Step into a place where every room has a hidden meaning.
“Unassuming”. That’s the word I would use to describe 278, Jalan Sepakat in Taman United. Its owner, Chris Tan, calls it the “CAstle” – a name that not only matches the size of the place, but also a play on words, as his company shares the “CA” abbreviation. On the outside, it looks like your usual bungalow, but step in, and you’re in for a grand adventure.
If every place has a story, then the CAstle’s story is one full of pop-culture references and deep metaphors. Everything is part of a bigger narrative, from room arrangement to the choice of building materials. A common theme that resonates throughout the place is “reuse, recycle, repurpose”, a green theme that is complemented by the abundant usage of green within (and without) the premises. Green also happens to be Chris’ favourite colour.
That core philosophy presents itself even before you enter, as the Castle was an abandoned bungalow before Chris came in and injected new life into it.
“My wife refused to get down of the car (when she first saw the place)”, Chris recalls. The CAstle you see used to be an abandoned bungalow. The core structure remains, but some renovations were done to convert it to a functioning workspace. “We still maintain the structure. The idea is to not disturb the existing, but to enhance it.”
Chris reminisces how the CAstle’s interior came to be. “I asked my interior designer, ‘how would you like to have a permanent showroom, with a lot of promoters promoting it? This (the CAstle) will be your showroom, and I will be your best promoter!’”
Walk around the premises and you will find other used items incorporated into the space – gates (from Chris’ previous office) are now window grilles, hotel and showroom furniture are strewn throughout, tempered glass tabletops become windows, and the main door is lined with leftover wood veneer pieces. Strategic use of glass panels help illuminate the CAstle during the day, and does double duty as a billboard.
“There is a hidden metaphor behind this (the front door): do not assume everyone who walks through this door has the same problems. You have your own uniqueness.”
As you enter the CAstle, you first wait in the holding area, which also features a photo spot. I’ll get back to this later, as revealing its hidden meaning will instantly give away the true identity of what this place is. So stick around to the end. Of course, what is a photo spot without props?
“The idea (of the photo spot’s layout) is to tell people that we are always a work in progress – there is always room for improvement.”
The ground floor is where most of the action happens, where clients can perform quick actions without long waits. Shelves of nicely arranged reading materials give the employees quick access to references, or let curious clients gloss over the collection. Adorning the walls are motivational lines printed in the notable Star Wars typeface, and there is a cardboard Stormtrooper guarding the staircase. Matching the green theme of the place, the lone Stormtrooper has some of his black accents replaced with green, and a small logo is placed on his chest.
There are three meeting rooms altogether, two upstairs, one on the ground floor. Of note is the “War Room” upstairs, named in reference to Winston Churchill’s room of the same name. A brainstorming space for employees, the space is decorated with Star Wars posters and memorabilia, and is painted with colours prominent in the mythos – brown (a Jedi robe), green (Yoda), black and red (common Sith colours). I definitely don’t mind having my meetings here.
Next to the “War Room” is another meeting room (The Clubhouse) that doubles as an event and fitness space. Instead of “Star Wars”, the walls feature various movie posters, all belonging to Chris. The same floor also houses a sky garden (The Home Turf), where barbecues and other events can be held.
The meeting room on the ground floor is the “Brick Chamber”, so named because of the presence of a brick wall and a glass panel right above it. Aside from practical and accountability purposes (the glass brings in light and lets others observe you), the brick wall is a reminder to people that they should constantly strive for excellence, that there is always a way to overcome obstacles.
If you want it badly enough, you will find a way.
If the ground floor is where all the action happens, then the basement (dubbed “the dungeon” by Chris) is everything behind the scenes. Paperwork and archives fill the place (CAtizen Square), with splashes of green lining the top half of the walls. The basement is also a reflection of how far the establishment has come, with past anniversary themes pasted on.
Now, I’ve written about the CAstle as a whole, and judging from the descriptions, you would think that it’s the latest creative agency in town. So what if I told you that this place has absolutely nothing to do with advertising or the creative industry?
What if I told you that this CAstle is actually a well-camouflaged legal firm?
Remember the photobooth/holding area I mentioned earlier? The giant picture frame is, well, the frame. Chris gets everyone to put one foot out of the frame when they take pictures there – a call to step out of your comfort zone and think out of the box.
It also states why you come to Chris.
“Most of the time, you come here either you’re framed, or you’re here to frame someone.”
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we speak to the man behind it all, one who is no stranger in the field of real estate and all things property, Chris Tan. ◆
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