Remote convenience

Furniture and design hubs offer home owners everything under one roof

To get to Tuas Bay Drive, get on the Ayer Rajah Expressway and keep driving until... oh, you are almost crossing over into Malaysia.

Furniture lovers may do well to heed these directions, with the opening of the new Design Hub there - the latest in a bunch of home furnishing centres.

Design Hub, which opened three months ago, comprises three floors - a total of 45,000 sq ft - of showrooms, spanning kitchens, furniture and bathrooms. Here, home owners can see mock-ups of kitchens and bathrooms. They can also touch tile samples and view colour charts to help imagine how products would look in their homes.

About 40 brands, such as Italian engineered wood specialist Listone Giordano and Mohawk, the American flooring expert, are stocked and 90 per cent of wares sold are exclusive to the store.

Design Hub's director Ho Shu Yuan, 29, whose family manufactures concrete pre-cast components and owns the 14-storey building the store is located in, says: "You often have to travel all over the island to get various things for your home.

"You go to Changi for your floors, then to Sungei Kadut for your furniture. If not, you rely on your contractor to get you something good. It's hard to find everything for your home in one place."

As such, he says, he is confident that home owners would travel to the obscure location to find everything they need under one roof.

Design Hub joins at least five other centres in industrial areas or less fashionable parts of town that have become go-to places for furniture hunters.

There are malls designed especially to be one-stop destinations just for furniture, such as The Furniture Mall in Toh Guan Road in Jurong and the International Furniture Centre in Sungei Kadut near Kranji.

There are also buildings, such as the Vertex in Ubi Avenue 3 and Tan Boon Liat Building in Outram Road, where furniture and home furnishing stores have sprung up, independently of one another. In these buildings, there are architects and interior designers who have set up shop.

And yet others are standalone, warehouse-type stores under one owner, such as Taylor B in Keppel Road, which has three floors filled with furniture.

The International Furniture Centre has seen a "steady increase" in footfall since it opened in 2007, as part of the JTC Corporation's masterplan to redevelop the Sungei Kadut Industrial Estate into a furniture hub.

An estimated 7,000 retail shoppers and 50 international trade buyers a month visit the centre.

The five-storey building has 25 tenants across three showroom levels. The remaining two storeys are occupied by offices as well as the Singapore Furniture Industries Council Institute, which offers professional courses in skills development to members of the furniture industry and which manages the building.

Mr Kenny Koh, vice-president of the council and the centre's chairman, says the centre had been set up "primarily as an export centre for local furniture businesses".

But more non-trade shoppers started visiting on weekends and public holidays, he adds. To cater to the crowd, there is a free shuttle service on weekends.

Over at the Vertex and Tan Boon Liat buildings, lower rent than those at downtown shops and bigger units are a draw for furniture store owners.

And lower rents can translate to lower prices for customers too. At Taylor B, prices start at $5 for a decorative apple to $5,000 for a sofa, while wall-to-wall carpeting at Design Hub can cost between $6 a square foot and $40 a square foot.

Mr Collin Lim, chief operating officer at Taylor B Fine Design Group, says: "We can keep our prices low because we cut out the middleman and get our products straight from the factory. On top of the variety, I think our customers get excited about a lower price point than those offered by stores in a mall."

Mr Tan Wee Lee, marketing director of Posh Home, says the local brand, which started as an online portal in 2012, moved from a 1,100 sq ft unit in Ubi to its current 3,800 sq ft location in the Vertex across the street four months ago.

Operations have expanded to include interior design services, lighting and more furniture.

On the advantages of being in a building where other furniture stores have informally clustered, Mr Tan, 35, says: "We see a spillover of customers from the other stores. If they haven't made up their minds, they can walk around and see other places."

Similarly, at Tan Boon Liat, around 10 furniture stores there draw hipster home owners, looking for antiques or retro teak furniture.

The newest addition at the Outram Road commercial building is Inroads, which opened in December and carries travel-inspired furniture such as steamer trunks for display.

Stalwart tenants include the Red House Carved Furniture Company, which sells antique and customised furniture.

Furniture store Journey East on level 3 expanded its premises from 4,000 sq ft to 8,600 sq ft in 2012. The 19-year-old brand, which was previously at Dempsey, was one of the earlier furniture stores to move into the building, back in 2008.

Ms Anita Sam, 49, who runs the business with two partners, attributes the arrival of new players to the building's central location and relatively cheap rent.

She says: "We could easily be paying four times more for a city location. And compared to Orchard Road, we're getting more targeted customers, who have already checked out our stuff and know what they want."

Art gallery owner Gary Sng, 50, found Journey East at Tan Boon Liat after searching on the Internet for reasonably priced furniture.

Mr Sng, who was looking for a long work table as well as stools and shelves, says: "I knew the building existed but I presumed that it was filled with decorating or typical Indonesian-styled furniture.

"It was only after I went there that I realised that there was a nice variety of furniture.

"It's a hidden gem that people have forgotten about."

natashaz@sph.com.sg


DESIGN HUB

Where: 30 Tuas Bay Drive, tel: 6686-2002, open: Mondays to Fridays, 10am to 7pm, Saturdays, 9am to 3pm. Appointments can be made to view the showroom after opening hours

What: It is a bit of a schlep to get to, but this new spot for home furnishings is worth the travel time. The furnishings available across its three floors vary from full kitchens systems, which include cabinets and shelves, to tiles to art for your walls.

Highlights include kitchen set-ups by Italian kitchen specialist Veneta Cucine, lamps and chandeliers by bespoke lighting label Christopher Boots, and bathtubs and bathroom accessories by 69-year-old Italian company Devon & Devon. Complete your home with contemporary finishings by Italian Wall & Deco's wallpaper.

And if all that shopping has made you hungry, there are dining options in the compound: Bento for Japanese food; Greenhouse Cafe, which serves Western favourites; and The Wok, which has local food such as satay and bak kut teh.

TAYLOR B FINE DESIGN GROUP

Where: 43 Keppel Road, on Levels 1, 2 and 4, tel: 6226-7090, open: Mondays to Saturdays, 11am to 6pm, Sundays, 1 to 6pm

What: Three floors of more than 30,000 items. Housed in a warehouse facility among ports and containers, Taylor B has a gorgeous selection of furniture, art and sofas.

Furniture is sourced from the region such as Thailand, Vietnam and China, and spans styles from modern contemporary to classical contemporary to Asian.

The store also distributes American brands such as Ralph Lauren; Caracole Home, which has classic contemporary, casual and traditional furniture; and Schnadig, which specialises in upholstery and living room furniture.

If you do not find anything you like at first, go back in a week or so, as it brings in new pieces often.

INTERNATIONAL FURNITURE CENTRE

Where: 62 Sungei Kadut Loop, tel: 6569-6988, open: 11am to 8pm daily

What: Located within the International Furniture Park in the Sungei Kadut Industrial Estate, this five-storey complex has 160,000 sq ft of space occupied by 25 well-known furniture companies on three floors.

Some of the stores from The Furniture Mall have outlets here too.

Familiar names include Mondi Lifestyle Gallery (01-06/08), King Koil Boutique (02-11) and Furniture Club (01-01).

There is a free shuttle bus to the centre from Yew Tee MRT station, which runs at 30-minute intervals on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

TAN BOON LIAT BUILDING

Where: 315 Outram Road, opening hours vary from store to store

What: This is the place to check out indie furniture stores.

Small business owners bringing in relatively unknown international labels have flocked to the building, which is next door to hipster-central, Tiong Bahru.

Check out Pomelo (10-04), which stocks labels such as Matthew Hilton for Case Furniture from the United Kingdom and Mattiazzi from Italy, and Razor Sharp (01-03), which will hook you up with a sharp knife collection.

FairPrice Antique (01-10) has Chinese antiques, while TheFurniture.com.sg has a wide array of pieces for the entire home, such as cabinets, office chairs and mattress.

There is also Journey East (03-02) and Mountain Teak (07-01), which have a sizeable collection of wood furniture.

After shopping for home accessories, fill your fridge with gourmet food and wine at The Providore on level 5.

THE FURNITURE MALL

Where: 10 Toh Guan Road, tel: 6898-2272, open: 11:30am to 9pm daily

What: Calling itself the largest furniture mall in Singapore, at 90,000 sq ft, this one-stop furniture mall has about 40 stores selling more than 70 brands.

The shops, all on one floor, sell everything from beds to carpets. You will find familiar brands such as mattress label King Koil, the Cellini Design Center and Star Living.

There are also interesting shops such as Country Furniture (01-25), which has quaint English country-style pieces, and Fantasy Waterbed Showroom (01-39), which sells waterbeds.

VERTEX

Where: 33 Ubi Avenue 3, opening hours vary from store to store

What: Furniture and lighting stores have gravitated towards this eight-storey industrial building with big units. Most of the furniture stores are on ground level with offices taking up the higher floors.

Indian antique store Prakalyam Gallery opened its two-storey, 3,000 sq ft space here recently, while Ferrara Asiapac, a 16-year-old bathroom, kitchen and living room furniture brand, will launch on March 14.

The Vertex is also a melting pot of various services from interior decorators to lighting stores.

Check out Mudian, a home-grown brand which decks out kitchens and wardrobes, for its hipster-styled showroom, and Moderne, which sells bone china tableware.

This story was originally published in The Straits Times on March 1, 2014.