Ever realised that great ideas and inspiring work often abound in places away from your typically sterile office—such as when you’re comfortably perched within a luxury hotel lobby, at your corner coffee shop, or in the midst of chit-chatting with like-minded friends?
Such is the phenomenon that laid the groundwork and inspiration for Singapore-hailed visionary entrepreneur, Jaelle Ang, to found the co-working company The Great Room in 2016. Trained as an architect with a few years of banking under her belt—Jaelle has helmed developments of the likes of Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok and all-suites Capella Hotel—she envisions the brand to be a "a relentless, naive but important pursuit to make the work environment as human as possible.”
Within a few short years, The Great Room has amassed a great following for precisely that and more; its ardent dedication towards luxuriously-crafted interiors and hospitality-driven service rivalling any five-star hotel has placed it ahead of its competitors. On top of three locations in Singapore, it has expanded to Bangkok and recently, its newest outpost in Hong Kong—a premium 24,000sqft space at One Taikoo Place that opened last month.
We sit down with Jaelle to chat about why a great space is the key to doing great work.
Why did you call the brand The Great Room?
In many of the world’s finest homes, a space known as The Great Room forms the heart of the property. It’s an area that lends itself to quiet private discussions, moments of thought and study—but that also serves spectacularly for meeting, socialising, and entertaining, whether intimately or on a grand scale.
It’s a superb spot for a think or a drink, for business or for pleasure. This is the inspiration behind ‘The Great Room’.
The Great Room really stands out for its plush, luxurious design. How did the aesthetic come to be?
Design is a large part of The Great Room’s DNA. We believe in the power of the interior to amplify and express a brand. Design is beyond aesthetic, it is a thought process, a skill, a lens for a life better lived. It’s a very innate and primal thing—it is a way of taking care of people.
For every location, we craft a narrative that is inspired by its local surrounding. Taikoo’s past as a sugar refinery was a perfect backdrop for the larger than life forms and palette of burnt sugar for our design concept.
The Great Room’s signature Drawing Room captures a ‘wow’ hero moment upon entrance. We boldly constructed larger than life curves on the ceiling of the main Drawing Room to throw out the old ‘power lobby’ look and reminisce the forms in a sugar refinery. Leather-wrapped door handles on the sliding timber frame doors convey the robustness and energy of a working factory floor.
The dedicated offices ditched corporate grey system furniture for warm timbre desks paired with cognac-hued task chairs that are actually inviting. The workhall, with hot desks and hot offices created for mobile workers, are framed by highly acclaimed Hong Kong and Paris-based fashion photographer, Laurent Segretier. When not behind your desks, one aces conversations in The Great Room’s decked out hotel-like amenity spaces.
We design work desks and meeting tables that people actually love and want to be working from. The materiality and the warmth of wood cannot be substituted. There is no reason to save a few hundred dollars to have system furniture, when one can create positive feelings working, thinking and getting inspired on a desk made of real and thoughtfully detailed wood.
Did you expect the success of The Great Room, especially in just 3 years?
We’ve never been the operator expanding at breakneck speed, whatever the costs; we believe in controlled growth in a sustainable way and we prioritise launches in markets that our members want to do business in. We only launch when we feel all the factors come together—a like-minded landlord, a great location supported by high-performance building infrastructure, and most importantly, a market with sufficient depth and breadth to reward segmentation and sophistication.
Hong Kong is a very vibrant and exciting market for us. We see winning Hong Kong as a very important springboard for our expansion strategy across Asia-Pacific. One cannot win Asia-Pacific without winning Singapore and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, we are focused on telling our brand story, building out with a few more locations, demonstrate superior unit economics here and the rest will come. Regionally, our goal is to establish a presence in key financial centres in Asia in the next 3 years.
How do you see the trends in the co-working space in Asia?
The biggest opportunity in the sector will be segmentation in the coming 12-18 months; we already saw that coming when we started in 2016.
For people who have adopted working in a shared workplace, they are getting much more design savvy and sophisticated. We refuse to accept “the way work has been”; instead, we want to get more out of productivity, business relationships and interactions, work-life balance, sustainability, wellness, networking and work environment design. The mass-market product and ubiquitous co-working offering of the last 15 years will not suffice.
The next largest opportunity is amenitising the office tower. Building owners want us to provide much more than just the flexible work-piece; we are becoming the go-to partner to master-mind, design, build and operate an integrated amenity for working, wellness and nourishment in the office building. This is the beginning of an exciting change in how we work, play, learn and grow.
A multi-hyphenate, entrepreneur and mother, how do you balance it all?
I have an unreasonable belief in having it all. I believe that one can have it all, just not all at the same time.
And I no longer believe in seeking balance in life, I feel it’s like a trap to do that. It is important to seek the deepest clarity of what are the glass balls and rubber balls in your life now.
There are 5 balls in my life—health, spouse and kids, family, career and social. I always remind myself that my health is the glass ball—if I drop it, it could break irreversibly. My career is a rubber ball, it is likely that I will hit the ground (because it doesn’t ever, I am probably not doing enough or doing anything worthwhile) at some point in time, but I can and will bounce back.
What does good design mean to you?
Good design is inherently deeply empathetic, but at the same time gives the imagination and possibility for people to make the space their own. Otherwise, there is no life, no soul and no character.
Our role as creators of design is to design something that supports the imagination and growth of the people that are using it, and not to impose an aesthetic we have in mind. Good design must be lovable, hospitable, inhabitable and most of all inspiring greater work than the design itself.
Name a few things or people that have been particularly inspiring to you recently.
My eldest daughter (6 years old) told her little sister as she was completing a drawing: “Mine is a simple idea, so I have to take it very seriously.” It is the single most uplifting and focused thought I’ve recently had.
What is next for the brand?
The Great Room is borne from wanting it all - a stubborn belief that work can and must be joyful and productive because we spend so much time there. This is the first time in decades that commercial real estate is seeing massive disruption and I get this opportunity to change the way people feel about going to work.
I envision The Great Room being a dominant brand in the premium shared workplace sector, endeared by people who want to work and live larger.