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Digest How the Designer Behind Gather and Punch Melds a Passion for Speciality Coffee and Design

How the Designer Behind Gather and Punch Melds a Passion for Speciality Coffee and Design

Architect and specialty coffee fan Laura Phay
Architect and specialty coffee fan Laura Phay
By Don Mendoza
April 14, 2021
We spotlight a few folks in Singapore’s buzzing food and beverage industry with a complementary creative eye—and few flaunt a trained eye for form and function like Laura Phay does

It’s not hard to see how various art forms could collide naturally with one another to rather stunning effect, particularly where the culinary arts and the diverse world of design are concerned. From artful plating to the trendy halls of our favourite restaurants and cafes, not to mention their equally dapper staff, the synergy—though at times subtle—is undeniable. As such, it is not surprising to find proponents from complementary creative fields combining a passion for gastronomy with a keen or trained eye for design and vice versa. 

Gather at Raffles Hotel Arcade
From left: Vincent Teng, Shan and Laura Phay at Gather, Raffles Hotel Arcade

Coffee houses have long been spaces where the creative community feels particularly at home. For architecturally trained Laura Phay, it is where she has been able to balance her passions, while living out the dream of running a couple of speciality coffee hotspots with her husband Vincent Teng. They had spent their entire twenties in Melbourne where Teng had also worked full-time under the mentorship of the Colls family, which is behind establishments such as Federal Coffee Palace and Darling Coffee. Not surprisingly, upon their return to Singapore in 2009, the couple decided to open their first cafe, The Plain, during the recession, and subsequently, Ronin, which ended up amassing quite a following. The two cafes have since shuttered, though their two newest ventures, Punch and Gather, present an apt picture of how far the business has grown.

(Related: What Top Peruvian Chef Virgilio Martinez Has Learned About Surviving the Pandemic)

Gather at Raffles Hotel Arcade
Gather at Raffles Hotel Arcade
Gather coffee

The former is a picturesque urban escape tucked along North Canal Road, while the latter at the Raffles Hotel Arcade boasts a complementary mix of indulgences—namely gourmet coffee, galettes and sweet crepes with a side of curated retail therapy. What most are probably unaware of is the fact that Phay is the design brain behind all their cafes. She explains: “Punch was designed in 2015 to be a hidden green oasis, a nondescript shop fronting Hong Lim Park, so I wanted to let the landscaping in the back courtyard and the custom tessellating floor tiles (both designed by Richard Hassell of Woha) take focus while I let the rest of the interiors quietly complement the bones of the shophouse.” The aim is to allow guests to feel like they are stepping into a home with an open kitchen, complete with a view of the hanging curtains of Javanese ivy.

(Related: 6 New Speciality Coffee Joints in Singapore to Escape to)

Gather at Raffles Hotel Arcade
Gather's curated retail space

For Gather, though, Phay wanted to take site-specific references from the Raffles Hotel’s terracotta walkways and its buttermilk-painted timber windows. “In both projects, the perennial theme is timelessness, pragmatism and keeping it simple with attention to the little details,” she elaborates. Given the space’s unique shape, the narrower rectangular space running parallel to the heritage windows is where the kitchen/coffee workbench is located. Over at the retail area, a single brass rack features a rotating roster of garments from the likes of Cosmic Wonder, Awomb, The Hinoki and Ito Personal Brand—established and ingénue labels from Tokyo and Kyoto.

The point is not to overwhelm the customer, which is the ethos that unifies the dining and shopping experience, “from the continuity of materials and tones, to having expectations exceeded despite the simplicity on the surface”.


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