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Fun, quirky Thai brands making their way into Singapore's furniture and homeware market

Homeware and furnishings from Thai brands are making their way here and getting the nod for their clean aesthetic and originality

Affordable, chic and often blending traditional influences and modern designs, Thai brands have made their way into Singapore's furniture and homeware market.

Savvy Singaporeans might have picked up a few Thai-designed items on their weekend jaunts to Bangkok, but now they no longer need to hop on a plane to get quality wares from the Land of Smiles.

In the past few years, at least 10 brands are being stocked by multi-label retailers here.

Many are brought in by Singapore fans who had chanced on these labels while on holiday, found them online or spotted them at furniture fairs.

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For example, Grafunkt, a home- grown multi-label retailer that stocks big European names such as Danish label Hay and Ton from the Czech Republic, started selling a Thai-made furniture series called Cane Collection in May.

The brand had a booth at the annual International Furniture Fair Singapore in March.

The pieces feature silhouettes and simple curves using solid wood and cane webbing. The cane material is grown in Thailand. The pieces are designed by Atelier2+ and manufactured by Podium, a wood-crafting expert.

Other Thai brands sold here include Qualy, an award-winning home accessories and kitchenware brand that is known for its witty designs; and Pana Objects, which makes simple and beautiful wooden pieces such as stationery holders.

Retailers say Thai designs are original, well-crafted and often utilise traditional techniques and materials.

Mr Alvin Tan, 34, owner of Bibliotek Design Store, says: "Thai brands can hold their own in the world of design. They have a seamless ability to combine modern aesthetics with traditional crafts such as woodworking and embroidery."

His online store carries Pana Objects and Ease Embroidery, a brand that makes embroidered cushions and framed art pieces.

While Thai design may have its own quirks, it generally taps into a popular style now: the pervasive Japanese minimalism trend. So the lines are clean and simple, wood is a dominant material and furniture is compact and multi-functional to cater to small apartment dwellers.

Singaporean industrial designer Nathan Yong, 46, who co-owns Grafunkt, says the Thai design scene is in its infancy and designers are still exploring what makes a distinct Thai aesthetic.

"It's not that they are copying the Japanese, but (their work) is part of a shared Asian background, influences and environment. These make us all a bit the same."

Still, if one were to isolate a Thai trait, it is a sense of humour.

Qualy, which has an online store in Singapore and is stocked by retailers such as Naiise and etch&bolts, is the epitome of playfulness. It makes toilet brushes shaped like cherries, door stoppers that look like a resting dove and acorn-shaped containers which go by the name, Acorntainer.

Everyday Studio, a three-year-old label based in Bangkok, also upgrades everyday items into fun conversational pieces. For example, the Rocky Baby is a deconstructed rocking stool that is inspired by a rocking horse. The rocking chair, which comes in two sizes, is stocked at For The Common Goods.

Mr Yong says: "There's a feel- good factor to their products. You sense happiness in their designs."

For their quality, Thai products are also generally cheaper than European labels and popular furniture and homeware brands such as Crate & Barrel, Tokyu Hands or Muji at times.

Mr Shane Low, 35, a director at Becheras Holdings, which is the sole distributor of Qualy and Pana Objects, says: "What you are paying for is uniqueness. You can be proud that your door stopper or sponge holder is a conversation piece, unlike the many $2 door stoppers in your neighbours' homes."

Some Thai designers are already thinking big, even if they recently arrived in Singapore.

Ease Embroidery's designer Wanus Choketaweesak, 28, hopes to open a standalone shop here eventually. The Bangkok label, which was founded in 2014, was borne out of an embroidery factory that has been around for about 30 years. Bibliotek Design Store is the official stockist and sole retailer of the brand.

He says: "We believe our products are well suited to (this) market. Singaporeans value art and design and place a premium on it."

Public relations consultant Alex Chen was wowed when he saw Ease Embroidery's artworks. He eventually bought a piece in a wooden frame to decorate his room.

The 35-year-old says: "The craftsmanship was flawless. I loved how the design combined both the precision in detailing that only machines can deliver and the intricacy of something handmade."


Six Thai brands in Singapore

1 EVERYDAY STUDIO


PHOTOS: CANE, EASE EMBROIDERY, EVERYDAY STUDIO, PANA OBJECTS, PDM BRAND, QUALY

What: This design studio makes products inspired by familiar objects and adds a quirky spin to them. For example, the Rocky Baby is a minimalist take on a child's rocking horse.

Everyday Studio was founded by Ms Siriporn Kobnithikulwong and Mr Wuthichai Leelavoravong, who both have a background in interior architecture. Furniture and lifestyle store For The Common Goods carries the rocking chair range, which comes in two sizes (from $220 to $260).

Where: For The Common Goods, 04-06A PickJunction, 72 Eunos Avenue 7


2 PANA OBJECTS

What: Pana Objects puts out cheeky home accessories and homeware made with various types of wood such as beech wood, walnut and maple.

An aromatic diffuser is shaped like a teepee, a clothes hook is designed to look like a giant button and the Frank Lamp is modelled after a playful puppy's poses. The range of items under this label includes clocks, stationery sets and key holders.

Pana means forest in Thai and the studio was started in 2005 by seven friends. In Singapore, various retailers stock the brand and prices range from $16.90 for a magnet set to $169 for a walnut wood clock.

Where: Various stores including Naiise, go to naiise.com; etch&bolts, Level 2, 3 Little Road; and Bibliotek, go to www.bibliotek.co


3 QUALY

What: One of Thailand's most famous homeware brands, Qualy's fun designs jazz up the home with a touch of humour. Its products include homeware, kitchenware and stationery. Items include a door stopper shaped like a maple leaf or a dove; and the Four Seasons Seasoning Shaker Set, which has a small tree within each shaker.

Prices start at $14.90 for a toothpick holder and goes up to $99 for a pendant lamp. Its Singapore online store has a 15 per cent discount in conjunction with the Great Singapore Sale.

Where: Various stores, including Qualy Design Singapore, go to www.qualydesign.sg; Naiise, go to naiise.com; and Robinsons The Heeren, 260 Orchard Road


4 EASE EMBROIDERY

What: This Bangkok-based multi-disciplinary design studio is an offshoot of a family embroidery business that has been around for about 30 years. The studio creates cushions and artwork.

The current owners are Mr Wanus Choketaweesak and Ms Nichepak Torsutkanok, who started the brand in 2014.

Last year, they were featured as one of six Rising Asian Talents at Maison&Objet Asia, a premier interior design fair that was held in Singapore.

Cushions cost $119 while artworks start at $235.

Where: Bibliotek, go to www.bibliotek.co


5 PDM Brand

What: The woven mats under this label are made of recycled polypropylene. They are waterproof, mould-resistant, easy to wipe down and can be used indoors and outdoors.

The rectangular mats come in three sizes - small, medium and large - and range from 2m to 2.7m. Prices start at $159 for a small mat and go up to $259 for a large version.

Where: For The Common Goods, 04-06A PickJunction, 72 Eunos Avenue 7; and HipVan, go to www.hipvan.com


6 CANE COLLECTION

What: This series of furniture - including chairs and a standing light - is made with light beige rattan woven together by a method called caning, which creates a lattice effect. Featuring soft curves and solid-coloured borders, this capsule collection is designed by Bangkok- based creative studio Atelier2+ and made by Podium, a Thai company known for its woodcrafting. Prices range from $330 for a stool to $4,040 for a wardrobe.

Where: Grafunkt, 02-34 Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard


Where to shop in Bangkok

Bangkok, a popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans, is bursting with indie Thai furniture shops and studios. Some ship to Singapore or, if a piece is light enough, you can hand-carry it home.

TIMMER


PHOTO: TIMMER

What: Timmer, which is run by giant furniture importer Champaca Wood, specialises in compact pieces for small homes. The range of furniture, which comes in wood such as oak and teak, includes dining tables, desks, side tables, dressers and stools. It ships to Singapore.

Where: Go to www.facebook.com/pg/timmerbangkok

EGGWHITE


PHOTO: EGGWHITE

What: Crafted from parawood, a light-coloured tropical wood, the furniture here can be easily assembled and taken apart - good for those who want to ship it back to Singapore. The range includes shoe cabinets, racks, chairs, trays and side tables. This furniture and homeware accessories brand was started three years ago by Nithinant Co, a wooden furniture factory.

Where: 259 Moo 1, Muang, Bangpu, Samutprakarn 10280 or go to www.eggwhitedesign.com

LOFT LIFE BANGKOK


PHOTO: LOFT LIFE BANGKOK/INSTAGRAM

What: Singaporeans are no strangers to the Chatuchak weekend market. But behind this bustling arena of shops is JJ Plaza, another spot to check out. It opens every Tuesday to Sunday, with vendors selling mostly home furniture and home goods.

Loft Life Bangkok is a must-visit for vintage and antique lovers who want to pick up statement pieces. Goods on sale here include barber chairs, old luggage trunks, typewriters and gramophones.

Where: 76 Zone B Soi 4, JJ Plaza, Chatuchak

WHOOP STUDIO


PHOTO: WHOOP/INSTAGRAM

What: Whoop Studio calls its designs New Asian Minimalism. Its pieces may be simple, but are also multi-functional and have pleasing sculptural forms.

Archithai, a dining table with an old teak top, has legs made of metal wires. As the legs are hollow, books can be stacked within them. There is also Baan, a multi-use shelf made of wood and steel. Shaped like a house (right), the shelves are adjustable. A clothes hanger and hat rack have also been worked into the design.

The brand was started in 2011 by furniture manufacturer and exporter S.T.S Product Co. The range includes chairs, sofas, benches and cabinets.

Where: 1351 Moo.7 Soi Chaval 1 Theparak Road, Bangmuang, Muang, Samutprakarn 10270

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Fun, quirky and Thai'. Print Edition | Subscribe