Our Jalan Besar: Craft, Community, Coffee & more

We’re rounding up this month of features about Jalan Besar by sharing some thoughts about the neighbourhood we’ve gathered from its residents and enthusiasts. What brings these creators to the district and what keeps them here? We’ll let them speak for themselves.

Yoga in Common

22 Petain Road

Opened in 2015, Yoga in Common is an understated sanctuary for yoga and meditation practice.

We love that Petain Road is located between the hipster cafe strip of Lavender, and the historic Little India. We also love the community feel. We have lots of locals practising with us—it feels like we live in a gorgeous village where we know everyone by name.

Yah-Leng Yu,
Foreign Policy Design Group

115 King Georges’ Avenue

Local creative agency Foreign Policy Design Group, led by Arthur Chin and Yah-Leng Yu, moved to Jalan Besar at the end of 2018. Not unlike their projects and creative approach, the move was a collaboration of sorts—together with woodworking studio Roger&Sons, they moved into a warehouse building formerly used for storing hardware.

Yah-Leng, what brought FPDG to Jalan Besar?

We were previously in Tiong Bahru but outgrew it and needed something new. When we found this place, we felt that it was an ideal space for us, with its high ceilings and large open floor plate. It felt big enough for what we wanted to do and even future expansion. Once we got here, we invested into fitting out this office and our collaborators and new neighbours, Roger&Sons, helped with the build. We finally have a dream kitchen that’s fully equipped to cook meals for the studio and bond like a family.

How does Jalan Besar feed into your creative process?

Jalan Besar is still kind of raw around the edges—it’s still got its traditional hardware stores, stores selling parts of ships and musical instruments and such, industrial canvas, etc—but also great cafes and lots of creatives moving in. We’re still exploring, honestly, I still feel new to the neighbourhood. We enjoy being in a building filled with creatives, and also love meeting the community.

That’s why we organised Design Pasar last year—it was a mini street festival in Jalan Besar in conjunction with National Day, to celebrate how far we’ve come as a country of creatives and create an opportunity for designers to share their work with the local community.

Floral Magic

334 King George’s Ave

This whimsical second-generation floral design studio is a surprising find among the industrial supply stores and workshops of King George’s Building.

Fave things about our hood: Coffee, food, and the Kallang Basin for a Zen after-work walk 🙇🏻‍♀️

Roger&Sons

115 King George’s Ave

Roger&Sons is a family artisan business that reinvented itself into Singapore’s go-to contemporary craftsmen for refined and innovative woodworking projects.

“Besides the huge selection of local food in the area (we really love our pig organ soup and wanton mee), Jalan Besar is filled with different inspirations of many disciplines.”

We just love how much the neighbourhood is a cross-pollination of old school and new school.

Sean Gwee,
The Made Agency

Artist, designer, entrepreneur

For the talented and driven Sean Gwee, Jalan Besar is not just a location but also a chapter in his life that he remembers with fondness. Back in 2012, he created a brick-and-mortar store for his pop-up pie business, Windowsill Pies, at 78 Horne Road. Running the bakery and cafe for 4 years with 17-hour work days, 6 days a week, he got to know the neighbourhood inside out, old and new.

What’s your favourite thing in Jalan Besar? 

I’m often there visiting hardware stores and specialty suppliers for my art fabrication projects, especially around Jalan Besar Shopping Center. There is a hardware store at the back of King George’s Building, if you turn off from Horne Road into the loading alley, that has a really, really nice handrail. It’s clearly put together in an improvised manner but very striking. 

What inspired you to start a cafe here, back in 2012?

When we were looking for a location for our pie pop-up closer to town, Jalan Besar made sense for us because we knew we didn’t need the most central location—we knew from experience that our audience was willing to travel a little bit—and that it was a neighbourhood with a lot of potential because of the people moving in. We saw that the demographic was changing: a lot of expatriates, young families and also the LGBTQ+ community were moving into the new condominiums in the area. We weren’t trying to do something commercial, we wanted to reach our regulars and the more adventurous cafe-hopping crowd.

Did the area live up to your hypothesis?

We built a really nice community during our time there. About six months in, there was a critical mass of cafes that drew people to Jalan Besar. I especially appreciated our late night crowd: lots of interesting people coming after recitals and arts events in large groups. We also had regulars who would knew exactly when were the quiet hours to have a coffee with their morning newspaper. And then there were our neighbours: old school hair salons and other decades-old businesses run and frequented by older uncles and aunties, who would come in and order a kopi o gosong which we then had to figure out how to recreate on our espresso machine. They always had business advice for us newcomers, and were surprisingly understanding about our prices and really supportive. 

I left before it all took off, but now I’m seeing more Jalan Besar-wide events going on, and very cool things like CSHH’s events with [local record label] Darker Than Wax. Sometimes I feel like I should go back but I also feel like I’m not part of that neighbourhood anymore after that intense period of time. That’s Singapore, right? Things happen hard and fast, and then it’s over. 

Emporium of the Modern Man

60 Somme Road

EOMM is a lifestyle boutique and art space that is beloved by design insiders for its highly original and thoughtful curation of clothing, tools, art objects and more.

Jalan Besar is a Heterotopia.

Figment is proud to be part of this community of doers and dreamers in this unique and characterful locale. Do you see yourself being at home in Jalan Besar? Take a look at our shophouse homes in the neighbourhood.

Thank you to all of our contributors for sharing your thoughts!

Image credits: our Members’ #figmentonfilm project, Yoga In Common, Foreign Policy Design Group, Lilreddotfolks, Nur Hadziqah, Sean Gwee, The Straits Times and EOMM.