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Local craftsmen who customise furniture with upcycled materials

Want unique and customised furniture which will add character to your home? Check these local craftsmen out, and see how they use upcycled materials.

TRIPLE EYELID

Before launching the brand in May 2014, interior designers Jackie Tan, Lee Yi Chun and Dalphanie Mun, all 29, had never made a single piece of furniture. They’ve since become really good at it, through sheer grit, late nights, and innumerable cuts and bruises.

The trio now specialise in upcycled furniture, made of salvaged materials and simple, modular components such as copper pipes. And though upcycled furniture can and does often end up bearing a too-close resemblance to the junk from which it springs, Triple Eyelid manages to make pieces that look polished, even poetic. The Hoot Ji Liap desk accessories, for example, look like they’re hewn from marble, but are in fact made of concrete, using discarded cement powder from construction sites. And they’re thoughtfully made – each is embedded with a magnet, the better to organise stray paper clips.

Upcycling on this level is hard work that requires constant experimentation. “We play with different materials, depending on what we manage to collect,” says Tan. “There’s a lot of trial and error because each material is different.” To make the Lumberjack Stool, which repurposes old crates, they tested many different “stick” configurations for stability, then had to find a way to join them that would withstand use and abuse. The design ended up taking two weeks of continuous work to finalise.

Currently, most of Triple Eyelid’s orders are for bespoke furniture, both for homes and cafes. It’s enough to keep the team busy – aside from a detailed design process, they insist on making a one-to-one scale prototype of every piece. But after years of designing interiors, Tan, Lee and Mun are relishing the finer details of furniture crafting. “Designers shouldn’t just design,” says Mun. “To grow, they must make things.”
 

THE WOODWORK INITIATIVE

Modern-day carpenter Greg Swyny, 35, has been working with wood since his teens, helping his father in his contracting business. “Oh, I used to hate it,” he recalls. “I wanted to play football, not build things.” But he’s since discovered the satisfaction of the latter, and so, in January, after a year spent refining his skills, the former theatre technician set up bespoke furniture outfit The Woodwork Initiative.

Apart from making furniture, he restores old pieces and makes meticulously crafted jewellery boxes, product packaging and small household accessories (bottle opener, above). He’s also had requests for customised door gifts for upscale corporate events. Prices vary, depending on materials, complexity and finish. And things do get complex, Swyny assures me. He recently customised a 12ft (3.7m) desk, for a home office, that had to run flush along a curved wall.

Instinct is an essential part of Swyny’s design process. “I sometimes need to improvise as I go along,” he says, telling me about the workbench he made for The Refinery Workspace (a creative space that Swyny works from, on the third floor of The Refinery, a restaurant and cocktail bar). The piece was meant to have concealed screws, but he ended up using exposed black bolts because they worked better with the workshop’s aesthetic.

Word of Swyny’s thoughtful, finely wrought work has been getting round. Orders have been pouring in, and he hardly has time for anything else. (I had to badger him to set up the Facebook page in time for this story.) But he’s enjoying himself. “I’ve been wanting to do this for years, and now I am.”
 

KUIN STUDIO

The atelier started with Felly Loi wanting a very specific sort of pot – geometric, striking yet subtle in form, with a raw finish – and not being able to find one anywhere. She made it herself, after hours of Youtube tutorials, and hours more of trial and error. Now, she’s making a living out of the serendipitous discovery that she can make rather nice pots. Already, she’s been commissioned to create table centrepieces for Prive Grill at Keppel Bay.

Since August 2014, the 23-year-old fine arts student, who graduates from Lasalle College of the Arts this month, has created two collections of concrete pots and vases ($16-$45 at Naiise). Delicate and origami-esque, these belie the material they’re made of – but that’s part of the point. “Concrete tends to be associated with heavy construction, but it’s got so much more potential,” says Loi. “It’s very malleable in liquid form and takes on textures very well.”

Doing everything by hand, from crafting the moulds to sanding down the pieces once they have set, is Loi’s way of connecting with the final product and anyone who uses it. The irregular markings on every piece, for example, aren’t accidents – she makes them by gently pressing watercolour paper onto the pieces as they dry. Loi, who finds imperfect, uneven surfaces intriguing, hopes to capture the imagination of the users of her pieces: “I want them to wonder where the textures come from, how they’re created.” For her next collection, she’s exploring using different ways to create imprints – but no spoilers here.

(First published in Female)

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