Roy Teo: Space inventor

/ EdgeProp Singapore
March 13, 2020 10:00 AM SGT
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Long associated with the luxury showflats that he designed while at the helm of The I.D. Dept, the owner of The Mill Group wants to take on more experimental projects under his solely-owned design firm, Kri:eit Associates

The Mill with its towers and turrets stands out among its neighbours, industrial buildings of glass and steel cladding (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Most people driving along Jalan Kilang do a double-take when they see The Mill, which resembles a castle with towers and turrets and all-black façade. It is a striking contrast to the typical glass and steel-clad buildings in the vicinity, a B1 industrial area in Bukit Merah.
Up close, the twin six-storey towers are a melding of two architectural styles — Art Deco and Gothic — by two established architectural firms working in concert. One of them is American architect James Adams, whose most famous work in Singapore is the Parkview Square office building on North Bridge Road, which has earned the moniker of “Gotham City”. The other is Singapore’s oldest architectural firm, Swan and MacLaren, which designed many of Singapore’s monuments, such as St Andrew’s Cathedral, Stamford House (now luxury hotel The Capitol Kempinski Singapore) as well as Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.
Teo: While there’s a need to strike a balance between style and functionality, I want to show how even small spaces can still be pleasant to live in (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The Mill was the brainchild of its owner, Roy Teo, group managing director of The Mill Group and founder of four interior design boutiques: Kri:eit Associates, The I.D. Dept, Splendor and XXII Century.
The original property had a three-storey block and a single-storey structure built in the early 1960s. When Teo purchased it in 2005, a rice merchant had been operating there for many years. Teo retained him as a tenant for the next eight years. “It was a charming little pocket-sized building,” he relates. “It was very interesting to see people in singlets delivering rice, like in the good old days.” Hence, he named the building The Mill.
Throughout the 10 years that he was operating out of the old building, the half-utilised plot ratio and the desire to redevelop the property were always at the back of his mind. “As much as I wanted to redevelop it, I was quite sad to demolish it because it had so much history,” he says.
The original building, where The Mill Group was headquartered for 10 years before it was torn down and redeveloped in 2015 (Photo: The Mill Group)

‘Embassy for creative designers’

The old structure was torn down five years ago and the new one completed in 2017. “The intention of creating The Mill was first of all, because we outgrew the old space,” says Teo. “Second, we recognised early on that the most interesting part of our business was meeting other like-minded people in the creative industry because of the combustion of energy and ideas. The whole objective of redeveloping The Mill to the full GFA [gross floor area] was to be able to house more like-minded people so that we can have such meetings all the time.”
The other desire for wanting to redevelop the property was also to “fulfil my original dream of having a place like Terence Conran’s Conran Shop at Michelin House in London”, he says.
Curated tenants at The Mill include bespoke menswear tailor Kevin Seah, French Vietnamese graffiti artist Cyril Kongo, luxury watch magazine Revolution and The Editor’s Market, a multi-label fashion retailer.
A typical office unit at The Mill has 6m ceiling height and 2.4m tall windows. The units on the second level have approval for F&B use (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Other designers using The Mill as their base when they are in Singapore include the 179-year-old, Paris-based French interior design firm Rinck and David Boucher, an Australian bespoke furniture maker who has also gained fame for designing the interiors of Rolls-Royce Ghost and vintage Rolls-Royce. “The Mill has become a sort of embassy for creative designers,” says Teo.
The interiors of The Mill are designed as loft-style offices with 6m ceilings, 2.4m tall windows. Most of the units come with a spiral staircase leading to a mezzanine level. Typical office units range in size from about 2,500 to 3,000 sq ft. The building has a total GFA of about 27,000 sq ft and sits on an 11,800 sq ft site with a 99-year lease from 1961. “The lease is so old that the title deed was signed by the Sultanate,” says Teo.
The outdoor event space on the second level (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Beyond a specialist in showflats

Teo established Kri:eit Associates in 1997, and when his designs began to attract the attention of property developers, he launched The I.D. Dept as a specialist in showflat design. His first project was the design of showflats for a low-rise condominium at King Albert Park. It was the redevelopment of a former depot of SBS Transit. “Very soon, the rest of the developers started looking me up and that started a 20-year career of designing showflats,” says Teo.
During the last residential property upturn in 2005–2007, property developers also started engaging international star architects to design their projects in Singapore. “However, when they decided to hire a star architect, they didn’t make provision for a star interior designer to showcase the project,” says Teo.
He decided to turn his 2,379 sq ft, four-bedroom unit at Marina Bay Residences into the ultimate luxury show suite. He had purchased the unit when the project was launched in December 2006, during which all 428 units were sold out within three days.
View of Marina Bay from one of the high-floor units at Marina Bay Residences (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
When Teo received the keys to his apartment at Marina Bay Residences in 2010, he completely gutted the interiors. “Everyone who walks into the apartment naturally heads to the window to just gaze out onto Marina Bay,” says Teo. “It’s hard to compete with that view. The trick is to not fight it but to subdue the backdrop.”

Complete transformation

He customised lighting fixtures to mimic the surrounding landmarks, for instance the Singapore Flyer and Raffles City Tower. This was done to “create a subliminal visual connection with the view outside”, explains Teo.
He designed a curved glass enclosure for the previously open kitchen. The bedroom adjacent to the living room was converted into a media room. Designed as a boys’ club with dark panelling, ceiling mirror, a multimedia screen, and high-end furniture designed by David Linley, the Queen of England’s nephew. The media room can be turned into a guest room as the lounge settee can be transformed into a sofa bed.
The media room is designed like a private boys' club, ideal for whiskey and cigars and in the evening, the sofa bed can be pulled out and it becomes a guest room (Photo: Kri:eit Associates)
The walk-in wardrobe of the master bedroom was turned into a gentleman’s wardrobe inspired by the interiors of vintage trains, while another bedroom was turned into a lady’s wardrobe area with wall-mounted ledges, hanging rods and trunks.
Meanwhile, the master bathroom was designed to feel like “an amber cave, illuminated by glowing stones”. One of the walls features hand-bevelled, diamond-shaped mirrors fitted together like a jigsaw. The shower area has a wall of honey-coloured onyx and the vanity countertop is also made of onyx. The vanity mirror has three different LED lighting modes that are ideal for ladies putting on their makeup. Another bathroom was designed with a nautical theme as the marble feature wall reminded Teo of the Antarctic.
“It was a massive transformation of the apartment,” says Teo. He declined to disclose the amount he spent, except that it was “an obscene amount”.
The master bathroom designed to feel like 'an amber cave, illuminated by glowing stones' (Photo: Kri:eit Associates)
In 2017, the apartment was purchased by a foreigner who paid $7.7 million ($3,237 psf) for it. According to URA caveats, it was the highest psf price for a unit sold in the development since 2015. The apartment was ideal as a pied-a-terre and office for the owner who wanted to set up his family office in Singapore, says Teo. And he was willing to pay a premium for the apartment and all the furnishing.

Experimenting with spaces

The year 2017 was a milestone year for Teo: It marked the completion of The Mill building; and the year he decided to sell his majority stake in The I.D. Dept to his other partners (he is now a minority shareholder). He relinquished the day-to-day running of The I.D. Dept after completing his 600th showflat.
Teo’s attention is now focused on Kri:eit Associates, which he runs solely. “Kri:eit used to be the special projects department and only took on about three projects a year,” says Teo.
For Cairnhill Nine, Kri:eit came up with the concept of a storage unit with sliding doors situated between the living room and bedroom
The apartment at Marina Bay Residences was undertaken by Kri:eit, which also designed the sales gallery and showflats for CapitaLand’s 268-unit Cairnhill Nine condo (launched in 2016 and fully sold) and MCL Land’s 309-unit Margaret Ville (launched in 2018 and more than 93% sold).
For Cairnhill Nine, Kri:eit came up with the concept of a storage unit with sliding doors situated between the living room and bedrooms. For Margaret Ville, Kri:eit designed units with ceiling storage for luggage. As land becomes more expensive and apartments contract in size, Teo believes in creating “pockets of space”. Having a high ceiling is a benefit as “one can live more vertically as well”, he adds. “So this is what I’ve been doing at Kri:eit.”
It was while he was heading The I.D. Dept that he came up with the concept of a versatile space within the apartment. It started with Qingjian’s executive condo project, Bellewoods, which was launched in 2014. The flexible space located next to the kitchen could be converted into a pantry, a helper’s room or a study. “I invented that space for them,” says Teo. Qingjian has since trademarked it as CoSpace.
At the Bellewoods executive condo, the flexible space located next to the kitchen could be converted into a pantry, a helper’s room or a study (Photo: The I.D. Dept)
As such, Teo believes he is more of “an inventor” rather than an interior designer. His other interests include restoring classic automobiles, engineering and mechanical design.

Striking a balance

The first classic car he restored was a Ferrari. The process took an entire year, and after completing it Teo felt as though “something was missing in my life”, he says. “I realised that I enjoyed the process of restoring it more than I enjoyed driving it. And I had to embark on another project.”
Teo is now exploring how people live on boats, caravans and in shipping container homes. “While there’s a need to strike a balance between style and functionality, I want to show how even small spaces can still be pleasant to live in,” he says.
At Margaret Ville, units come with ceiling storage space to free up precious floor space, further increasing efficiency of space use (Photo: Kri:eit Associates)
He believes he has found a niche by marrying classical architecture with the vending machine mindset in Japan, to create a concept that’s a blend of capsule hotel, serviced apartment and co-living. “I’m trying to position a new product that is exportable, and I would like Singapore to be a test-bed,” he says.
To focus on his next project, Teo has decided to sell The Mill building.
The price tag on the property is $28 million, with Alvin Choo, division director of ERA Realty, as the exclusive marketing agent. “There is a premium on this building,” says Choo. “It’s an architectural icon and a collector’s item.”
Even company owners from abroad have expressed interest in the building, says Choo. “Some of these interested parties are keen on using it as their corporate headquarters in Singapore,” he adds. “This asset is particularly suitable for design houses, high-end fashion companies or luxury brands that want to use it as their flagship property or headquarters, and even tech companies that want a trophy building.”
Cars at the car porch of The Mill includes a vintage Rolls-Royce that Teo restored (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
For price trends, recent transactions, other project info, check out these projects' research page: Cairnhill Nine, Bellewoods, Margaret Ville, Marina Bay Residences
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