Conversations // Marc Webb and Naoko Takenouchi

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The balmy breezes wafting through the corridors, a backdrop painting of multifarious forest shades—olive, moss, cinnamon and sepia—outside the windows, a visiting falcon perched with such proper poise outside on a branch (I have pictures to show for it) and a visiting snake outside the door “just the other day”. Marc and Naoko probably live more open, tropical lives than many of us in our air-conditioned cubby holes—so much of the living is spent at the verandah—which is ironic considering that Marc is from England and Naoko is Japanese.

The architecture-trained couple are founders of the design studio Takenouchi Webb, most known for designing the  playful interiors of The Lo & Behold Group’s restaurants and bars. Often a potpourri of patterns, tones and textures that conjure up the vibes of the respective themes—70s tropicana beach vibe for Tanjong Beach Club; 50s art-deco glit and glory for Black Swan—with sophistication rather than kitsch. They’ve also recently designed the interiors of the new uber-cool co-working space The Working Capitol in collaboration with multidisciplinary design studio FARM and graphic design consultancy Foreign Policy Design (the latter has just launched a really well-designed local guidebook ‘Brand Guide: Singapore Edition‘—check it out).

In short, Marc and Naoko are awesome cool, awesome genuine. And they are awesome funny too—spend a couple of minutes with them and you will find yourself in a constant grin from Marc’s wit and Naoko’s straight-laced humour. They live with their two children—a two-and-a-half-year-old son and six-month-old daughter—and their helper. In contrast to the energetic palettes in their projects, their home is a haven of sleepy calm—all whitewashed, louvred-window-goodness; the translucent lightness of a paper lamp in the living room, the coolness of sandy concrete underfoot. Here and there, unique objects collected by the couple—modular, over-oxidised candlestick holders in the living room with Issey’s contribution of dinosaur figurines in the composition; a pencil sketch of Issey on the verandah column wall to mark his growing height; bird cages from the old thieves’ market in Jalan Besar and one from Yogjakarta sitting nonchalantly in the verandah as if to invite in feathery neighbours…

We paid a visit and didn’t want to leave.

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What are and how did you choose your children’s names?

Marc Webb (MW) Our son is “Issey” and our daughter “Rina”. For both we wanted names that would be comfortable in both England and Japan. Both also have beautiful meanings in Japanese: Issey means ‘One Life’ and Rina means ‘Force of nature’.

How has your work/home arrangement changed since you became parents? What’s a typical day for you like, from morning to night?

MW Our office and home are a five-minute walk from each other so we are constantly shuttling between the two all day. Issey’s nursery is below our office so we drop him off at nine then pick him up at 12 and we all go back for lunch. Our helper looks after Rina in the morning, then in the afternoon there are playdates in the neighbourhood so both of them go out.

Naoko Takenouchi (NT) I am still breast-feeding. So whenever Rina is hungry, I go back home to feed her. I did same thing for Issey for 13 month. It is only possible because of our location of our office to home and our great helper!

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What are the biggest challenges in balancing parenthood, work life, being a husband/wife and time for yourselves?

MW If our office and home were not so close to each other I think it would really be a challenge to run our studio. Parenthood definitely comes first, and somehow we have managed to still be as productive at work, in less time. All-nighters and weekend working are just not possible now. It is such a joy to have kids that I really don’t miss not having time to myself. All our free time is taken up by them, and thats fine!

NT When Issey was a baby, for several months he keep waking up at night more or less every two hours and to make him sleep we had to cuddle him and walk around for one hour. We had only three to four hours [of sleep] altogether at night. Those days were really hard. Thankfully Rina is much easier sleeper so far. Sometimes I envy full time mothers who can be with their children all day. But most of the time I really appreciate the situation where I both have children and do the work I truly love.

Do you integrate design into your children’s lives, intentional or otherwise?

MW I am quite keen on doing art with Issey and dragging him around galleries.

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Your home and office are in Portsdown. What’s the best thing about living in this area?

MW There is a real village feel about living here. The kids all run around, climbing trees, getting dirty and jumping on the communal trampolines that people have. It’s a great environment for children to grow up in, and I think probably quite rare in Singapore.

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Naoko, what’s the most Japanese thing about your parenting? Marc, what’s the most English thing about yours?

MW We do watch some BBC kids’ programmes and Issey has a healthy appetite for Marmite.

NT Issey’s favourite soup is Miso soup!

Marc, we know you’re an avid cook. Naoko has said before she thinks you’re the best cook ever (brownie points!) How has being parents influenced your cooking?

MW Not in a good way! We really don’t have any time to cook and I have passed all my culinary secrets to our helper, who is [now] better than me!

Your interior designs for the establishments under The Lo & Behold Group—Loof, White Rabbit, Tanjong Beach Club, Black Swan, Over Easy, Extra Virgin Pizza—have a playful streak to them. There is such delight in the colours, patterns, shapes that you use. Are you fun parents?

MW I like to think so! We are always laughing a lot, which I guess is a good sign.

You are designing the interiors of the new hotel by the Potato Head Family called The Katamama that will open in September this year. Can you give us some hints on what to expect? Have you taken your children/ child on your work trips?

MW The hotel has a very warm interior, quite unlike your usual Bali hotels. The reference point was more from Indonesian modernism and a reflection of Potatoheads’ eclectic, playful style. We have taken Issey on a few trips and site visits. More stressful than fun!

What are your passions and how do you aspire to share them with your children?

MW They have inspired me to look at the world with fresh eyes. Issey is going through the questioning stage where everything is questioned. I would like them to always maintain that sense of wonder.

Lastly, please complete this sentence: Play to me is:

MW A big happy mess!

NT Fun, fun, fun!

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+ photo credits: Playground

takenouchiwebb.com

lobehold.com

the-katamama.com

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