Southeast Asia is known for its quality natural materials and furniture-making expertise but not always for its contemporary designs. This looks set to change as young designers and brands are keen to make their mark with original creations. Drawing on the wealth of inspirations at their doorstep, they present fresh interpretations of timeless classics and exciting new ways of working with traditional materials and techniques. We check out a few notables in the region.
In 2012, architectural company Studio Bikin founded by Farah Azizan and Adela Askandar launched its furniture line called Kedai Bikin (www.kedaibikin.com). Inspired by the craftsmanship and heritage of Malaysia, the studio produces contemporary updates on classic designs alongside its own creations, such as the retro string chair. Kedai Bikin is particular about the provenance of its products, working closely with local craftsmen who handmake the pieces.
Abie Abdillah, the founder of Studio Hiji (www.studiohiji.com) in Indonesia, works primarily with rattan, of which Indonesia is the world's largest producer. Yet, says Abie, the material is often overlooked in its own country. Determined to revive it, Abie has been working with rattan since his student days as an Industrial Design major at the Institut Teknologi Bandung, employing the traditional material in exciting new ways. The studio’s award-winning Pretzel bench is part of the permanent collection at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, and Abie has collaborated with Italian design company Cappellini to produce the Lukis chair, made from rattan and rubber wood.
Shahril Faisal Design
Shahril Faisal founded Shahril Faisal Design (www.shahrilfaisal.com) in 2014 to produce furniture, lighting and accessories that have a timeless quality and with roots in his Malaysian heritage. With a keen eye for interesting shapes, a flair for minimalism and a head for economy in production, he has already produced award-winners such as the Twine chair, made from laminated wood and mild steel tubes. The designer, who splits his time between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, just launched his own furniture brand, Meubelism, at the recent Homedec exhibition. Meubel means furniture in the Dutch language. Shahril focuses on the traditions closest to him and gets his inspiration from unlikely sources, whether it is the crescent-shaped wau, the Malaysian moon-kite, or the household tiffin carrier.
Founded by product designer Ratthee Phaisanchotsiri, Satawat (www.satawatdesign.com), which means century in the Thai language, marries natural materials with a clean aesthetic. Phaisanchotsiri likes to work with wood. The Ampai was the studio's first success, a stool made up of curved planks to resemble an upside-down flower, but it is the Nobi log stool that best represents the studio, says Phaisanchotsiri.
The Rug Maker
After years of customising carpets for top-end clients, The Rug Maker (www.therugmaker.com.sg) from Singapore launched its first independent collection of finely crafted hand-tufted rugs in 2013. Founders Lee Foong Yoke and Freddy Khong have over three decades of experience in the carpet-making business (their first company was TC Carpets) but having their own collection was a new venture for them. The first, called Into the Rabbit Hole, implied taking steps in a new direction, and they haven't looked back since.
The Great Indoors
The Great Indoors (thegreatindoors.store) started life as a home furnishing store that salvaged and repurposed old furniture before expanding to become a branding and product design agency with offices in Malaysia and Shanghai. The agency eventually started designing and producing its own range of home accessories steeped in Malaysia's rich cultural heritage. The Oh, it's Borneo! range draws on that fascinating and complex tradition, whilst The Straits Settlements range is a nod to the country's historical past and features, among others, fun reproductions of vintage designs as pillow cases.