The Business Times, Singapore

14th May 1999

mao3-fr.jpg (77075 bytes)

House of Mao III is currently under off-site construction, scheduled to open early Y2K. Located at Bailey's Hotel, London, The RED Book is owned by Millennium & Copthorne Hotels UK and managed by House of Mao Restaurants, Singapore

caligraphy_MAO3.jpg (72748 bytes)

mao-frame2.jpg (28355 bytes)

Project Team Singapore:
Ed Poole, Rey Tadifa, Wong Kim Mei, Siegfredo Lopez, Johnson Yap

Project Team UK [Leeds]:
Andrew Jones


T  H  E    R  E  D    B  O  O  K

Mao on a roll and heading for London

Andrew Tjioe, the indefatigable president of the Tung Lok Group is all set to take London with his third House of Mao restaurant expected to open there later this year.

The latest feather in Mr. Tjioe's revolutionary cap is a Best New Concept award, conferred in Hong Kong by trade publication Restaurants Asia. Mr. Tjioe won the award for his "tongue-in-cheek" and "hugely successful" House of Mao.

According to the folks at Tung Lok, international interest in the House of Mao's winning formula has been strong - Mr. Tjioe has been approached to franchise the operations worldwide. Strongly supported by the Singapore Tourism Board, House of Mao, according to Mr. Tjioe, may be Singapore's answer to international chains such as Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood.

Awarded the prestigious "Five Star Diamond Award" as one of the world's Best Chefs by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences this year and Canada's Chef of the Year 1997. Described as a legend among Toronto chefs, Celebrity Chef Susur Lee has moved his entire family to Singapore and is full time with Tung Lok Group as Executive Culinary Consultant.

A recent addition to the House of Mao team is Mr. John Lee who worked with Susur at Lotus in Toronto. John has relocated to London.

Custom made gold and black lacquer Mao calligraphy panels featured in the dining room 2000mm x 400mm each

mao-bonsai.jpg (70222 bytes)

Framed black & white photographs depicting the life of Mao Tze Tung adorn the walls and showcases, along with original examples of the RED book.

House of Mao III: The RED Book will present an ambience of subtle Chinese sophistication reminiscent of the graceful time period before the Cultural Revolution.

mao-redbk.jpg (26192 bytes)

Footnote : The Red Book never opened. The containers with all items for the fit-out arrived in the UK as per schedule. Poole Associates was informed of the projects demise by the Hotel receptionist on a site visit Jan 2, 2002. Tung Lok and CDL never bothered to tell us the job was dead - thanks guys. 



By Mimi Hockman : ID Magazine

Oct | Nov 1997

int1.jpg (6895 bytes)

Andrew Jones                        Ed Poole







MIMI HOCKMAN catches up with Ed Poole and Andrew Jones of the six and a half year-old architectural and design firm POOLE ASSOCIATES, during a pause in their dizzy schedule, for some lively conversation on their distinctive brand of work. The two have just returned the night before from Beijing where they had gone to investigate and source for their current project, House of Mao. In between mouthfuls of Fiddleheads' delectables, they speak about their 'fresh insight' approach to design, past and current jobs, sources of inspiration -- and being expats doing 'New Asian' designs.

(About visiting Beijing for the House of Mao)
ED  I suppose you could call what we're trying to create 'a casual theme restaurant called the House of Mao.' So we needed to go and get the feel of what it must have been like back in the '50s and '60s. That and to taste the food. It's quite spicy, this Hunanese-type fare. Our design was already 50% done, but now we'll make a couple of alterations to make it a little bit more authentic....
Based on the food?
ED  Well, the food and just getting a feel for the character of Beijing. We were also looking for authentic things, like these light fittings that are from Tiananmen Square.
Where is (House of Mao) going to be?
ED  Down here on Telok Ayer Street at the China Square Food Centre.
ANDREW  (Beijing) was a much more modern city than we expected it to be. Much more organized.
E  The architecture is very monumental...
A  ...planned to the nth degree.
E  There are these tremendous trees lining very wide boulevards. Every building is very classically oriented with pediments and Schinkelesque symmetry, but all with a Chinese twist to it. Even the modern buildings are great. And the railway station is incredible.
With this project I suppose the answer is fairly obvious, but with your other jobs, by what criteria do you decide how the design should be?
E  The first thing obviously is the brief by the client, second would probably be the location, where a project fits within the city, or even within a specific building...
...and that would influence the design?
E  ...yes, of course it would, because often when you go into a room or a space and you know what the program is, whether it's going to be a restaurant or an office or whatever, you can get a general read of the space to feel what will be a comfortable, logical orientation for the layout. Then, after that, of course, there'd be the budget and then the commercial viability of what we're doing.
...meaning what?
E  Well, for instance, if someone tells us they want to do another cafe, we say 'do you seriously want to enter a saturated market...'
A  ...when there are lots of big boys already playing the game, can we really take them on?
E  We've kind of learned the hard way that while we're always trying to push the aesthetics of new design, we can't go too far because if people don't relate to it, then it won't work in Singapore. The market here is just too small to not be very careful about commercial viability.
A  And in these niche markets, you need to understand the types of people whom you're dealing with, who live or work in that area. And cater the design to suit that target clientele.
E  A good example of that would be the Haagen-Dazs at Century Square (in Tampines) versus the design for Qhue at Pasir Panjang Village. The design approach from the very beginning would be totally different because the demographics are worlds apart.
What percentage of your work now is residential and what percentage commercial?
E  Well, our current residential projects will be our last.
A  It's the most difficult, time-consuming and least cost effective thing to get done. If you don't have a client who is clued in with your vision, it can be very soul-destroying. We find that many people are attached to that well-worn sofa from University days and it's very difficult to get them to move away from that and go in a more refined and minimalist direction.
E  Yes, that always irritates me tremendously -- when a client says 'oh, let's just throw this into the corner of the room'. It's important to plan where things can go, especially if they're monumental pieces. They need to have a place to be put that makes sense of the overall scheme.
Do you find that each successive job is an evolution of the one that came before? And do you feel you can go a little bit further from the last job?
E  Yes and no. You can be going in one direction but you're also veering off into all these different paths at the same time. And sometimes a path is cut altogether, but might be resurrected again several years later because of some new design movement where the market now accepts something that it didn't before. And of course, each client is different, so we can't repeat the same thing.
A  There's actually the demand of time and the client's money to consider. As soon as they put down a deposit or rental on the lease, the clock is ticking and they want us to produce as quickly as possible. It's difficult to always be coming up with new ideas all the time. You have to go out there and find other influences or hope the client will come to you with a brief that you haven't really thought of before. That can take you off in a completely different direction, but you have to do some research very quickly and find out what it is they're looking for and whether it fits the market.
Do you have many clients that come to you with inspired ideas or ideas that inspire you?
E  Oh yes, definitely. In fact, House of Mao is a very good example. The client was very clear about what he wants to have happen and now we're developing that idea together. It's going to be a multi-layered expression when it's done, with a lot of sublime messages.
It's not going to be a take-off of the China club in Hongkong?
E  Oh no, no. That's way more upmarket. House of Mao is about frugality. A basic noodle bar kind of thing, but very fun -- a little tongue-in-cheek in a way.
Is this going to be an outlet specific to Singapore or regional?
E  They have plans to go abroad as well.
Do you find that most of your business is in Singapore or do you have a lot of projects abroad?
E  Right now it's mostly here but a year and a half ago, we were actually doing 90% outside, mostly in Indonesia.
How do you get most of your jobs?
E  We don't get them, they come to us. We have never gone out specifically to market ourselves.
But how does it happen?
A  First, of course, there's our reputation for quality work. And some of it comes through publications and design magazines, and these magazines tend to circulate within the design community -- which is not necessarily where commercial clients would look. You do find that residential clients will go and look in a magazine if they're looking to do a new apartment. One recent client came to us having seen something of ours in a magazine and now we're doing her flat, but things like office jobs tend to be referrals. A lot of the time it's the same company coming back, moving into a new building or needing expansion space. For example, we've been working with DY&R (Dentsu, Young and Rubicam) for 6 years now.
Tell me a little bit about where your ideas and inspiration comes from.
E  That's an interesting question -- interesting in a philosophical sense. Where does any inspiration come from?
Well, Jungian philosophy aside, I realise it's going to be different for every project but for instance, with (a private apartment in Casa Rosita), did you derive any of your ideas from your concept of the owner?
E  As with any job, the first thing is the format: he wanted to knock out a bedroom because it wasn't useful and turn it into another function. He didn't like the cramped feel of the dining room and he had a general idea of a certain kind of ambience he wanted, certain kinds of materials. He also had a collection of art that he wanted to display. Out of that we started to get an overall picture. Then you enter into more conversations, and eventually, the job develops. In his case, we saw that he was very open-minded so we started throwing in ideas about using some very strange materials, but you know, the horse hair-lined cabinets did not get built.
So with that you drew from his character and his criteria, and with commercial food projects, you might get some inspiration from the food itself...
E  Well, with Rubino's, we started with the concept of ribs. What are ribs about? What is the history of ribs. And that's how we ended up with Bobby Rubino's, a kind of 60's jazz supper club atmosphere. There's always some kind of generating factor. A lot of it is just keeping your ears open and listening to what the client is telling you, and sometimes what they're not telling you.
A  Then quite often, you have to interpret that and take it further than what they think they want, because quite often, they're not clear.
E  It's a matter of trying to pick up on clues that will lead us to the next level.
Do you find that clients are generally agreeable to your ideas or does it take some convincing?
A  It's not like, they talk to us, then we go away and spend two weeks doing something and then we get back to them. We're always in contact. The thing becomes a synergy between us and them and we're all going in the same direction.
E  So we tend to hit on one idea and go with that. But we never submit scheme a, b and c and then convince them to go with one. And so far, we've never had an idea rejected, because a solution is based on logical common sense.
How do you find the competition here? And who would be the competition?
E What competition...?
...Of course.
E  But seriously, the Singapore economy is still so buoyant, there's a lot of open scope for lots of different kinds of projects. We really don't compete against other firms.
A  We do have clients who come to us and say that they are talking to other designers...
And when that happens, who are those people or firms?
E  Hirsch Bedner, Bedmar & Shi, Tony Chi Associates, Andree Putman...
Does being expats in Singapore have any impact on your doing design business here?
E  My one complaint about doing business here is that the cost of living is higher for foreigners because we don't have the opportunities of housing. You're stuck with very little opportunity for your basic need, which is housing. Consequently, the fees must be a little bit higher. The smallest shophouse on this island is at least $1.5 mil and that's what, twenty thousand dollars a month on a mortgage which is, let's face it, just not possible on today's design fees. So, we're out of the market for HDB and can't go into private property. It causes me to question whether there is any long term viability because I'm losing my retirement to rent.
But, as expats, you don't feel discriminated against when it comes to getting jobs?
A  No, that's never been a problem, it's just, as an expat, it's difficult to live in Singapore because of the expense. We have, however, had a few Asian clients who approach us to do an Asian concept and they will say to our face, 'How can you do an Asian concept, you come from the UK and America, what do you know about Asia?' And all we can answer is that Ed's been here for eight years and I've been here for four, and we've kept our eyes open. Actually, it's easier for us to look at what's interesting from the outside as we tend to pick up things that a lot of locals miss because it's too common to them. We have the benefit of fresh insight. Also, we tend to re-evaluate the old things whereas a lot of the local designers only look for new things. And all the new stuff generally comes from the west.
What's been your biggest project to date?
E  Biggest, as in most influential, would have to be the restaurant, Blue Ginger.
A  It seemed to focus the direction of the company and at the same time, really crystallize our ideas.
E  We didn't necessarily get jobs from it! But I find that we're on these kind of parallel paths where certain design ideas perpetuate and yet morph with each new job. One of those paths is a sort of non-design, for instance, with Hooters. But Blue Ginger was the node on the path which we like to call 'New Asian' Design. This includes projects like DY&R, Qhue, China Jump, House of Mao, and the Casa Rosita apartment, to some respect.
Besides House of Mao, what other projects do you have in the works now?
E  The Singapore Police Association for National Servicemen's clubhouse on Orchard Road, a large penthouse in Holland Village, an apartment in Regency Park, Revox in Suntec City, the British Council renovation of their lobby and office, DDB Singapore, the headquarters for Jay Gee Enterprises (Levi's)...(to Andrew) is that all (on the list)?

next page home