Veteran stays curious

Veteran designer Nathan Yong
Veteran designer Nathan Yong PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
The line collection.
The line collection. PHOTO: GRAFUNKT

Ask Singaporean product talents which local designer they hope to emulate and, more often than not, furniture designer Nathan Yong's name comes up.

But the industry stalwart, who won the 2008 President's Design Award for Designer of the Year and runs successful businesses here, hardly sees himself as the godfather of design in Singapore.

Mr Yong, 44, says: "That sounds like a grumpy old man who thinks he knows everything and is autocratic.

"I would like to think I am still curious about everything and I profess I do not know many things in design or life. But I am glad I inspire some of them."

The bachelor, who was described by the President's Design Award jury as being "among the most successful and influential designers of his generation" in its citation, has hit many career highs since he started as a buyer for various companies here. He later started designing his own furniture and honed his business acumen when he opened a store, Air Division, with four friends in 1999.

He left that business after a decade. By then, however, he had developed a modern style on a par with that of international brands.

He co-founded Grafunkt in 2009, where he sells his own work next to names such as &tradition and Hay. The label's flagship outlet is on the second floor of Millenia Walk mall.

He has turned heads abroad with his products, garnering attention at furniture fairs. Overseas exposure led him to design for well-known brands, such as Design Within Reach from the United States, French label Ligne Roset and Italian furniture behemoth Living Divani.

His work has also appeared in trendy international magazines such as Wallpaper* and Monocle.

A graduate of Temasek Polytechnic's product design course, he admits that he would get more work if he were based in Europe, then jokes that he would not deal well with cold weather.

In fact, when he was younger, he had applied to be a merchandiser in London for Habitat, the home- furnishing retailer founded by renowned designer Sir Terence Conran, but did not get the job.

Reflecting on rejection, he says: "Somehow, I reached 29 really fast and was brave enough to start a retail business selling my designs. From then on, it's been a spiral of fire-fighting and running the daily operations.

"But I have no complaints."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Veteran stays curious'. Print Edition | Subscribe