Singapore designs shine

Designed-in-Singapore furniture and home accessories are making an impression in a market saturated with foreign brands

Lueur Lamp. PHOTO: LUEUR

Instead of sourcing for wares overseas or using in-house designers, furniture stores here are working with Singapore design studios to create their own furniture, homeware or accessories collections.

Last month, furniture store Journey East teamed up with award-winning studio Lanzavecchia + Wai to create a living room furniture series named PLAYplay.

The 20-year-old store in Outram's Tan Boon Liat Building is known for selling recycled and restored eco-friendly furniture. Among the brands it carries are local manufacturer d-Bodhi and Ho Chi Minh City-based District Eight Design.

Six-year-old outfit Lanzavecchia + Wai, on the other hand, has done work for brands such as Cappellini and Mercedes-Benz. Last year, it won Young Design Talent of the Year at the Elle Decor International Design Awards.

The design duo comprises Singaporean Hunn Wai, 35, and Italian Francesca Lanzavecchia, 32, who is based in Pavia, a city 30km south of Milan.

Journey East's marketing manager Terence Teh, 35, says the time was right for the store to produce its own furniture.

"You may not always find something that fits the store's aesthetic," he explains. "Other stores may also carry the same brands. We also talk to the customers so we know what they're looking for, which we can relay to the designer."

Inspired by Singapore's colourful landscape and traditional cakes and fruit, PLAYplay's five retro- tinged pieces each has a twist.

Mr Wai, who is an adjunct lecturer for 3-D Design at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and experience and product design at Singapore Polytechnic, says: "Each piece is built with intelligent flexibility, such that it can be transformed for various uses. There's a succinct balance between fun and practical."

Accordion is a console painted in various colour tones for a lenticular effect: The colours seem to magically change as you walk by. Pong mashes up a table-tennis table with a dining table, so you can serve meals and the ball at the same place.

In fact, the collection's name pays homage to the Singlish phrase "don't play play", which means not to fool around and rolls off the tongue easily.

Ms Lanzavecchia, who came to Singapore a few times to work on the collection, says working with a smaller outfit such as Journey East allowed them more "creative freedom".

She adds: "Being bold and colourful - that is the DNA of Journey East and we weren't afraid to use that in the furniture. It was a true collaboration, with fresh energy and ideas from both sides. There's more freedom and intimacy with the process.

"With bigger brands, they tend to want us to just fill what's missing in the collection. Creativity can be limited."

While the homeware and lifestyle market here remains saturated with foreign brands, the designed- in-Singapore tag is starting to stand out.

Aside from PLAYplay, a few stores have also launched new pieces with local designers.

Tinge, an online lifestyle store which distributes brands such as Normann Copenhagen and Jansen+co, recently worked with Desinere, designer Melvin Ong's one-man creative outfit, to come up with the Lueur lamp.

The hanging light has a maple wood body, with a hand-folded potato starch, matte-textured paper shade. Paper-pleating is one signature style of some of Desinere's products.

From concept to production, the Lueur took 11/2 years. Says Mr Ong, 31: "It was a slow process because we were busy with other projects. But we also wanted to get the materials and look right. Desinere's range has mostly appealed to people in the design sector so far, so I wanted to create something that was more accessible."

Meanwhile, Singaporean artist Justin Lin, who studied at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, has created a series of handmade copper bowls called Craters, borne out of conversations with Mr Mike Tay, founder of five-month-old indie lifestyle store, Onlewo.

Prior to them working together, Mr Lin exhibited metal sculptures at Mr Tay's art gallery, Flaneur Gallery. The gallery shares space with Onlewo in a two-storey shophouse in Jalan Besar.

Mr Tay, 44, who designs wallpaper and fabrics for Onlewo, says: "I wanted Onlewo to also focus on collaborating with local designers, artists and makers.

"After seeing Justin's artwork, it was a natural progression to discuss how to make functional pieces other than art for home owners."

Even home-grown furniture store Scanteak, known for its reliable furniture, could not resist the modern, minimalist aesthetic of Outofstock - a design quartet comprising Singaporeans Wendy Chua, 30, and Gabriel Tan, 32; Argentinian Gustavo Maggio, 35; and Spaniard Sebastian Alberdi, 37.

Following the success of their 12-piece Prologue collection in 2012, Scanteak returned for a second collection, Holm, which was launched in July this year.

This seven-piece collection features Scandinavian-inspired teak furniture such as a daybed, nest tables and a shoe cabinet with a mirror in front.

Ms Edeline Tan, Scanteak's senior sales and marketing manager, says the Prologue collection sells very well - even in its Japanese and Taiwanese markets.

Here, more than 1,000 pieces have been sold even though the range costs "slightly more" than the regular lifestyle one.

The Prologue collection is still available at the five speciality Scanteak Signature stores and ranges from $329 for a Mono Dining Chair to $1,290 for a two-seater Duo Sofa.

Outofstock's Chua says the team is "humbled" that its furniture sells well, but adds that there is still some way to go before local designers become household names.

"The younger, tech-savvy generation is very familiar with the design industry. But the litmus test is whether the aunties and uncles having their morning tea in the kopitiam know you."

Indeed, home owner Roy Cheng, 30, was attracted more by the looks of the Holm furniture than its designer Outofstock.

He bought a two-seater Island sofa, which comes in limited- edition blue covers - designed to celebrate SG50 - to decorate his new four-room HDB flat in Chua Chu Kang.

The sales executive says: "I don't know who Outofstock is, but it doesn't matter. I found its designs for the Holm range to be simple. It suited the style of my home and is different from the usual teak furniture that Scanteak sells."

Tinge's co-owner Daryl Lim is optimistic about the recognition of local brands though.

Says Mr Lim, 32: "The design scene is a little like Singapore television - it's getting better. But it still needs some time for people to see its potential.

"Even if there are many reputable big brands, there is room for local designers to show what they've got."

Light touch


What: This beautiful pendant lamp is a collaboration between designer Melvin Ong from Desinere and local online retailer Tinge and was unveiled earlier this year at local design festival SingaPlural.

Its light grain, maple wood body - a simple cylinder - is attached to a hand-folded paper shade which glows when you flick the switch ("lueur" is French for "glow"). The paper feels like potato skin.

The shade looks as though it has been dipped in watercolour paints, with its subtle pastel ombre effect.

Comes in white, black, powder pink, lively yellow and ocean green.

Price: $259. A grey version, specially made for Foundry, a furniture store in Raffles Hotel, is also available for $269.

Where: The lamps are sold at Foundry, Unit 1/1, 3 Seah Street, tel: 6339-6381, until December.

Info: E-mail for details.



What: A series of handmade copper bowls designed by Singaporean artist Justin Lin that came about after conversations with lifestyle store Onlewo's owner Mike Tay.

The jagged, uneven-rimmed bowls take inspiration from natural landforms such as hills and valleys.

Lin hammers flat sheets of copper, brass and bronze into shape, using an assortment of hammers and an old heavy anvil - a traditional metalsmithing technique called form-raising. Eschewing power tools, he takes four hours to create each piece.

Price: From $80 to $150, depending on size

Where: Onlewo, 129 Jalan Besar, tel: 9112-4685



What: Cheekily named, this five-piece collection is a fun, colourful interpretation of the Singapore landscape as furniture.

The Bazaar work desk ($1,500) is a homage to pasar malam, or night market, food stalls - evoking street hawkers cooking and displaying their food behind clear plastic cases. This desk comes with a shelf for knick-knacks or books as well as a privacy partition.

Then there is Ping ($675 to $890), which has a long and short bench to go with Pong ($1,950, with two wedge nets), a dinner table that doubles as a table-tennis table. The long Ping bench comes with rollers on one end so you can roll it wherever you want.

The main wood used in the collection is Indonesian mahogany, but some of the products come in oak as well.

Price: From $560 for a Hamburger side table to $2,900 for an Accordion console

Where: Journey East, 03-02 Tan Boon Liat Building, 315 Outram Road, tel: 6473-1693



What: After an installation titled A Tent at the celebrated DesignMiami/Basel fair in 2011, a little metal frog became a celebrity.

Studio Juju - a multi-disciplinary outfit run by design duo Timo Wong, 33, and Priscilla Lui, 32, who have worked with clients such as Gardens by the Bay and W Hotels Worldwide - created the frog and other creatures such as a caterpillar and lizard to decorate their work at the Swiss show.

It was never meant for sale though it caught the eye of the fair's visitors, says Mr Wong.

"It was a fun project that we did for exhibition. It is not something functional that people might need. We see it more as small art work, and we're happy that it brings a little joy or liveliness to the space."

When the frog surfaced again two years ago during another design installation at Foundry, a furniture store in Raffles Hotel here, visitors again asked to buy one.

So Studio Juju worked with Foundry to create a limited-edition, 10cm-tall version.

There are only 40 frogs, which come in brass or a yellow powder- coated metal. The metal is folded at various angles - an avant-garde recreation of the creature.

Price: $49

Where: Foundry, Unit 1/1, 3 Seah Street, tel: 6339-6381



What: Scanteak teamed up again with award-winning design collective Outofstock to create a second designer range, launched three months ago. Prologue, their first collection, featured a dozen pieces with a minimalist Japanese aesthetic and was launched in 2012.

The new collection named Holm - for the Old Norse word "holmr", meaning "a small island" - features seven Scandinavian-inspired teak furniture items, such as nest tables and a shoe cabinet.

Compared with Prologue, Holm is softer and more child-friendly. Mixing teak with textiles and upholstery foam, the range has no sharp edges.

Price: From $299 for a Valet Table to $1,799 for the Island Daybed

Where: Scanteak Signature stores including Suntec City, 02-443, North Wing, 3 Temasek Boulevard, tel: 6694-0173; 03-31/32 Westgate, 3 Gateway Drive, tel: 6397-4233; and Isetan Scotts, Level 4 Shaw House, 350 Orchard Road, tel: 6235-3274

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline Singapore designs shine. Subscribe