Into The Atelier: Joe Chia

Joe Chia's new atelier is a raw yet futuristic space that reflects its brand identity.

“We found the place that checked all our boxes during the lockdown. It was after the first vaccine and
restrictions were eased—we were driving around looking for food,” Joe Chia discloses as he sat down with Melissa Deng, co-founder of his eponymous brand, a local pride that has tastemakers from all over the world swooning over. “Our previous workspace was a small but convenient two-storey shoplot, especially since there was a sewing supplies store right below us. We stayed for ten years, but our team is growing and we had too much stuff laying around. Moving out has always been part of the plan.” Deng further reveals that the team moved in barely a month ago and GRAZIA Malaysia was one of the first visitors they’re hosting at the four-storey building that took over a year to refurbish. “This building was abandoned for years! It was so run down when we arrived,” Chia says, sharing that cleaning the space prior to any construction work was an unimaginable challenge in itself.

The ground floor serves as the showroom and warehouse, while the first floor is where the magic of sewing takes place. The second floor is reserved for administrative purposes, and the third is where the pair call home. Merging their professional and personal lives has always been something that the couple is comfortable with. “We’ve been living in our atelier on and off even before this,” Chia explains, as he stroks Yuzu the Dobermann gently, who is also the atelier’s mascot that the couple adopted during the lockdown. “We have a lean team, and efficiency is the priority. We figured that since we spend so much time at work, we may as well make our workspace as comfortable as our own home,” Deng chimes in.

The space is designed with a vision that not only speaks the Joe Chia lingua but also blends seamlessly with the car servicing garages aligned on the street. The main door—a gigantic piece of rustic metal—camouflages the atelier from plain sight, providing the team with the privacy they need while retaining the nostalgia of the old neighbourhood. Inside the atelier, exposed pipes, unpainted walls, and an open floor plan were some other cues taken from the neighbourhood’s raw and rough characteristics. As Chia enthusiastically ushers us around, “To be frank, we didn’t even know how the space would end up looking. We kept this wall as it is, and repainted another. We just do what feels right at the moment.” With the help of a professional team from architecture and design firm Mentah Matter, Deng confessed that they skipped the renderings—a risky decision in the interior design stratosphere. There were too many
impromptu improvisations that, fortunately, turned out great. “The initial conversation was us giving the designers a list of what we needed in our space: a pantry, toilets, sufficient space to move around, a few samples of piping, and lighting options. Practicality comes first. Otherwise, we don’t mind any impromptu decisions.”

Speaking of design decisions, one that caught our attention almost immediately after stepping into the space was the sizeable fitting room that looks like a blow-up disco ball. Taking over one-third of the space, the fitting room was made with reflective materials which Chia describes as an unintentional play on illusory motion. A fitting room is a must-have in a showroom, but the team crossed swords on where to place it. The conventional layout is to hide it in a corner, but since it’s so unmissable, it led to a “go big or go home” moment where they decided to make it the centrepiece. Having a massive fitting room and an open warehouse at the other end of the hall meant that the allowance to play around with space is limited. “In the end, we decided to keep it modular. The rails in the showroom are detachable,” Deng explains how they wanted the space to be a balance between being systematic and flexible.

“The rooftop is the best, though!” Chia chortles. “Just laying down on the rooftop with Yuzu is a great way to destress, especially after a full day of work when I log off.” Despite being attached to their private space, Chia assured us the rooftop is communal as he would invite the team members to have lunch and a breather or even invite guests over for an open-air experience in the future. “The design of an atelier
plays a crucial role in our creative process. Inspiration-wise, the things I see around me change my perspectives. Creative work inevitably ties in with the way we see our life. Though the root of the brand is well-established and I don’t think we will steer too far from it, a change in environment certainly affects how we source for craftsmanship and raw materials,” Chia concludes.