PETALING JAYA, April 12 — At first glance, you might think Battery Acid Club is just another cafe with a retail space. According to one of the co-founders Aaron Tan, there’s much more to this space at Damansara Utama: “Looking at the bigger picture, it is a space for designers to collaborate and feature their work.”
A collective initiated by veteran designers Swiss Ooi, Hsien Foo, Sean Yeap and Sara Siow, Battery Acid Club and its retail arm, Objektobjectstore, pay homage to the mid-century modern design movement.
From architecture, interior design, product design and graphic design, anybody who appreciates art will find the space ideal for quality conversations. There is no Wi-Fi available but plenty of literature on artwork and design for you to read and debate over.
Whenever customers tip for their beverages, Battery Acid Club will use that money to buy Monocle magazines for the library. There is a bookcase filled with content-rich material, some of which are from the designers’ personal collections, which anyone can browse through.
You can find literature that features the history, philosophy and stories behind each art movement. Over at Objektobjectstore, mint condition antiques, vintage clothing and mementos are displayed side by side with brand new collectibles.
Hsien Foo also runs Outdated, the vintage store in Publika, hence some of the stuff are sourced from there.
Currently, the look and feel of the place is dedicated to Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer famous for his creative contribution to Braun. Some of the world’s greatest designers get their inspiration from Rams who designed many timeless products that are considered priceless today.
When Tan is not pulling espresso shots or serving customers, you can learn a thing or two about art from him because he likes to share about his passion.
One of the conversations I had with him was very enlightening because I learned about the Bauhaus Dessau art movement in Germany, Dieter Rams as well as product design. So, what pushed this collective of designers to start Battery Acid Club and Objektobjectstore?
“In Malaysia, there are many good designers but because of the brain drain, they rather find opportunities overseas because they see a potential to learn more there,” said Tan. He found out that in Berlin, even the layman appreciates art. They recognise the design value to art. Whereas here in Malaysia, only a handful are willing to spend big money on design.
“We want to give local designers a chance to showcase their work. Malaysians are drawn to beautiful things, they are very picture driven but they don’t really bother about content. If a book is too ‘deep’ they rather look at the visuals,” said Tan.
Tan did a stint at Artisan Roast Taman Tun Dr Ismail to learn how to make coffee. It was one of his interests which became part of Battery Acid Club. “Serving coffee and cakes makes sense because you cannot just have a space for people to talk without having something to drink. Also, we support home bakers by selling their cakes and tarts at Battery Acid Club,” said the multidisciplinary designer.
By end April, the collective hopes to provide light snacks such as sandwiches and other takeaway items. Currently, they have a kitchen that is equipped to do cooking. Tan and Ooi are now doing research and development on recipes.
They will be hiring kitchen staff to help out with the food preparation. Even now, they have their own collection of ‘creative juice’ stamped with their own logo. The juice comes from a supplier but the people at Battery Acid Club blend the flavours and come up with the packaging.
Why Malaysians perceive art differently is due to our upbringing, said Tan. As a designer himself he felt that he had no freedom to express what he liked. Whenever a student does something out of the box, the teacher would say that it is wrong so whatever is taught are just duplications of what the teacher made. “Battery Acid Club wants to give bigger exposure to local designers, while educating the masses about the story behind each design,” said Tan.
All co-founders of the collective have a passion for old-school memorabilia and a discerning eye for art. Combining their passion with career, each of them plays different but essential roles in setting up the place. Tan said it took them one whole year of planning and brainstorming to make sure everything is in place.
As the retail manager, Ooi also helps out at the cafe when it is needed. She is also in charge of the social media platforms, photography as well as look and feel of the place. Currently, only Tan and Ooi are actively managing the space while the other co-partners do behind-the-scenes work.
Ooi has been collecting vintage wear for a long time, and she was even approached by a shop in Singapore to run a vintage boutique there. At Objektobjectstore, she curates and collects vintage wear sourced from her mother’s friends and aunties she knows.
“I love prints and patterns from the mid-century modern era. Most of my personal collection comes from my mother and her friends. I don’t buy from bundle shops because the quality is not up to par. Most of these clothes are from the 1950s and 1960s, and the aunties give them to me because they said they are either too old to wear them or they ‘became fat’,” said Ooi.
Once she gets a hold of the dress or accessory, she would send it for alterations to reconstruct it or repair it. She knows that the trend now is about nostalgic prints and that people can buy similar patterns from high street shops.
However, the vintage wear she collects is authentic so she treats them with care. Whenever she receives them, she fixes them and hand washes the item if needed because the fabric is fragile. Usually, she just keeps them as it is because washing might damage certain parts of the dresses.
“In fashion, there is a cycle. Fashion is a fast-moving trend. What’s in trend before becomes in trend now,” said Tan. He himself collected vintage wear since he was 21 because he loves the print and material.
However in the past two years, he finally found extra pieces that he is willing to sell and decided to invest in them. Tan also started to collect vintage furniture by picking up old items by the side of the road, which he would send to local craftsmen to refurbish to their former glory.
Tan and Ooi met through mutual acquaintances and they are former colleagues. The design circle in Malaysia is small so everyone knows each other, hence it is easy to get connected to like-minded people who share the love for similar things. The team behind Battery Acid Club and Objektobjectstore share the same passion for mid-century modern design movement.
“I spoke to a lot of my uncles who are businessmen about this. When you are driven by passion you will put all your effort into it. If you don’t have love for what you do, whatever you do will be short-term only,” said Tan.
When someone presents a business card, the card sends a message. “It must have a design impact for business identity. A strong visual is like a language and it gives people an idea about what you do,” said Tan. “It is like storytelling,” added Ooi.
At first glance, the Battery Acid Club business card will leave you intrigued, so ask them what is the meaning behind the logo that is also emblazoned over their espresso machine, in the form of lights.
For Battery Acid Club, their main customers would be creative people but they hope to draw more people who appreciate art as well. You do not need to be from a design background to love what they do.
“I have casual conversations with my customers and I find out that they love collecting vintage memorabilia even though they are not from a creative background. I usually don’t try to hard sell what we have. Sometimes when they ask, I will tell them the stories behind the product which can be very interesting,” said Ooi.
Curiosity will get a hold of you when you visit Objekobjectstore because there are so many trinkets and things that will catch your attention. Whether they are brand new or vintage, you can always ask Ooi or Tan, to find out the history behind its design.
Ideas can be found anywhere, anytime, according to Tan and hopefully, you can learn a thing or two or start your own vintage collection by visiting this space. Whether you meet a fellow designer or read a book about Dieter Rams, you will leave the place feeling more knowledgeable about art and vintage pieces.