From Singapore to Porto: Why turning his life upside down was Gabriel Tan's best move
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From Singapore to Porto: Why turning his life upside down was Gabriel Tan’s best move

Miles from home and in lockdown with family, the designer took inspiration for his new sofa from an unlikely source

By Robyn Willis
Sun, Mar 24, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 6 min

While the rest of the world was hunkering down in 2020 as the reality of COVID set in, Gabriel Tan was moving house — halfway around the world.

The Singaporean designer and his heavily pregnant wife Cherie Er relocated with their five-year-old son to Porto, on the coast of Portugal. It was a bold move given Tan had an established studio in Singapore, but the couple decided it was worth the risk to be in the heart of the design centres in Europe and the US.

“It was difficult because we had a good business in Singapore and my wife had a really good job — she was running the Asia Pacific sales for Credit Suisse,” he says. “We threw everything in the basket and moved to Portugal. 

“We decided that this design business has to work.”

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By the time Tan, who decided on a career in design while doing his national service in the navy, left for Portugal, he was already a name in Singapore and Japan, first with Outofstock, which he started with two friends, then his own studio before working with Japanese brand Ariake. 

“I met them when they were still doing contract manufacturing and they were a local brand that wasn’t even known in Tokyo,” he says.  “Originally the plan was just for me to design a few products for them. I told them that’s not going to move the needle for them if you are just going to add my products to your current collection so I suggested something more ambitious.  

“I kind of appointed myself as the creative director.”

Origin story

The experience with Ariake spurred Tan onto build his own brand, Origin Made, designing products and taking on interior design projects, but he was keen to continue to extend himself. 

Over time, living and working in a country of 5.5 million people was beginning to feel limiting.

With more of his time and attention being directed towards brands in Italy, Scandinavia and the United States, it made sense for Tan to make a permanent move to a location with easier access to Europe as well as North America. It was also an opportunity for a fresh start in design terms.

“I felt I was getting pigeon holed a little bit before COVID because people felt my work was very minimalist Japanese/Scandinavian, but it was because I was designing for Japanese clients,” he says. “When you work with a company, it is 50 percent them and 50 percent you. You bring part of yourself but at the same time, you can’t ignore the brand, their culture and their customers.”

Life in lockdown 

Like much of the rest of the world, Portugal was in lockdown when Tan and Er arrived and their rental accommodation was not entirely comfortable for the family. As some work dried up in Singapore, Tan found himself with time to think.

“We were spending a lot of time in front of the TV and we were all wishing we had a more comfortable couch in our apartment,” he says. 

“I was still waiting for my home to be finished construction so we were in a very uncomfortable spot. 

“I really prioritised comfort when I was designing this sofa so I really went for it and tried to think ‘what is the craziest, most comfortable form we could get’.”

 

The Luva, meaning ‘glove’ in Portuguese, draws inspiration from a boxing glove and Japanese futon. It is now part of the Herman Miller range, alongside classics such as the Eames lounge and ottoman.

The sofa is the Luva (Portuguese for glove), a modular design taking its inspiration from Japanese futon beds and western boxing gloves. The backrest has the ability to extend for full lounging or to fold down to create a ‘fist’ for more support. It’s a deliberate attempt at cross cultural pollination.

“You have the eastern influence of the futon and the western sport of boxing and I tried to get an aesthetic that different cultures would be familiar with whether they are from Asia, Europe or the US,” he says. “You will find this shape is familiar to you and you will be naturally drawn to it.”

Build your own

While the lounge is in keeping with a contemporary aesthetic and comfort levels, it also embodies the practicality that is an integral part of Tan’s approach. Each piece is available individually, allowing the user to ‘build’ the lounge to suit their needs, whether they live in a large house or a small apartment.

“I have lived in apartments all my life,” he says. “You can see how narrow the stairwells can be, and you have to carry the sofa up. 

“Whenever we are doing interior design for clients we know the consideration when you’re buying a sofa. If it’s modular, if you can get it through doorways and narrow hallways, it’s going to be much easier to convince the client to buy.”

It’s also a design that the user can add to over time, extending the usefulness and longevity of the sofa. Tan took it to product design director at Herman Miller, Noah Schwarz, who was quick to recognise its applications.

“He would often ask what I was working on so I showed him this sofa and immediately he was like ‘this could be something for us’,” says Tan. 

“He thought it might be something for the MillerKnoll group but which brand he couldn’t tell yet. 

“But he said ‘definitely don’t show it to other people’.”

The Luva has since been joined by the Cyclade tables, a trio of coffee and occasional tables designed to work equally well together or singularly. Other collaborations have followed, including work with major European brands such as B+B Italia, Menu, Abstracta and Design Within Reach while still maintaining his Singaporean office.

The Cyclade tables, named for the group of islands in Greece, have been designed for flexibility.

Cutting down travel times has meant more time on the ground.

“Here I travel quite a lot to meet with different companies I am working with and that helps because to me these distances are super short,” he says. “For designers living in Europe they might not want to go to Denmark because it’s a 3.5 hour flight but to me, even if I have to transit, five hours is no problem.”

Leap of faith

Although the move to Europe was risky, Tan has no regrets. While he admits his Portuguese is still a work in progress, his two sons (Er delivered a baby boy not long after arriving in Portugal) are quickly learning the language and the family has now moved into a traditional townhouse, which Tan has renovated, and where their office is based.

Tan and his wife Cherie Er work and live in the house they recently finished building in Porto.

Being in the heart of Europe has opened up a world of opportunity for Tan that has been both invigorating and challenging.

“I am designing for companies of different countries and I get to learn more about other ways of life and how people from other countries see design and see their homes and their spaces and how people do business in different parts of the world,” he says. “Coming from Singapore, it can be very stifling because it is so small. It’s really such a joy to experience these different cultures through design collaborations.”

Moving away from family and friends was a leap of faith but it gave him the push he needed. For a designer whose work is all about comfort, he is not one taking the safe path and staying home.

“It’s a good business model for revenue but you are not going to leave a mark on design history, you are not going to touch the lives of that many people if you are working with regional brands,” he says. “I really wanted to work with the international brands that have the reach with customers worldwide and I think if I hadn’t moved I would not have had that clarity of mind and that focus to really go for it.”



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Millennials Are Coming for Your Golf Communities

Living on golf courses has surged in popularity since the pandemic. Many courses have upgraded facilities and broadened amenities. Now the 40-year-olds want in too.

By JESSICA FLINT
Sun, Apr 21, 2024 8 min

Gabrielle Sloan, 30, and her husband, Brandon Sloan, 30, never thought they’d live on a golf course. Gabrielle doesn’t even play golf—yet, at least.

But in January 2020, the Sloans spent $660,000 to buy a three-bedroom, roughly 1,960-square-foot ranch house on approximately 0.25 acres that backs up to the course at Tequesta Country Club, a private golf club in Tequesta, Fla., a village on Palm Beach County’s northern border.

Gabrielle and Brandon Sloan with their son and dog at their house in Tequesta, Fla. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“We loved how family-friendly the neighbourhood is,” says Gabrielle, noting that the club is catering to a younger crowd. “That lifestyle is something we wanted.”

Across the U.S., millennials like the Sloans are moving to where the grass is greener: private golf communities. “Millennials are starting to solidify their lives,” says Cindy Scholz, a real-estate broker with Compass in New York City and the Hamptons, on New York’s Long Island. “And they are strategically using real estate to shape their lifestyles.”

In Texas, about 10 miles west of downtown Austin is Barton Creek, a community where the Barton Creek Country Club is a selling point. “Before the pandemic, millennials were sporadically buying in Barton Creek,” says Stephanie Nick, a Douglas Elliman sales agent. “Now it’s a full-bore, ‘let’s get going on the country club lifestyle’ movement.”

In Barton Creek, Nick says millennial house hunters typically budget about $3 million to $4 million. In 2023, she sold a millennial a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot house for $3.5 million. Recently, she showed a $5 million house to a young couple with one child.

Nick believes millennials—born between 1981 and 1996—are tired of paying more for less in the city. In Austin, $3 million might buy a roughly 3,000-square-foot house on a small parcel, she says, whereas that same price in Barton Creek might buy a 5,000-square-foot to 6,000-square-foot house on a half to one acre in a community with easy access to four 18-hole golf courses, tennis, workout facilities, swimming and more.

In Georgia, Mary Catherine Smith, a real estate agent with Corcoran Classic Living, says millennials are moving to Jennings Mill Country Club, less than five miles south of downtown Athens. In March, Smith listed a typical Jennings Mill property—a five bedroom, 4,984 square foot house on 1.07 acres—for $965,000.

One reason Smith thinks young homeowners gravitate to the club is for its social life. “Many Jennings Mills residents have golf carts,” she says. “They’ll trolley around together on the weekend.”

“There are millennials who have never picked up a golf club, and a country club neighbourhood is still the only place they want to be,” says Byron Wood, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty – Westlake Village Brokerage, about 10 miles from Los Angeles’s city limits.

Millennials moving to private golf communities is a trend that might have seemed unthinkable before the Covid pandemic, when such enclaves seemed destined for the rough due to waning interest in the sport, especially among young people.

Then an unlikely coincidence occurred.

A bucket of balls at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. PHOTO: OLIVIA ALONSO GOUGH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Golf play surged during the pandemic and continues to grow: In 2023, more golf rounds were played than any other year on record, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Meanwhile, since the Great Recession, there are private golf clubs that have been transforming themselves into amenity-rich lifestyle hubs, whose resort-style pools, sports facilities, fitness centres, dining and social programming have broad appeal, says Jason Becker, co-founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigators, an online platform that connects golfers to golf clubs and golf communities across the U.S.

At the same time, during the pandemic, millennials started turning 40 years old. Research from Club Benchmarking, a private golf club business intelligence firm, shows that the average age of new private golf club joiners is early 40s, says Michael J. Timmerman, the company’s chief market intelligence officer.

That means at the same time golf and private golf clubs came back into style, the next generation of Muffys and Skips were primed to start their country club years.

Consequently, the NGF has seen a shift toward younger private golf club members on the heels of the pandemic. Since 2019, the number of golfers at private golf clubs has increased by approximately 25%, from just under 1.5 million to 1.9 million, according to the NGF. Adults under the age of 50 comprise 60% of those memberships, with young adults, ages 18 to 34, representing about 30%. The latter can include adult children of members, typically up to a certain age.

There is no one-size-fits-all U.S private golf club community. Some clubs have housing within their gates; other clubs are integrated within regular residential neighbourhoods. Roughly speaking, a top-tier club’s golf initiation fee could be $250,000 or much more, with annual dues in the mid-tens of thousands and up. However, there are also clubs with golf initiation fees and annual dues in the low thousands or less. Typically, there are lower-priced membership options that don’t include golf, such as social or pool- and tennis-only memberships.

In December 2021, Tyson Hawley, 37, and his wife, Maital Hawley, 40, paid $1.15 million for a turnkey four bedroom, 4,272 square foot house on 0.4 acres backing up to the golf course at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. It’s located in California’s greater Palm Springs area, which has more than 110 golf courses, of which more than half are private.

“I leave my house and I’m on my club’s first tee in two minutes,” Tyson Hawley says. Hawley is a real estate agent with Desert Sotheby’s International Realty. He says within a prestigious desert club’s gates, houses might be in the multi-millions. However, there are lower priced golf community options that work for his millennial buyers, who typically have house budgets of about $800,000 to $1.2 million, he says.

undefined “It is very possible to buy a house at $350 per square foot in a golf community and be super pumped about what you get for your membership,” he says. “There are clubs that understand that millennials are in a season of their lives where they can’t hang with the big dogs paying $250,000 for an initiation fee.”

Golf Life Navigators’s Jason Becker says some private clubs have invested in their amenities, golf course and branding, while others have not and rely upon their historic status. “Millennials are very cautious by nature in terms of their finances and investments,” Becker says. “Industry officials are seeing very in-depth questions coming from millennials pertaining to the club’s financial health and long-term plan to remain healthy.”

Becker says there are, of course, golf communities where there aren’t many younger members, specifically those in the U.S.’s Southeast or Southwest that are geared toward retirees or second-home owners. “There’s just so much demand from the baby boomers,” says Becker, noting that since the pandemic, generally speaking, membership wait lists are now lengthy, fees associated with being a member are up, attrition rates are down and tee time availability is compressed. He added that the cost of being a member at some clubs can be prohibitive for younger people, especially in an era when the average initiation fee at a private club has increased 50% to 70% since 2021. In the Sunbelt, the average age of private golf club searchers is between ages 55 to 57, according to Golf Life Navigators’s data.

That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. In the Phoenix area, Lisa Roberts is a real-estate agent with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. She is working with a young millennial couple at McCormick Ranch Golf Club, in Scottsdale. They recently went into contract for $1.1 million on a three bedroom, 2,550 square foot house on 0.21 acre. “They plan to upgrade once they have children and a more established income,” Roberts says, “but this house lets them lay a foundation within the club’s gates now.”

Becker says whether younger people will be battling generational stereotypes hinges on the club’s culture, which sets the tone for all members. “It is up to the club’s board and management team to lead the way of established culture, such as playing music on the golf course or wearing a hat in the clubhouse,” Becker says. “For younger, new members, the club’s culture has to be understood or frustration will likely surface.”

Club Benchmarking’s Michael J. Timmerman says, “It really depends on how the club is designed, whether the club wants to focus on programming that will attract different members.” Timmerman adds that clubs catering to younger members and families will develop social programming specifically tailored to that age group.

Around the communities of Monterey and Carmel on California’s Central Coast, there are storied golf courses including the public Pebble Beach Golf Links and the private Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Nic Canning, managing partner at Canning Properties Group with Sotheby’s International Realty – Carmel Brokerage, says retirees and second-home owners typically live around these premiere courses, where he says properties can range from roughly $15 million to $35 million around Pebble Beach, and $3 million to $10 million around MPCC.

However, the area is rich with golf—there are roughly a dozen public courses and a half-dozen private clubs—and Canning has seen an influx of millennials buying in  family-friendly private golf communities such as the Club at Pasadera, Santa Lucia Preserve and Tehama Golf Club, and the semi-private Carmel Valley Ranch. He says since the pandemic, the area has particularly attracted tech workers migrating from Silicon Valley, with San Jose being only about 70 miles north.

At these clubs, Canning has recently sold millennials properties such as a three bedroom, 2,717-square-foot house on approximately 0.23 acres for $3.792 million, and a house with roughly similar specs for $2.7 million. Another house that has three bedrooms and 4,396 square feet on 13.3 acres just sold to a millennial for $4.42 million.

“Millennials are less driven by ocean views and care more about the community, the school district and access to things like restaurants, grocery shopping, trails and beaches,” Canning says.

Similarly, millennials want to equip their private golf-club houses a certain way. Kate O’Hara, CEO and creative director of O’Hara Interiors, which is based in Minneapolis and Austin, says the country club houses her firm works on might include everything from golf-simulator rooms and yoga studios, to outdoor-access showers and expanded mudrooms for equipment storage.

Back in Tequesta, Fla., the Sloans spent about $150,000 to optimise their house to fit their lifestyle, including adding durable furnishings and built-in cabinetry and jazzing up their outdoor entertaining area. They did so with the help of local interior designer Victoria Meadows Murphy, 35, who has a knack for taking the Bob Hope vibes out of country club homes without losing the martini spirit.

Meadows Murphy and her husband, Evan Murphy, 35, are building their own house, a project budgeted at $2.8 million, on a tear-down lot on the Sloans’s same golf course. “It’s exciting seeing the turnover of houses as young people are moving in,” Meadows Murphy says.

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11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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