If you grew up in Singapore between the 1970s and 1990s, you would definitely recognise some of our nation’s most familiar and well-loved chairs. You may have listened to childhood stories, watched your favourite Aiyoyo Teacher, TCS TV shows, or sipped kopi or Milo sitting on one of these chairs.

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Unica Plastic Stools

Patronise any kopitiam (coffee shop) in Singapore and chances are, you would have sat on one of these plastic stools. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find one of these Unica plastic stools for many of them have been replaced for newer, modern-looking stools.

Lightweight, yet compact and sturdy, the Unica red plastic stool was made for use in modern-day coffee shops and food centres where space is usually tight.

Designed by Chew Moh-Jin of Design Counsel

It was designed in the 1990s by industrial designer Chew Moh-Jin of Design Counsel, and produced by local plastics manufacturer Singa Plastics.

Back then, plastic chairs were flimsy and wobbly, so the brief was to develop a sturdy and robust stool. 

Hole in the centre for securing chain & padlock

The hole in the centre of the seat serves two practical purposes – for easy lifting and, more importantly, when the stools are stacked at the end of the workday, they could be secured by threading a chain through it, and locked. 

“People are surprised that the stool was designed some 20 years ago in Singapore. It looks contemporary because it has a simple aesthetic form,” says Moh-Jin.

Since its introduction, more than a million of these stools have been sold. It’s no wonder, then, that the Unica stool has become synonymous with local makan and kopi culture.

Singa Plastics Limited is located at 1 Fourth Chin Bee Road. Tel: 6265 0922

Pak Awang sofa chair

Pak Awang Sofa Chair Set

Made of solid teak and inspired by the organic, sleek lines of Mid-Century Modern Scandinavian furniture, the Pak Awang chair typically comes with curved armrests, tapered legs, a spindle backrest and removable cushions.

The seat got its name when it was popularised by the 1960s local Malay TV sitcom Pak Awang Temberang (“Mr Awang’s Antics”), which featured the chairs in the living room set. The show was such a hit, it spun off a furniture trend in Malay homes.

Second Charm is located at 21 Kallang Avenue, Mapletree Industrial Building, #05-165. Tel: 6294 2919

Beech wood Singaporean kopitiam chair from the '80s

Beech Wood Kopitiam Chair

Way before there were hipster cafes, the traditional kopitiam (or coffee shop) was the place to gather and discuss the news of the day over a cup of kopi-O and a slice of kaya toast. Here, customers were likely to be perched (typically with one leg up) on one of these chairs.

Beech Wood Chair with Spindle Back

Made from pliable, hardy beech wood, the chair has a contoured spindle back and moulded plywood seat.

While the chair is part of local culture, it has its origins in faraway Eastern Europe. It was (and still is) produced in the Czech Republic and Poland, where bentwood technology originated.

Produced in Europe & shipped to Singapore

To keep costs low, the seats were knocked down and flat-packed before being shipped in bulk.

The first kopitiam chairs arrived in Singapore in the late 1930s. They were then assembled in workshops, locally branded and sold.

“The kopitiam chair was well-liked because it is lightweight, comfortable and so durable that it can be used for decades,“ says Lilian Goh of Lim Teck Lee Group, which has been selling its “Cock” brand kopitiam chair for over 70 years.

The company even had its signature floral motif designed, trademarked and embossed on the seat.

Lim Teck Lee Group is located at 2–6 Circular Road. Tel: 6532 6868

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Rattan Shell Chair

If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, you probably would have taken a childhood photo on one of these chairs. Fondly called the shell chair, it was a familiar sight in many homes and photography studios.

Rattan chairs were common in the past

Rattan was widely used in furniture-making in the tropics because it is lightweight, long-lasting, flexible and could be worked into many styles.

Taking inspiration from clamshells, craftsmen started making these seats in Singapore in the 1950s, selling them to both locals and expatriates.

Cooling chair for Singapore’s hot climate

“Both young and old enjoyed lounging on it because it’s so cooling,” says 66-year-old rattan maker Chen Foon Kee. They were individually made by hand – by winding and weaving rattan reeds in concentric circles, starting from the centre, “much like spinning a spider’s web”.

Rattan chair used to cost $7 in the ’70s

Foon Kee, who took over his father’s rattan shop in 1970, recalls how he could deftly make six of these seats a day to meet demand. The chair cost just $7 in those days, which probably explains why it was so commonplace.

The humble seat serves as an enduring reminder of our childhood days. For some, it has lasted for years with generations growing up on it, as it made its way from five-foot ways to HDB flats.

Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture is located at 122 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-68, tel: 6278 2388