Tan Boon Liat Building is a hit with fancy furniture hunters

From the outside, it is hard to tell that the 15-storey Tan Boon Liat Building in Outram Road is actually a hot spot with local furniture hunters.

The building is a no-nonsense light- industrial complex, with the uniform design of old HDB flats.

Inside, it is a different story.

There are more than 10 boutique showrooms, selling well-curated pieces from modern, European luxury to one-off pieces sourced from a junkyard in northern India, earning the building the reputation of being Singapore's unofficial "Furniture Mall".

For contemporary furniture, lighting and home accessories, you could go to Pomelo and Make Room.

Vintage-lovers can browse shops such as Singapore Trading Post, which has a century-old Rajasthan mirror with a carved frame for $1,900.

No wonder that customers from all over the island are driving there to check out the eclectic mix of shops.

Ms Constanze Hohmann, 43, a former customer who now runs FairPrice Antique on the ground floor, offering products with a touch of chinoiserie, says Tan Boon Liat is a good alternative to mainstream furniture shops.

The German expatriate, who bought over the store in January, says: "These brands cater to different tastes and budgets. Home owners often go to furniture chain Ikea for basic furniture, but they'll come here for the highlights."

Furniture brands are attracted by the cheaper rental and spacious units which can range between 2,000 sq ft and 6,000 sq ft.

While tenants declined to talk about their rental rates, Mr Eugene Lim, key executive officer at real estate firm ERA Singapore, says "asking rents are $3 to $3.50 a square foot a month" - much lower than the monthly $20 to $30 a square foot at the nearby People's Park area in Chinatown.

The attractive rental is continuing to draw newcomers.

New tenants include Singapore Trading Post, which was previously in Pasir Panjang and moved in last November.

Bode Fabrics & Furnishings, a fabric store that used to operate out of owner Jenny Lewis' home in Eng Neo Avenue, will open at the end of next month with a space for rug specialist Vantage Concept.

Mrs Jo Harrison, 47, who started Singapore Trading Post with business partner Rob Pendergrast in 2013, says she was drawn to set up the 1,200 sq ft shop because of the growing group of similar businesses there.

"Coming here is like going on a treasure hunt. You have to start on the 10th or 11th floor, then make your way down. On some levels, you might find something interesting; other levels, you might find nothing at all. It's not like going to a mall. It's kookier and more fun."

Apart from furniture and accessories labels, The Providore draws foodies to its 4,500 sq ft retail-cum-warehouse space on the fifth floor, while creative- technology lab The Ching Chong Group on the 11th floor and design studio imajin one level above lend a creative vibe to the space.

Details of the building's origins are scant. The land owners received permission in 1971 to build a flatted factory with offices and stores.

It drew furniture stores early on.

For example, back in 1994, Straits Curious, which offered colonial and ethnic South-east Asian antique furniture, set up a showroom there.

Later, in 2009, five shops moved out of the Dempsey Road enclave, following a huge jump in the rental there, into Tan Boon Liat Building. Of the five, three have stayed put. They are Jehan Gallery, an Oriental carpet and rug store; Journey East, a vintage, recycled teak and outdoor furniture shop; and Red House, which sells antiques and does custom-made furniture.

Mrs Winnie Chua, 55, managing director of Red House, has stayed partly because of manageable rental. Her showroom has a 6,000 sq ft space on the ground floor. It offers a wide variety of products ranging from a $30 glass ornament to a $200,000 dining set of six chairs and a table, all made of the highly prized huanghuali wood.

But the days of cheap rent may not last much longer.

When the Havelock MRT station on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line opens, likely to be in 2021, rental prices are expected to go up too, given that Tan Boon Liat Building will be more accessible to foot traffic, says ERA Singapore's Mr Lim.

Increased interest from other furniture shops may also drive up rents.

Already, some brands are feeling the heat.

Wood & Wood Flooring, a manufacturer, supplier and retailer of wood flooring on the 11th floor, is moving out in August as its landlord wants to raise rent prices.

Its director of sales and marketing Brendon Goh, 31, says: "Demand has grown a lot from lifestyle stores who want to open up here. The rental is attractive and is hard to get for this amount of space compared with, say, a shop in town.

"We were one of the first few in the building and have seen visitor traffic increase, especially on weekends.

"But the rent increase is a huge jump for us. It doesn't make business sense for us to stay," says Mr Goh, who has been there for seven years. Wood & Wood Flooring will move to an industrial unit in Henderson.

For now, however, the stores are banding together to help visitors navigate the building.

They have come up with a store directory indicating the floor each showroom is on. Owners even direct customers to other stores if they do not carry a particular item.

Ms Anita Sam, 50, who owns Journey East, one of the first few in the building, says: "I'm not worried about competition because you'll do as well as your product offering. Plus, we've had a good clientele base even before we moved here, so they know where to find us."

Ms Apple Koh, 29, a relations manager for a non-profit organisation, gives the stores at Tan Boon Liat Building two thumbs up. Through a recommendation, she made a trip down to visit Pomelo, but stumbled on other showrooms there.

She says: "I'm not after a designer replica or generic furniture or styles, but rather pieces with a distinct point of view, which I think the shops here have.

"I find the sellers here are able to tell you about the history of the piece well. Their products also gave me a lot of ideas about things I thought wouldn't work, but actually did."

natashaz@sph.com.sg

rebeccat@sph.com.sg


The Beuro

Where: 03-09/10, tel: 6222-4500

Open: 10am to 7pm daily

A subsidiary of carpet shop Jehan Gallery in the same building, The Beuro stocks contemporary and industrial furniture and lights from Europe. Brands include Italian furniture label Loop & Co and lighting specialist Delightfull, which is based in Portugal.

Prices start from $100 for a paperweight and go up to $20,000 for a chandelier.

The Beuro is closed for renovation this month and will reopen next month with a new, 6,000 sq ft showroom.

Knocknock

Where: 03-04, tel: 6222-8851

Open: 10am to 7pm daily

Knocknock offers factory-made and customised teak furniture, ranging from sofa frames to tables. Most of the wood comes from Indonesia and the fabrics are sourced internationally from countries such as Belgium and Vietnam. Prices range from $500 for a side table to about $5,000 for a dining table.

Knocknock is a subsidiary of SY Living, which specialises in customised sofas and upholstery.

SY Living's owner Lim Boon Hooi opened Knocknock to diversify from textiles to teak furniture. Currently, most of the showroom's pieces are made of reclaimed teak, which is commonly sourced from old houses and bridges.

Journey East

Where: 03-02, tel: 6473-1693

Open: Monday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm; Sunday and public holiday, 11.30 to 6pm

At 8,600 sq m, this showroom is one of the largest in the building, with a wide- ranging and eclectic variety of furniture and home accessories. For example, there is the environment-friendly d-Bodhi series of furniture made from reclaimed wood and iron, with prices starting at $1,100 for a table.

There are also touch-sensitive lamps from Switzerland-born designer Jonas Merian, which have been built from upcycled biscuit tins. Prices start at $267.50.

The showroom is also a social hub. On a weekday, you are likely to find one of Journey East's regular customers sitting by the bar counter chatting with co-founder Anita Sam over a cup of coffee or playing with Ginger, the 21-year-old resident cat.

There are also pop-up events such as last weekend's Vintage Fair, where vendors were invited to sell their wares in the shop.

Royal Interiors

Where: 06-08, tel: 6299-0701

Open: Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 5pm

Although it has barely been in the building a year, Royal Interiors has carved out a niche for high-end furniture.

It sells couture European furniture and lifestyle accessories, with close to 100 brands available, including luxury Italian labels Fendi Casa and Cattelan Italia, with sofas starting at $5,000.

Singapore Trading Post

Where: 07-01, tel: 6221-4619

Open: Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 5.30pm; Saturday, 10.30am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm

This place is a treasure trove of vintage paraphernalia. Most of the items are sourced from reclamation yards in India, Indonesia and China.

The store focuses primarily on small decorative items such as Christmas baubles, with prices starting from $20. Bigger items such as large mirrors go for about $1,000.

Closer to August, the showroom will release a special collection of vintage Singapore memorabilia which will feature old-school Kickapoo cups and posters.

Mountain Teak

Where: 07-02, tel: 6224-7176

Open: 10.30am to 6.30pm daily

This teak furniture specialist stocks three main labels at different price points.

At the higher end is Italian label Karpenter, which is eco-friendly and certified by the Forest-Stewardship Council, an international not-for-profit organisation which aims to improve forest practices around the world.

This means its furniture has been produced with the highest standards of responsible forest management. In addition, the furniture is made of solid wood. Prices start at $412 for a dining chair.

French brand Mr Marius carries furniture made of solid, European white oak, with prices starting at $500 for a coffee table.

Mountain, a label designed in Belgium and made in Indonesia, specialises in timeless designs, though some pieces feature veneer rather than solid teak. Prices start at $250 for a bedside table.

The Shophouse

Where: 07-03, tel: 6323-7190

Open: Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm; Sunday, 10.30am to 6pm

The Shophouse offers furniture from international labels such as Holland's Pols Potten and La Maison from Australia, as well as its in-house designs. It also does upholstering services.

It is owned by Mr Jamie Gorman and Mr John Galligan, both from Australia. Mr Gorman used to run his own interior design company Inner Space Design in Sydney.

The Shophouse moved from Joo Chiat to Tan Boon Liat Building four years ago. Prices start at $450 for a side table to $5,500 for a 3m sofa.

Artful House

Where: 08-04, tel: 8112-6127

Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 10.30am to 6pm; closed on Monday and public holiday

Artful House opened in September last year and offers a mix of contemporary and vintage furniture.

The vintage and colonial-style collections are mainly sourced from India, but the more contemporary pieces, such as media consoles, are from Vietnam.

The showroom also offers bespoke upholstery, with a focus on Asian fabrics.

Prices range from $500 for a small cabinet to $10,000 for a colonial Dutch chest.

Make Room

Where: 10-01, tel: 9113-1274

Open: Monday and Tuesday by appointment; Wednesday to Friday, 10.30am to 6pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6pm; closed on public holiday

Most of the space here is dedicated to lifestyle items and lights sourced from designers in Denmark and The Netherlands, even though it stocks a small selection of furniture. Think quirky magazine holders, rugs and stools.

Tea lights start at $10, while Make Room's signature hand-knitted poufs, available in 11 colours, go for $139 each.

The shop moved from Depot Road to its current home a year ago.

Pomelo

Where: 10-04, tel: 6226-4663

Open: Tuesday to Friday, 11am to 7pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 4pm; closed on public holiday

Pomelo specialises in contemporary design with a Scandinavian aesthetic.

The items are sourced from Europe as well as from the United States and feature clean, modern silhouettes, rendered in a variety of colours and materials.

Prices start at $3,300 for a sofa and can go up to $10,000 for one from its Italian or Spanish brands.

There are also posters that start from $45.