighbourhood with people, services and work all within walking or biking distance.
We believe that this trend is going to get stronger and stronger, and it will be good for the businesses that understand their niche and offer their customers true value: something that is worth their money and time.
Small businesses are the essence of such neighbourhoods and towns. They are the glue that makes it all stick together. They bring people together, they create small oasis of lovely interaction.
But just like in the traditional small town, today’s small businesses must try harder. From the startup on, they must earn their place in the circle. The merchants and service providers in the old towns were professionals of their trade. They knew their customers, they respected them and they worked hard at earning their trust. The same is true today.
This trend, as we said earlier, is nothing new. It has been brewing for a long time in step with our overall dissatisfaction with the big, faceless brands and their outsourced, hopelessly horrible “service.” When Seth Godin wrote about the topic in 2005, we all took notice. Yet today, almost a decade later, it is still only a trend. But we believe it’s time has finally come.
Big brands offer smaller
One aspect of this trend is seen in the behavior of many big brands that are opening smaller-scale stores, restaurants and hotels that are more intimate, offer a more tightly edited selection of products and services, are targeted and tailored to meet individual local markets, and usually also pay more attention to design and local tastes.
We are also seeing a renaissance of boutique-scale businesses; stores, hotels, restaurants and services that do not plan to grow bigger, only better. These are often one-store or one-hotel operations that gain a dedicated, loyal client base by understanding their customers better than their bigger competitor chains.
Unfortunately, many of these become so successful that the bigger competitors want to buy them out in order to either remove them from the market or to gain some of their halo. Usually, with such buy-outs, the aura of the independent, owner-operated business disappears and the previously so loyal clientele moves on. The heart is gone from the business and the clients can see it.
Of course, another much-talked-about aspect of this trend are pop-ups. Any brand worth their reputation has opened pop-ups by now, but it is still an appealing proposition for both brands and customers. Pop-ups liven up neighbourhoods, malls and streets with new, temporary offerings. They give big and small businesses an opportunity to test markets, products and services. They give businesses a chance to benefit from temporarily empty spaces. And they liven up potentially dead storefronts.
Pop-ups will still continue although we are also seeing some fatigue as some businesses now use pop-up as their chance to have regular blow-out sales and other repeating offerings that dilute the surprise factor and excitement of pop-ups. Perhaps there will be a new, more exciting reiteration of the pop-up that will bring back the excitement?
In the manner of the ice cream truck, milk man, shoe-polish box and hot-dog stand of the past, mobile offerings are also growing around the world. From food carts and mobile cafes to bike services and mobile pet spas, new, exciting businesses are popping up as mobile carts.
Many cities have been forced to alter their laws to accommodate these temporary, mobile businesses that often do not fit under the laws created for permanent, bigger operators. We think this is all to the good. While laws and regulations are necessary, they need to become much more flexible and nimble to adapt to startups and small operators that add desirable flavor, colour, excitement and convenience to their surroundings.
Also part of the mobile, portable phenomenon, are the various dwellings, hotels and businesses housed in repurposed shipping containers. The Illy Café in New York in 2007 garnered a much attention and a multitude of reiterations of the idea now pop up daily.
One valuable consequence from striving for smaller, portable, mobile, inexpensive, sustainable pop-up is that many forms of temporary housing options, portable clinics, schools and water purification stations and so on have become not just curiosities but real solutions in far-flung places and/or difficult conditions to help in areas of catastrophe, extreme poverty and environmental crises.
As poverty has often turned out to be the mother of invention, we believe that this is one area where sometimes even the silliest-seeming ideas can actually be transformed into real relief and smart solutions where they are most needed. As we who have everything in excess “play with our food”, perhaps we will in the process find ways – and the will – to relieve suffering everywhere.
We also believe that our exasperation with conspicuous consumption – that is partially expressed in our desire for everything smaller – has also helped to bring about a new kind of helping culture. We are starting to consider the consequences of all of our actions as companies, teams and individuals, rather than doing whatever it takes to momentarily satisfy our desire for the next fix for our inner emptiness, or to blindly and impotently try to meet the shareholders’ relentless demand for bigger profits.
The small mobile business is tied to another aspect of this trend – locality. More and more people want to buy local, not just food but other products and services as well. And while it is difficult for a small, new operator to compete with the prices of an established, strong brand, we feel that local businesses and local initiatives will continue to grow in popularity.
What we do know as well is that whether a business is local or small, it still has to meet the needs of today’s demanding clientele.
Many small operators seem to believe that just because they are passionate about their business and because they want to do it, customers somehow owe them their patronage. That is not the case today, and it never was.
We will not part with our time or money – at least not repeatedly – if we are not getting great service and great products. Being small, local or independent will carry a business only so far. A loyal customer base will not develop out of pity or shame.
Professional branding is also a given today. And that does not necessarily mean having to spend a lot in the creation of logos and package design, although it may mean those as well. What it does mean is that if you are going to succeed, you will need to be able to charge a premium price. And to charge that price, you need to look and behave like a brand that knows who it is and what it does and why it exists.
Clear messaging, cohesive visuals, well thought-through customer experience, professional staff – all of these are important. And yet, you can achieve all this without having to appear or behave like a pretentious branding exercise with a fake story and dumb logo. It is all about knowing who you are, what you offer and why your valued customers should spend their time and money with you. All the basics of business still apply.
The last aspect of the Small is the New Big trend that we’ll cover in this article is what we’ll call Rogue concepts. They incorporate many of the other aspects of the trend with the added appeal of a grass-roots initiative.
The Rogue concepts add the empowering angle of people taking to the streets, creating their own “brands”, doing it their way, breaking the rules.
This, perhaps more than any of the other aspects, speaks to the true core of the entire trend. We are tired of giving our power – and time and money – to the Big Brand. There’s an undercurrent of sophisticated protest. Call it idle nonsense of the well-heeled, if you like, but we think it is part of a serious undercurrent. The world of Wall-E is not quite as absurd as we’d perhaps like to think and the power to change it is in our hands. - Tuija Seipell.
Images 1,2,3 - Happy Bones Cafe, NYC, images 4/5 - Grey Goose Pop up bar in Edinburgh., Image 6 - Intelligentsia coffee van, Image 7 - Sigmund Pretzels, Image 9 - LA Distributrice - Montreal, Image 10 - Omotesando coffee - Japan, Image 11 - Velopresso Mobile Espresso bar, Image 13 - Box Park - London, Last image - Homer Wine packaging