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Local craftsmen: Carpentry studio Herman Furniture

Heman Furniture
Customers can choose their desired piece of timber, as the shapes, grains and colour vary. Photo: Herman Furniture

It used to be that if you wanted to learn a skill, you would complete an apprenticeship under a master. But the founders of Herman Furniture didn't take this route. "It was difficult to find anyone who wanted to teach us woodworking," says Brandon Heng, 28.

Together with three other friends - Gay Zheng Cai, 28, Douglas Choo, 27 and Jeremy Tan, 28 - the four started Herman Furniture, which retails solid wood furniture products.

Herman Furniture
Herman Furniture specialises in "live edge tables", a style of furniture where the natural edge of the wood is incorporated into the design of the piece; (above L-R) Douglas Choo, Jeremy Tan, Brandon Heng and Gay Zheng Cai. Photo: Yen Meng Jiin

They currently have four carpenters, from China and Myanmar, working for them, but during their early days, they took it upon themselves to do all the carpentry and woodworking. So how did they pick up their skill?

"By learning from YouTube videos and researching on Google," quips Mr Heng. If necessary, all four get involved in the production process. None had previous experience in woodworking.

The four friends got together after graduation, when they decided they didn't want to embark on the typical corporate path. "We wanted to do something that would bring technology together with woodworking," says Mr Gay.

Their initial plan was to develop a platform, where clients could design their own furniture, and Herman Furniture would produce it. "But we realised that we didn't have the technology to develop the necessary software, and most people wouldn't know how to design a piece of furniture," says Mr Gay. "We had to put this idea on hold, and seek out other ways to make money in the meantime."

Over the last three years, they have since branched out to create two other companies. Besides Herman Furniture, they also run Robin Wood, which specialises in home and office interiors; and Merry Men Works, which does carpentry work for exhibitions venues and events.

Mr Gay says that all three companies "are making money".

Herman Furniture specialises in "live edge tables", a style of furniture where the natural edge of the wood is incorporated into the design of the piece. Customers can choose their desired piece of timber, as the shapes, grains and colour vary. They can also customise the length and height of the table.

Besides dining table tops, the solid suar wood timber pieces can be used for counter tops and benches. The wood is imported from Indonesia, but finished at the Herman Furniture workshop in Pioneer Road.

Herman Furniture
Photo: Herman Furniture

The first table that the four men built was a desk for their office. They then started selling pieces to friends, and today, their clientele is a good mix of locals and expatriates. Some of their pieces can also be found in offices, cafes and restaurants.

Mr Heng says their parents have been supportive of their choice of career. The older carpenters that they have crossed paths with, however, have been less supportive. "Many of them told us to give up," he says. "They tell us that it is a difficult industry to be in, as the price of wood is rising, also you can't price your products too high either."

Mr Gay adds: "I think they are concerned for us." The men, however, are not giving up so easily. "Carpentry is a dying trade, but with young people like us joining the industry, it can be revived," says a confident Mr Gay.

They have plans to open a showroom in a more accessible location, and hopefully to also expand to the European and American markets.

"It is very satisfying seeing clients come in to pick up a piece of timber, and then seeing it transformed into a piece of furniture, and their delighted faces when we deliver it to them," says Mr Heng.


Written by Tay Suan Chiang for The Business Times