Whether you have just applied for your first HDB flat, or bought a bungalow, there is a piece of designer furniture that’s just right for you. This is the second of a six-part series that will give you the 101 on original designer furniture.
By Low Shi Ping
Is the idea of buying designer furniture even on your radar? Before you let the word that starts with an E get in the way (“expensive!”, we know), consider this: there is a plethora of options in Singapore for every budget – from authentic furniture resellers to local designers, and even auction houses.
Edmund Liau, Creative Director of the interior design firm Blackrice Design Studio, is all too familiar with the concern of cost.
“If budget is the limitation, I always try to mix and match different pieces from different brands together,” he says.
“Get signature pieces that can help enhance the value and look of the spaces and mix them with pieces that are cheaper, without compromising too much on comfort and aesthetics.”
His clients seem convinced. Some of the positive feedback he has received include how they got what they paid for, the great after-sales service from the retailers and the high quality of the furniture.
Start with Resellers
Noden is a specialist in vintage Danish furniture and Scandinavian classics, founded by Marko Yeo and Tawan Conchonnet.
The duo share that they sell “very affordable” (vintage side tables and school chairs from $80-150 each) to highly-collectible furniture pieces.
Born from the couple’s home in 2013, Noden has slowly grown to have both an online and brick-and-mortar presence.
“We pride ourselves on having an identity and style that is uniquely Noden, together with a very carefully selected range of furniture that Tawan and I both love very much,” shares Yeo.
“At Noden, it’s not about the bells and whistles, it’s about the whole experience from the second you discover us, such as on Instagram, to the moment you leave our shop; it’s a very cosy and natural experience.”
Occupying a smaller niche is 1B2G Fine Vintage Furniture, selling rare and original works of furniture and lighting by renowned Danish designers of the 20th Century.
These include ones by Hans Wegner, Poul Henningsen and Borge Mogensen.
Its owner, Lynette Tan, says her collection includes design classics in superb condition and auction-able quality.
“Our approach is that of a collector, rather than a dealer, and our collection is assembled and built up with every item representing something that we adore and would be happy to live with.”
Maintenance, she adds, is easy, considering the pieces have already stood the test of time and still look fabulous 50 to 80 years on. When used respectfully, they need only be wiped with a damp, then dry cloth.
She waxes lyrical about her chosen trade, “Besides the tangible aspect of collecting vintage design for its masterful craftsmanship and use of material that is now endangered, there is the romantic longing for simpler days, the fusion of nostalgia with recognition that furniture was built to last.”
Singapore’s furniture design scene also has its share of players that can hold their own.
One example is Scene Shang, which has just opened a second flagship store at the Raffles Hotel Arcade.
Director and co-founder Jessica Wong explains that her brand “serves to tell a story about our Asian culture from a contemporary perspective”.
This means a small drum stool inspired by traditional Chinese design is contemporised with a sustainable grass-weave material, which can be had for $89. Its award-winning JIA JU Rocking Stool is priced at $380.
“We are deeply inspired by Asian culture and our designs respond to that with a contemporary touch,” says Wong.
“We work closely with traditional artisans from Asia to reimagine the silhouettes of yesteryear for the urban home, each design with its own story to tell.”
She advises that beyond the price tag, it is important that before buying a piece of furniture, the design should speak out to you.
“If it is able to evoke an emotional response that you love, and the story behind the design is something you can relate with, then you should definitely go for it.”
While the long production lead time and maintenance pose some challenges, Lee believes they can be overcome by building a culture of appreciating fine craftsmanship.
For those with bigger budgets, why not head to a multi-label retailer that carries furniture by international designers?
Space Furniture is one example, with 22 brands to explore in a showroom of 40,000sqft spread across three blocks.
“If it is your first visit to the showroom, it will be very helpful for a Space colleague to bring you around to do a brief introduction,” says Jennifer Soh, Space’s General Manager – Sales & Marketing.
“This will give a better idea of which brands you would like to spend more time on.”
The amount spent initially might seem high, but spread over many years, it is cheaper over a ‘buy-and-throw’ piece – it is no different from your prized bags, bespoke leather shoes and well-tailored suits.
These include Marcel Wanders, Lee Broom and Piero Lissoni, just to name a few.
Another retailer is check out is Proof Living, which carries brands like Poltrona Frau, Baker and Walter Knoll.
Its Director, Yung Ong, says its service staff are also able to do space planning and produce professional styling proposals at no additional cost.
“In this age of hyper consumerism and greater awareness of the importance of sustainability, everyone who can afford designer furniture should obviously consider it,” he adds.
“Not only does designer furniture tend to last longer, thanks to quality and style, but if treated with respect and love, they will have an extended life, which then prevents you from replacing them prematurely.”
Echoing his view is Soh, “Design furniture is an investment you will not regret buying earlier than later.
“The amount spent initially might seem high, but spread over many years, it is cheaper over a ‘buy-and-throw’ piece – it is no different from your prized bags, bespoke leather shoes and well-tailored suits.”
If the sky is the limit for you, check out what is on the block.
Phillips is a renowned auction house known for its designer furniture curation.
From its auctions in New York to London and Hong Kong, it is possible to buy something from under a few thousand dollars to over a few million
“Choose works that resonate and then refine your appreciation through acquiring knowledge regarding the designer and understand the different periods of their work,” says Marcus McDonald, International Specialist, Design at Phillips
“For example, the collaboration of Danish architects and Danish master cabinetmakers is an interesting period. The renowned and fine craftsmanship of Danish modern furniture would not have been possible if it were not for their creative partnerships.”
If you need further convincing, McDonald quotes William Morris, the celebrated 19th century designer, who famously stated, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.
“It is imperative to surround yourself within your private environment with design that strongly communicates to you personally and psychologically, evincing quality, intrigue and beauty,” adds McDonald, referencing the quality of the pieces put up for sale by Phillips.
“When living with design, a room is rendered as if it is a performance, seating and lighting eloquently in unison defining space, harmonising the environment, expressing refined sensibilities and sophistication.”
Regardless of where you end up buying that piece of designer furniture, know you won’t go far wrong.
Blackrice’s Liau often points to how the designer would have gone through many stages of design development to produce just one piece.
“The thoughts, design, technique, process and quality is definitely not compromised in any way to make it perfect. It becomes value for money when you learn to appreciate it and use it on a day-to-day basis.”