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Going D-I-Y for decor

People are getting hands-on in furnishing their homes and joining classes on crafts such as macrame, carpentry and lamp-making

Wielding a power tool, mixing cement and carving wood to make furniture sound like jobs better left to the professionals.

But people are now game to try their hand at these things as do-it-yourself, or D-I-Y, workshops on home improvement and making home accessories spring up.

The D-I-Y workshop scene has been centred on skills such as bejewelling clothes, bags and shoes; crafting jewellery out of wires; and making leather pouches and wallets.

Now, home owners are getting crafty too, making everything from concrete stools to lamps using copper pipes.

Mr Poh Wenxiang, 30, founder of Make Your Own, has seen demand for his workshops pick up.

The three-year-old company holds workshops that teach people to make copper pipe lamps as well as table fountains and terrariums. The classes, which can last for about three hours, cost $35 to $239.

While he does have scheduled classes, those who are interested can also arrange for a separate session.

The former designer and visual merchandiser for a hardware retailer is also often hired by corporate clients to conduct workshops for their employees.

Most of the classes are conducted at his studio in Upper Aljunied Lane. He says: "It was pretty quiet when I started, but interest began picking up a year later. These hands-on workshops became more popular as more people became aware of them."


Fashion a stylish macrame pot holder. PHOTO: HILA ESHEL

He has a diploma in industrial design from Nanyang Polytechnic and has loved making and fixing things since he was young.

He adds that he received about two to three inquiries every month for copper lamp workshops when he started. Today, he gets an average of two inquiries a day.

"At the same time, there are many local makers or start-ups selling handmade items and people could see the value in those products. They started to look for places where they could learn to make their own things and create something personal," he says.

At Concrete Everything, as its name suggests, participants learn to mould the raw material into lamps or planter bases. Successful students can even make their own marbled concrete tray with beautiful swirls on the surface.

For upcoming workshops, fees start at $60 for a children's workshop to make a concrete holder and $120 a person for a two-day workshop to make a concrete mini-stool.

Royal Selangor, one of the world's best-known pewter brands, has pewter-making classes called School of Hard Knocks, where staff teach students to create a pewter dish using traditional tools such as the hammer and wooden mould.

Since December, Royal Selangor has been conducting its one- hour-long lessons ($30) at Tangs department store in Orchard.

Bloesem Classes, an arm of creative studio Bloesem which is known for its interior design blog, lifestyle store and masterclasses, has brought macrame back into fashion.

Popular in the United States in the 1970s, macrame involves knotting cords into intricate patterns.

In Bloesem's 21/2-hour macrame class, which costs $149 and is taught by Singapore-based artist Hila Eshel, students learn to make a wall plant pot hanger.


Mr Jeff Cheong on his Zen garden (above), which he put together after watching YouTube videos.

Bloesem's founder-owner Irene Hoofs, 44, says the D-I-Y homeware trend is fuelled, in part, by social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, where successful - and pretty - projects are shared.

"People photograph their finished products in their homes and they look good. It then becomes an inspiration for others," she says, adding that many people are also "consumed by technology" and want something tactile.

Concrete Everything's founder Alvin Chan, 29, agrees that participants love the tactile experience.

The industrial designer started the workshops in July last year and just one couple signed up.

Now, he gets about eight to 10 people learning to make a concrete lamp from him.

"I modified my classes after the first few lessons because I found that the participants didn't like making the mould for the lamp. Many just wanted to play with concrete.

"They have a pre-conceived notion their hands will be stuck in concrete forever if they touch it. But here, they learn how the material really works."

So now, some classes come with prepared moulds, while others have participants make the mould from scratch.

Those who like tinkering with tools can attend workshops at the Home-Fix DIY Experience Centre.

In 2013, the hardware retailer converted two floors of its Tai Seng headquarters into a workshop and co-working space with specialised equipment for hobbyists and professionals to put things together.

It was a slow process, but it was very satisfying and therapeutic to put together your own garden. Once you start, you can't stop.

MR JEFF CHEONG on his Zen garden, which he put together after watching YouTube videos

Those who want to get handy at the centre have to first take a safety induction course titled Powertools 101, which was started early last year. The $40 class takes place twice a month and there are about seven to 10 participants each time.

Home-Fix also offers occasional skills-based workshops such as carpentry, metalworking and home automation.

At the National Design Centre in Middle Road, the OneMaker Group holds hands-on classes at the Prototyping Lab@NDC.

Basic classes include an introductory woodworking class ($199) - students learn to craft a wooden spoon from a pine block with just hand tools - and a wood joinery class ($199), where students are taught to cut and fit joints in wood without using nails or screws.

Since 2014, when the classes started, most of the students have been women who do it as a hobby or want to relive their school days when they worked with wood in their design and technology classes, says Mr Robin Oh, 27, a self-taught carpenter and workshop manager at OneMaker Group.

He adds that many participants learn the basic skills of woodworking so that they can move on to building bigger items such as furniture.

OneMaker Group is planning to start these classes again later this year.

"Some even have ambitions of building a house. For most, it's about doing something on their own. Contractors can be expensive and some don't want to call in the professionals for every small job they can do on their own."

Married couple Dennis Chu, 36, and Stella Lee, 35, took two classes at Make Your Own.

They learnt to make a copper lamp fixture and a wooden stool and also got Mr Poh to help them set up a copper pipe shelf to hang their pots and pans in their four-room HDB flat in Bukit Panjang.

Mr Chu, a project manager for a telecommunications company, says they took the class for a "new experience".

"You can't buy these products, yet they don't look out of place next to our store-bought furniture. Because it's something we made with our own hands, it's ours."

For home owners who do not have time for D-I-Y classes, but are still keen on being hands-on around the house, there are many online tutorials from around the world to get them started.

Listicles pop up regularly on well-known interior decor sites such as Houzz and Apartment Therapy, for example, that teach everything from making a desk organiser out of hangers and acrylic frames to a couch from wooden pallets.

Nippon Paint has a series of videos titled DIY Room Painting Tips that provide pointers on how to paint skirting boards and the tools to pick.

The Internet helped Mr Jeff Cheong, 39, build his own zen garden in his Telok Kurau terrace house earlier this year.

From the tips he gleaned, he was able to replace the worn-looking shrubs and had a fresh garden for Chinese New Year.

Hiring a contractor to jazz up the space - their proposals included putting in timbre decking and exotic plants - would have set him back by a four- to five-figure sum. So he watched YouTube videos on how to create a low-budget zen garden.

He went to a plants-and-landscaping materials supplier during lunch to get rocks, pebbles and plants such as Bird's Nest Spruce and Hakone Grass. It cost him $280 and the materials were delivered that same day.

Still clad in his work clothes and with no professional tools, he got his hands dirty immediately when he reached home in the evening and worked through the night, uprooting the shrubs and planting the new ones and laying out the garden.

Mr Cheong, head of digital advertising agency Tribal Worldwide, says of his D-I-Y experience: "It was a slow process, but it was very satisfying and therapeutic to put together your own garden.

"Once you start, you can't stop."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'Going D-I-Y for decor'. Print Edition | Subscribe